Land of 10,000 Stories: Panoramic photo continues century tradition

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - The clock on the tower of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis moves only forward. But inside the building, down a narrow hallway, time turns back.

"So these are from the early '30s," points out Jim Lyon, the bank's senior vice president, as he scans a series of panoramic photos displayed on the wall. Only a few inches tall, but several feet long, the prints are filled with bank workers posing at employee picnics and other functions.

The bank has similar photos dating back to the early 1920s, in some workers are dressed in swimming attire. "Looks like they had a practice of going out in a somewhat more rural setting," observes Lyon. "I think it's a nice thing for people to be able to see where the institution has come from," he says.

But on the occasion of the Feds 100th anniversary, bank managers decided it wasn't just enough for workers to see history - they would also get a chance to experience it.

All employees of the Minneapolis branch of the Federal Reserve, more than 1100 people in all, were invited to pose in one of three panoramic photos.

Though new digital technology exists, bank managers sought out the one commercial photographer in Minnesota still shooting panoramic photos with a 1915 Cirkut camera like those used when bank employees posed decades ago.

"Everything here is exactly the way they did it," says Chris Faust, who traveled to Alaska several years ago to learn the old school art of shooting and processing panoramic film.

On the day of the Federal Reserve shoot, he arranges bank employees in a semi-circle, more than 100 feet from end to end.

Faust winds the spring on his 98-year-old camera - then sets it loose. Bank employees were instructed to stand perfectly still as the camera lens approaches them, pivoting with the camera on a wooden tripod. From one end of the line to the other, the camera travels nearly 180 degrees, a trip that takes nearly 40 seconds. A fast sprinter could easily run behind the camera and pose on both ends of the photo.

By today's standards it's old school technology, but in the early part of the 20th century Cirkut cameras were technological wonders - the iPhones of their day. Several photographers in the Twin Cities made their livings off Cirkut cameras and could often be found at large gatherings of military veterans, businessmen and students. A panoramic photo was the culmination of many family reunions too.

Today the old photos are often found in antique shops. West St. Paul Antiques has several on display, including a collection from the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

Lyon believes the Federal Reserve photos have something to say about the history of the bank and its workers. Even at picnics, men are dressed in shirts and ties and women in dresses and dress hats. "I suspect even on the weekends, they probably didn't wear blue jeans," smiles Lyon.

He also suspects an employee photo from the '40s features mostly women, because so many male workers were off fighting the war.

The bank is making plans to display its panoramic photos in a more prominent area, accessible to workers and those on public tours of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Until now, the most recent panoramic photo was taken for the bank's 75th anniversary in 1988. Faust took that one too. "This is how a group shot should be done," he says.

Lyon won't argue with that. A few days after the outdoor photo session, he looks at three long prints, each with several hundred employees. "Someone in 25 years or 50 years will look back at these and marvel that way back in the day these are the folks that used to work at the Federal Reserve Bank," he says.

Bank employees are beginning their second century by circling back to the past.


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