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The Wonderful world of Stereographic Photography

Invites users to experience some of the oldest forms of stereoscopic photography - turn of the century (1900's) 3D imagery

What is a Stereoscope?

Description of Stereographic Photography

  •  Invented by British scientist Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1832 (before the birth of photography) using drawings of simple objects.
  • The stereograph or stereo-view is a double photograph on a cardboard mount viewed through the stereoscope through which they will appear as s single three dimensional image.
  •  Although the principle of 3D imagery was conceived before the early days of photography, the stereo-view was not perfected until the early 1850s. They were a very popular form of home entertainment in the Victorian and Edwardian era.
  • Stereo-views are produced by a special camera with two lenses spaced horizontally apart – a distance approximating the separation of the eyes. Each lens has a slightly different perspective so that when the stereograph is viewed through the stereoscope each eye only sees its associated image and the view springs to life in the third dimension.
  • Millions of stereographs were produced by commercial and amateur photographers from the early 1850s until the 1940s although the industry was very much in decline after the first world war. The height of their popularity occurred in the late 1890s and into the 20th century.
  • Publishing companies sent their photographers to all parts of the world to record world events such as expeditions, wars, and life in towns around the world.
  • At the start of the 20th century the market of views became big business especially in America where more views were produced than the rest of the world put together.
  • A number of companies were selling views from door to door, of these Underwood and underwood was the most successful. Their salesmen were selected for their politeness and sobriety, and were trained to conduct themselves with extreme decorum, even so far as attending meetings and church in the communities they were selling their views.
  • They gathered recommendations and endorsements from notable people such as Thomas Edison, Woodrow Wilson, and more, all of whom were themselves commercially stereo photographed.
  • Stereoscopes were housed in boxes that were often designed to look like books when placed on a shelf, in such a way sets of tours of the world which comprised of many volumes, provided the public with a real depth where they could travel the world from the armchair.
  • Sets in this way were marketed with corresponding guide books with maps, allowing the viewer to develop an understanding of the world that was constructed for their viewing
Blum, R 2008 “George Rose: Australia’s master stereographer”, Ron Blum Oaklands Park South Australia, pp. 4-5.
Masteller, R 1981 "Western Views in Eastern Parlors: The Contribution of the Stereograph Photographer to the Conquest of the West." Prospects, vol. 6, pp. 55-71.
Ryan, S, 1996 The cartographic eye: How explorers saw Australia, Cambridge University Press, p. 45.