Welcome to my new blog, which I have decided to call Brooklyn Stereography, in honor of the beloved Borough in which I live, and the general focus of my endeavors here. As a brief overview, I will be posting some bits and bobs from my collection, while simultaneously embarking on what interests me most about writing this blog – more deeply exploring the collections I’ve come by so far, and those that I encounter in the future. I have a lot of interesting stuff. I’d like to know more about it. This blog should hopefully help more people get involved with these deeper explorations, by lending their knowledge, translation skills, and detective work to the projects. I hope to get as many people involved as possible – please feel free to contribute! Meanwhile, I will continue to post stereo photography in a number of formats. But first, in case you had a few questions for me…
Who are you?
I’m Ian Ference, a freelance photographer most known for my documentation of historic abandoned buildings, my occasional lectures on topics pertaining to the same, and my collections of images of both derelict structures and of models posing within them. I’m not particularly well-known for stereography, for the simple reason that I have not yet found a 3D camera suitable to my needs and within my price range. However, I have been studying stereography for decades, and have built up quite a collection – which I’m excited to share with the general public!
What is stereography?
Stereography, simply put, is 3-dimensional imagery. As long as there has been photography – in point of fact, before photography was even invented – people have been using various methods to merge two images with their eyes to create a false representation of depth by, in a sense, tricking the brain. On this blog, I will be using the term specifically as regards photography, which is what interests me, but one can make stereographic doodles with red and cyan markers on a piece of paper if one is so inclined, as well as stereographic cartoons, digital art, et cetera.
Stereographic photography is known to most people through the consumer-grade View-Master line; these thematically linked discs allowed people to view (albeit in rather poor quality) things that the average person would never see in their lifetime, from exotic animals to far-away lands. But stereoscopy existed long before that, most prominently from the Victorian era through the 1920s in a variety of formats. The most common were cardboard cards, approximately 3.5 inches tall and 7 inches wide, with two side-by-side images – the left meant to be viewed with the left eye, the right with the right. The better among these featured proper photographic prints, and the lesser used cheap lithographic reproductions, often colorized. Here is an example of one such card, from the Great War (World War I):
These cards can be free-viewed by many people simply by allowing their eyes to cross-focus, merging the images – try it on the above card, or on the full-sized version, which for all images on this blog can be seen by clicking on a photo. But a much better means of seeing in much greater detail was with a stereoscope – a device used to focus and merge the images through a pair of lenses. The most common of these was the Holmes stereoscope and its variants – the original scope was intentionally produced sans patent, so that others could make viewers available to the general public quickly, as well as innovating on the design.
Paired views were also available in other formats. In France, it was common to present views on glass diapositives – that is to say, on what amounts to “slides” in modern photography. The title image from this page is a detail from one such diapositive – from the Puthon collection, which I’ll address shortly. Here’s a scan of the entire glass slide:
As you can see, this is a little more difficult to view without a scope. But not impossible for some. This slide, and this entire collection, used the common 45x107mm format, favored by amateurs, particularly with Voigtlander cameras. Other common formats included 6x13cm glass diapositives, German Raumbild small-format paper cards, and later Stereo Realist electronically lit viewers that utilized the budding Kodachrome slide film format. Different cameras were required to shoot different formats, although most are adaptable with modern technologies like Photoshop.
How will photographs be presented on Brooklyn Stereography?
Well, in many cases, as above – as stereo pair. But for those that don’t free-view, anaglyphs will be substituted in some cases, particularly because they are a lot of fun to look at when the level of depth is rather extreme. You’ve probably seen anaglyphs – they use two different colors to separate two different images, and are necessarily viewed through colored glasses. Here is a fun circus anaglyph from a recent acquisition:
Note that, to the naked eye, it just looks like a wonky picture. But viewed through anaglyphic glasses, the photo suddenly jumps into vivid 3D. If you don’t have a pair (all of my anaglyphs will use the standard red/cyan, as opposed to red/green) – pick one up if you wish to totally immerse yourself in this ongoing experience. A well known and respected manufacturer of these glasses is American Paper Optics – but any pair will do. Even cyan/red glasses can just be bent and put on in reverse to view the image. Inferior vintage glasses with too pale a cyan will often present “ghost” images.
Anaglyphic glasses are, of course, not necessary to view the stereo pairs or numerous single images & details which will be appearing in various blog posts on here.
So what’s in your collection, anyhow?
My collection, as ever, is a work in progress. The bulk of my collection is focused around the Great War. I use the Boyd-Jordan Collection as primary reference to different extant sets. What I have includes:
- A complete 100-card 1923 Keystone View Company set
- A complete 200-card 1920 Keystone hybrid set, following “Set B” numeration but with several “Set A” cards still remaining
- A mostly-complete Realistic Travels 100-card partial set, from 201-300, which differs from the numeration contained in Boyd-Jordan and contains a few alternate views previously unknown to the collection
- Approximately 330 glass diapositives, including 4 of the 6 Fischerview sets, and the remainder as various 6×13 cm & 45x107mm French glass slides
- Aproximately 70 glass negatives, mostly in 6×13, with some in 45×107
- About 1,200 additional views, including numerous KVC, Underwood & Underwood, Realistic Travels, and other manufacturers, small and large
- About 100-200 cheap lithographic knockoffs, many colorized
In the 3.5×7″ format, I also have several thousand additional cards, from cheap lithos to rare Diableries, on numerous additional subjects. I have a fairly large selection of Niagara Falls, and an increasingly impressive set of NYC cards. Hey, I’m a Brooklynite after all! I’ve recently begun collecting Raumbild-Verlag sets, and have four as of right now:
- Die Olympischen Spiele (1936)
- Die Weltausstellung – Paris 1937
- Die Soldaten des Führers im Felde – Der Feldzug in Polen (1939)
- Der Kampf im Westen (orig. 1940, this version a rare late-1944 edition with an alternate card #76)
- Germany: Selected Views (post-WW2; date unclear)
- Europa: 168 views in a box (no essays)
As well as about 500 loose Raumbild cards, from many different sets.
I also have about 500 amateur glass slides, 800 sets of 10-16 images each in various toy formats (Tru Vue, Vistascreen, etc).
And as far as viewers go, the pride of my collection is an undated (but presumably mid-1860s to 1880s) 50-card drop viewer with fine wood construction and the ability to hold either glass or cardboard cards. I also have about a dozen Holmes-style viewers (and a box of spare parts), four Raumbild “Photoplastikon” viewers (one with a cracked lens), two French glass viewers (one Unis, one of unknown origin), and a couple of the OWL viewers – my preferred method for viewing 3.5×7″ stereoviews.
And those amateur images you talked about investigating?
The most interesting part of my collection is my collection of 45x107mm French glass amateur diapositives, from at least three different lots. One small lot contains portraits, and is fairly uninteresting. A second is a box of 150 slides that I have barely looked through, on a range of subject matters, taken in the late 20s by a talented lensman. And the most intriguing of them, a lot of 21 individual boxes (all but one of the Vitra brand) which belonged to a French photographer presumably named Puthon. Here is a box which I have already scanned and catalogued as Box 2 of the collection (the progress I’ve made on the collection so far):
I make the assumption that these belonged to a Monsieur Puthon for two reasons – firstly, because at least two later-period boxes (the last year I have a date on is from 1933) are hand-labeled “Puthon” in the same script that the diapositives are labeled with; secondly, because a “MMe Puthon” appears in one 1928 image (from the box that isn’t a Vitra box, and which I arbitrarily designated as Box 1) and one in a 1929 image (Box 2). For the moment, I take this to mean that there was a photographer “Puthon”; that this photographer photographed people and places including “Madame Puthon”, and that since women could not marry each other, the M Puthon to match the MMe Puthon is probably our photographer. Though as these sets show, plenty of women did photography in France in the 1920s and 30s!
The images mostly seem to center around the French and Swiss Alps, particularly around Chamonix and surrounding areas. The two sets I have studied, cleaned, and then scanned, date predominantly to 1928 (Box 1) and 1929 (Box 2). The exposure quality, use of stereography, composition, and general image quality is significantly better in Box 2. So I’m assuming that the camera was new (or newish) in the first, and more worn-in by Box 2. I’m assuming there’s a lot missing in between, and I hope some of the remaining boxes fill in the gaps. But meanwhile, to get you all salivating, a couple more images, and a puzzle to help me decipher before I make an extensive post on the first box. Firstly, a couple more stereo slides (remember to click for large versions):
So the helpful captions give us much more than we started with. Chamonix, Lac Vert, Brévent, Flégère – all locations we can find on Google Maps with a little effort. But what of the people? So until next time, my amateur-sleuthing friends who wish to help with this endeavor – can you identify the names in the following two margins, from two slides a year apart?
The Comments section is now open (though you do have to click on the post title to access it) and I invite any and all interested parties to get involved, give me your thoughts, deductions, suggestions, etc – as this site grows over time, I’m going to occasionally reward the most frequent contributors with some very high quality reproductions (in anaglyph or 3.5×7″ prints – your choice!) – so don’t be afraid to chime in whenever anything comes into your mind!