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Exhibitions/ The American West in Bronze, 1850–1925/ American West in Bronze Exhibition Blog/ Seeing Sculpture in 360°

Seeing Sculpture in 360°

Solon Hannibal Borglum (American, 1868-1922). Lassoing Wild Horses, 1898

Solon Hannibal Borglum (American, 1868–1922). Lassoing Wild Horses, 1898 (cast ca. 1900–1902). Bronze, 31 3/4 x 19 3/4 x 33 1/4 in. (80.6 x 50.2 x 84.5 cm). National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Museum Purchase (1972.20)

When viewing Solon Hannibal Borglum's Lassoing Wild Horses in the exhibition The American West in Bronze, 1850–1925, visitors have the opportunity to walk around the sculpture and examine it from multiple angles. As you approach the work in the gallery, you see two riders and their horses in profile (the view featured in the still photograph above), as they work together to capture and tame a group of wild horses—the gritty, day-to-day work of the American cowboy. Yet the narrative drama and technical complexity of this sculpture unfolds as you move around it. Walking counterclockwise, you find yourself in the path of the charging horses, looking directly into their protruding eyes. You can see the concentration and determination on the face of the upper rider, and as you continue around the sculpture, you discover that his horse is suspended in midair, with all four legs off the ground as he gallops forward. Also visible from this angle is the coiled rope at the rider's side, which he holds in anticipation of lassoing in his catch. As you come full circle and stand behind the horses, you can observe Borglum's attention to animal musculature, and experience the strain of the lower rider, who clutches the back of his saddle to maintain his mount.

In order to fully appreciate the intricacies of Lassoing Wild Horses, it is necessary to experience the sculpture in the round. This is true for the majority of the bronzes in the exhibition—and of sculpture more generally—as three-dimensional artworks are most often intended to be viewed from multiple perspectives. However, when photographing a sculpture for reproduction in a catalogue or on a website, a photographer must select a single viewpoint. This can be especially challenging for complex, action-packed works that lend themselves to 360-degree viewing.

Over the past eighteen months, the Met has begun to address this challenge by launching a photographic project known as the "360° spin." Adopting technology originally developed for commercial advertising, the Museum has been photographing three-dimensional artworks in the round, including seven sculptures featured in The American West in Bronze, 1850–1925. Barbara Bridgers, General Manager for Imagining and Photography in the Met's Photograph Studio, noted that "there was an increased desire to include images on our website and on portable devices that present objects from a variety of angles, and this technology allows us to enhance the experience of seeing a three-dimensional artwork."

To create a 360° spin, an art object is set onto a rotating turntable. The camera, which remains static, takes thirty-six different photographs of the work as it rotates around 360 degrees. Met Senior Photographer Bruce Schwarz, who has photographed nearly fifty 360° spins, including Borglum's Lassoing Wild Horses, explained that "after a period of trial and error, we established that thirty-six individual photographs were sufficient for creating a smooth and natural spin—while fewer shots created a broken, choppy spin, more images proved to be overkill." The thirty-six individual photographs are then digitally stitched together to create the final spin, which enables the user to drag the cursor over the image, rotating it 360 degrees.


Solon Hannibal Borglum (American, 1868–1922). Lassoing Wild Horses, 1898 (cast ca. 1900–1902). Bronze, 31 3/4 x 19 3/4 x 33 1/4 in. (80.6 x 50.2 x 84.5 cm). National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Museum Purchase (1972.20). Drag the cursor across the image to activate the spin.

Lighting sculptures for the 360° spins, especially reflective surfaces such as bronze, has proven to be a difficult challenge. "When a photographer is in the studio shooting a still of a work of art, the lighting is precise and impeccable," Barbara said. "However, creating the exact same lighting as an object is turning and moving can be very challenging. We have found that diffused lighting is the most effective for shooting an object as it spins," she noted. Moreover, as the artwork rotates, it casts multiple shadows. As Bruce added, "I have to make sure that the work is well lit from every angle, minimizing the number of shadows it casts as it turns. Unlike the grey backdrop I used when photographing the sculptures for The American West in Bronze catalogue, I used a white backdrop for the 360° spins in order to reduce distracting shadows."


Henry Merwin Shrady (American, 1871–1922). Bull Moose, 1900. Bronze, 19 3/4 x 15 3/8 x 8 1/8 in. (50.2 x 39.1 x 20.6 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of George D. Pratt, 1935 (48.149.25). Drag the cursor across the image to activate the spin.

Despite technical challenges, there are many advantages to photographing a sculpture in 360 degrees. With a work such as Borglum's Lassoing Wild Horses, the 360° spin enables the viewer to experience the sculpture's complexity; as Barbara explained, "there is an inherent movement and forward momentum in this work that lent itself beautifully to this technique, and when you see the sculpture in 360 degrees, it comes to life in an exciting way." Bruce also noted that this technology can be used to provide fresh perspectives on iconic works of art: "Many sculptures have been photographed from the exact same angle for years. These 360° spins can provide us with new and different views, allowing researchers to examine artworks more thoroughly and with a greater degree of freedom," he said.

As the Museum's photographers continue to experiment with this technology, new and varied applications continue to emerge. "We are exploring all possible uses for this technology," Barbara said, "and we are beginning to realize that it reaches out in several different directions, from curatorial research to conservation and merchandising. With time, I believe that the 360° spins will have a profound impact upon how we view, study, and experience art objects in the round."

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