(June 16–21, 2005)

The World Wide Panorama

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During the week of the Solstice (June 21) over two hundred and fifty photographers created VR panoramas with the theme of water.

Theme Essay: Water

The essay conveys the team’s idea of the event. It is usually published together with the Theme announcement and offers a starting point for the contributing photographers.

About the Theme - Water 

by G. Donald Bain 

Water is essential to life, and this is the water planet, the blue marble of oceans and clouds. 70% of the surface of the earth is covered with water, and two thirds of a human body is water. We evolved with water and have built our world around water. 
Water as a theme for VR photography is almost too broad - most landscapes and city scenes will probably include it in some form. The challenge is to feature water, to somehow focus the viewers' attention on the unique characteristics of water and its significance in the scene. 

Water has some amazing properties. It is usually an incompressible liquid, relatively heavy, transparent, without taste or smell. Yet it transforms to a solid or a gas with a few degrees change in temperature, releasing or capturing energy as it does so. We live with water in all three states. 

Weather and climate are largely manifestations of water in its various states - snow, ice, rain, and water vapor. We notice this and comment on it daily - rain or shine, snow, clouds, humidity. As the climate changes through the 21st century humankind will have to adapt to changes in the water regime - it will be drier many places, wetter in some. Sea level will rise and threaten coastal areas, including many major cities. 

Water is so important that many of the world's greatest works of engineering revolve around it. Canals have been built to harness water for transport, bridges so we can cross water from land to land, ships so we can travel over the seas and submarines to go beneath the surface. Great cities have huge systems for importing high quality water from far away. Some of the world's richest agricultural land is dependent on irrigation water from deep wells or aqueducts. Fresh water is impounded by dams large and small, sea-water is excluded from the lowlands by systems of dikes. We make electricity from falling water and the surging of the tides, as well as the expansion of steam superheated by fossil fuel or nuclear fission. 

Water has been the subject of much invention: ice machines and espresso makers, kidney dialysis, the water closet (toilet), humidifiers and dehumidifiers, the whistling kettle, steam heat, lawn sprinklers, fire hoses, whirlpool baths and the automated car-wash. Fuel cells offer great hope for pollution-free energy, combining hydrogen and oxygen to make water, releasing energy in the process. 

We spend vast amounts of effort and energy treating water. First, it is purified to drinking standards then treated with chlorine and sometimes fluoride. Eventually the same water as sewage is filtered and broken down organically to be safely released (or not). Inadequate water treatment remains a problem in many parts of the world. 

Recreation is often synonymous with water: a vacation at the lake or the beach, a trip by cruise ship or canal-boat, hot springs, swimming pools, ice rinks, water slides, sailboats, powerboats, houseboats. We flock to famous waterfalls such as Niagara and Yosemite. We visit aquariums and learn to scuba dive so we can experience life within the water. 

Water mixes well and holds other chemicals in solution. We use it daily in alcoholic beverages, carbonated drinks, herbal infusions such as tea and coffee, the weak saline solution that protects our eyes, the strong saline solution that fills the oceans, the complex mixture of solutes and cells that constitutes blood, water with surfactants (soap), water with solvents. We ship water with unique mineral traces around the world - Perrier water is served at restaurants in Tahiti, nearly antipodal to its source. 

Water gains in importance with both scarcity and superabundance. Life in the desert centers around availability of water, from the remote water-hole to densely settled oases. The roots of civilization are tied to exotic rivers (those that flow from wet areas through dry areas) in Mesopotamia and Egypt. But settlements have been washed away by floods, and in the next century some low lying countries in the Indian and Pacific Oceans may completely disappear as sea level rises. 

Architects create fountains and reflecting pools, gardeners utilize water in ponds and streams. Fountains alone could be used to characterize world cultures and environments. From the Taj Mahal to Kyoto, the Alhambra to Versailles, neighborhood parks to Las Vegas, water is a major element in the built environment. In the dry streambed of a Zen garden water is implicit, we supply it mentally. 

Finally, consider the absolutely most basic visual elements - water and light. Water as vapor and droplets makes clouds and rainbows. Liquid water can transmit like glass, reflect like a mirror, filter light to become green or blue. Solid water can be snow crystals, clear ice, or the blue ice of glaciers. Capturing the intrinsic beauty of water itself might be the greatest photographic challenge of all.

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