Dr Pawel Yakovlevich Piasecki (or Pyassetsky)
Russian military doctor, geographer, artist
After conducting some experimental work in medicine, Piasecki set off on an expedition to Mongolia and China in 1874-5. He published a long, engagingly written account of the trip, which must have been well received as it was translated into both French and English. The expedition was accompanied by a photographer and Piasecki himself made many drawings. Perhaps this experience of travel illustration planted in his brain the idea for a more sophisticated approach to visual travelogues, which consisted of drawing pictures of places or events on long, slowly unwinding panoramas of paper. Piasecki demonstrated one such strip to the Russian Imperial court in December 1895, and though they apparently rejected his offer to make another of Tsar Nikolas II's coronation in 1896, he went ahead anyway, and his fifty-eight metre panorama still exists in the Hermitage Museum. But a bigger challenge was ahead. The five years up to 1900 saw the fastest ever rate of rail construction is Russia, above all on the trans-Siberian railway. Piasecki, with the advantages of his far eastern experience, was involved in making a panorama of the view along the line, both on film and on his paper-roll system, though there is some confusion as to what his role was in this project.
On 3 May 1898 the Morning Post reported that Piasecki had been commissioned some time before to make a cinematograph of the whole line as far as Krasnoyarsk, and that a special carriage had been constructed for 'preparing the films'. The report added that the task had already been accomplished and that the Tsar 'seated in his study, was enabled by the aid of Dr Piasecki's pictures to obtain precisely the same views of the Siberian country traversed by the line as he would have had if he had made the journey by train'. According to Alice Guy, the film had been commissioned by the Compagnie des Wagons Lits, and filmed by a Gaumont operator. She recalls it being shown in the Paris studio of the set designers Jambon and Bailly, and Jambon is credited as the painter, though Piasecki won the gold medal for it at the Paris Exposition. What seems most likely is that he acted as the 'producer' of both the film and the paper-roll, Gaumont and Jambon respectively doing the detailed work, and perhaps the French rail company paying for both. The panorama alone was a major undertaking, consisting of four huge rolls (one of which was over 900 metres long, and survives) unspooling at different distances from a mock carriage in which the 'passenger' sat, served by eastern attendants. The 'trip' lasted nearly an hour, and was a big success both at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and at the St Louis World's Fair in 1904.