John Hall, ‘The Pano Man,’ celebrates life’s big picture

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 10, 2016

For his 2009 panorama of hang gliders and paragliders above Cochrane’s Big Hill, John Hall (right) digitally stitched together seven context images and inserted fliers from several other shots to create this montage which hangs at entrance to Cochrane Town Council Chambers. Pano photo by John Hall; portrait by Warren Harbeck
Click for a larger version of the image

Last week’s column spoke of the awe I experience over the enormity of our universe with its billions and billions of galaxies beyond our own Milky Way, each containing billions and billions of stars whose light has taken millions to billions of years to reach Earth.

But just as we were going to press, a late-breaking news item added an exclamation point to that awe: the Hubble Space Telescope had just discovered the most distant galaxy yet. Near the very edge of the universe, it had spotted a massive galaxy whose light has taken 13.4 billion years to reach us. Now, contemplating that big a picture is indeed awesome!

Seeing the big picture doesn’t necessarily require high-tech equipment like the Hubble, however. For more down-to-earth subjects, sometimes just a good digital camera does the job, as one of our local coffee companions has proven.

U.K.-born John Hall, a Cochranite for the past 37 years, is a master at helping the rest of us see the big picture that’s right in front of our noses. The photographer, now retired, turns 80 this Saturday. Friends and family gathered for a surprise party for him this past weekend. And surprised he was!

As a youth, he loved experimenting with those classic old 4×5 film cameras, and with miniature theatres he created out of cardboard boxes with tissue-paper screens, illuminated by a candle. He’d gone completely digital in recent years, creating impressive panoramic images which he printed in his home studio on paper or canvas up to 24 inches wide by any reasonable length.

You know how it is when we want to show off our latest snapshots. We pull out a stack of 4×6 prints or our smart phones, right?

Not John! He’d walk into a coffee shop with a wallpaper-size roll of photographic paper under his arm and stretch it out across several tables to share with his admiring onlookers his latest super-sized panoramas of mountains, lakes, deserts and ranchlands.

“My primary subject interest was landscapes, with patterns-in-nature and unusual viewpoints as strong alternatives, or perhaps complements,” he says.

His image of paragliders is one of his most popular.

How well I remember that moment back in 2009 when he came over to my table at Cochrane Coffee Traders and unrolled the breathtaking panorama of hang gliders and paragliders soaring above Cochrane’s famous Big Hill, the town and Bow Valley stretching off to the south.

He’d created the stunning ultra-wide-angle landscape from seven images he’d shot the previous year from the Muller Windsports location and digitally stitched together. John had photographed the fliers separately over a three-year period and Photoshopped them onto the background vista.

“This is a fantasy edition,” he said. In reality, “there were never more than three fliers in the area at the same time.”

John’s 94×16-inch paragliding panorama hangs prominently now at the entrance to the Cochrane Town Council Chambers. A mere coincidence? Or could it be a subtle reminder for our community leaders, while focusing on the details of governance, never to lose sight of the big picture in all its beauty?

Happy Birthday, Pano Man!


© 2016 Warren Harbeck

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