By James Suits
Panoramic photographs have long been a technique for me to capture landscapes that are beyond the scope of a normal camera lens, and even that of my own eyes. With this format, I naturally sought to capture grand vistas and scenic locales. Eventually, though, I started incorporating my love of geography and interest in obscure geographic locations that don’t necessarily conjure up a sense of grandeur. I am intrigued by the idea of otherwise insignificant places being given a certain level of significance by the presence of human borders, such as high points, tri-points, cardinal extremes, and other points. These all inherently rely on the presence of human borders to define them.
When one thinks of state high points, they might think of snow-capped mountain peaks. All 50 states, however, have high points. In Delaware, Ebright Azimuth is the high point at only 442 feet above sea level. It lies at an intersection in a middle class, suburban neighborhood and one would probably drive right past it if it weren’t for the marker sign. Because the state’s borders fall where they do, it becomes a landmark in an otherwise landmark free terrain. In Connecticut, the high point is on the side of Mount Frissell, whose peak is actually in Massachusetts. Where the border runs over the side of the mountain is higher than any other mountain that is completely inside the state’s borders. Had the border moved a hundred yards further north, the state high point would have also moved. Of course, the higher they are the more scenic they become. Guadalupe Peak in Texas and Mount Marcy in New York offer breath-taking views.
Tri-points are where the borders of three states meet at a single point. There are three different states pictured in each tri-point image. These points are directly formed by human laid borders and are even less significant in terms of scenic vistas. They generally are in nondescript areas in the middle of nowhere: along riverbanks, in the middle of forests, etc. This lends them a sense of solitude and calmness. The only way to distinguish these points is by the stone markers that normally accompany them.
I use the 360-degree panorama format to provide a fuller context for the location of the points. I want to show whatever happens to be around the point, whether it is roads, buildings, tourists, or nothing but trees. I started shooting panoramas on film in the late 1990s, before the latest surge in the format’s popularity where everybody’s smartphone can now capture a basic panorama with ease. Since I started, my tools and techniques have steadily improved, having moved from film to digital, from shooting handheld to using a custom modified tripod, and utilizing the latest advances in Photoshop in the stitching process.
My aim is to capture these unique places, regardless of how unassuming or magnificent they might be, as part of the American landscape. The images in this portfolio represent a fraction of the locations I want to capture for this series. As I expand this subject I look forward to capturing the many unlikely landscapes from across the United States.