52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 33: 3D Photography — the Stereograph

'Koum Ombos' from Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia. Illustrated by one hundred Stereoscopic photographs. Frith, Francis, 1862 (St Andrews copy at Photo DT47.F8)

‘Koum Ombos’ from Francis Frith’s Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia, illustrated by one hundred Stereoscopic photographs. London, 1862 (St Andrews copy at Photo DT47.F8)

Instead of focusing on a specific medium, this week’s Inspiring Illustrations post on photography is devoted to a well-known presentation format, the stereograph.  More recently identified as 3D photography (particularly fashionable in contemporary cinema), this format’s history is well known, but one worth sharing with new readers. Most importantly to us, the University of St Andrews is directly linked to the invention of the ‘lenticular stereograph’.

John Adamson, stereographic self-portrait, Albumen print from calotype negative. c.1845-1851 (St Andrews Photographic Collection Alb8-88)

John Adamson, stereographic self-portrait, Albumen print from calotype negative. c.1845-1851 (St Andrews Photographic Collection Alb8-88)

David Brewster (1781-1868), Principal of United Colleges of St. Andrews, commissioned Dr John Adamson (above, first Scottish photographer to execute the Calotype) to make his ideas about stereoscopic photography a reality. In doing so, a 19th century phenomenon was born which became a fashionable parlour amusement for those who could afford it. Dr Alison Morrison-Low of the National Museums of Scotland writes in our recent Treasures of St Andrews University Library publication: “it’s popularity led to the mass commercialisation and dissemination of imagery in this unique photographic format throughout the world.”

'The Mosque of Sultan Hassan, Cairo' ' from Francis Frith's Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia, illustrated by one hundred Stereoscopic photographs. London, 1862 (St Andrews copy at Photo DT47.F8)

‘The Mosque of Sultan Hassan, Cairo’ from Francis Frith’s Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia, illustrated by one hundred Stereoscopic photographs. London, 1862 (St Andrews copy at Photo DT47.F8)

http://library.st-andrews.ac.uk/record=b1423407~S1

‘The Great Pyramids and head of Sphinx’ from Francis Frith’s Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia, illustrated by one hundred Stereoscopic photographs. London, 1862 (St Andrews copy at Photo DT47.F8)

The principal of recreating the sense of depth in a photograph is a straight forward one. If a human being has two eyes that are a fixed distance apart, they each have a slightly different perspective which allows the brain to combine the images and perceive depth. To recreate this in photography naturally requires the same approach of two images taken a slight distance apart similar to that of human eyes. Next however, one needs a device to make the illusion complete; a stereo card viewer or more aptly a ‘stereoscope’. This device visually split and focused the two images in a manner which allowed the viewer to trick their brain into believing they were looking at a single image some distance away.

The anatomy of the human eye, as illustrated by enlarged stereoscopic photographs, Oxford : At the Clarendon Press, 1912.

Arthur Thomson’s The anatomy of the human eye, as illustrated by enlarged stereoscopic photographs. Oxford, 1912 (St Andrews copy at Photo QM511.T5)

'Plate 12' from

‘Plate 12’ from Arthur Thomson’s The anatomy of the human eye, as illustrated by enlarged stereoscopic photographs. Oxford, 1912 (St Andrews copy at Photo QM511.T5)

The application of the stereograph leaned largely towards the production and visual enjoyment of views of distant places which would feed the curiosity of the armchair traveler, such as those views produced by Francis Frith illustrating Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia with the evocative and now nostalgic tones of the albumen print.  The format also had interesting applications in the sciences as well as erotic imagery. Within our collection are several photographic books featuring anatomical images allowing the three dimensional study of cross sections of the ear, as well as the human eye.

A Claudet-type stereoscope by an unknown maker dating from circa 1850 from the University Museums Collections.

A Claudet-type stereoscope by an unknown maker dating from circa 1850 from the University Museum Collections (PH230).

Modern day interpretations of this technology continue to be developed and remain a fascination for both young and old. A personal favourite from my own childhood was the View-Master!

MB

 P.S:.Other examples of sterographic works in our collections are featured in our Photographic Books collection. Follow this link to see five publications of how the process was applied in the name of science (Brewster being a scientist would have been pleased!).

3 responses to “52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 33: 3D Photography — the Stereograph

  1. Pingback: 52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 33: 3D Photography — the Stereograph | Special Collections Librarianship | Scoop.it·

  2. Pingback: 52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 41: All is not as it seems… | Echoes from the Vault·

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