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 mostly 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 public!
What is stereography?
Stereography, simply put, is 3D imagery portrayed in some means or another in two dimensions. As long as there has been photography – in point of fact, even before photography was even invented – people have been using various methods to merge two images with their eyes. The merge creates 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.
Stereoviews and Stereoscopes
The most common format outside of Europe 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 to Americans):
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 Europe in general, and in France in particular, 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 later in this post. 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 45×107 mm format, favored by amateurs, particularly with Voigtlander cameras. Other common formats included 6×13 cm glass diapositives, large-format 3.5×7″ plates, French tissue views, and so on. Different cameras were required to shoot different formats, although most are adaptable with modern technologies like Photoshop.
How will stereoviews 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:
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. 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?
Great War Stereography
My collection has now been merged with the Boyd/Jordan/Ference Collection and no longer exists as an independent entity. The Collection is an independent entity, meant for public consumption, and to that end I am aiming for the benchmark I set with my dear friend Doug before his passing in 2020. By 2025, I aim to have 20,000 individual stereoviews visible on the site. Why not pop on over and have a look at the ~10,000 available now? Not being a web designer, they’re not in galleries – YET. But it’s a work in progress, as it has been since before I jumped on board, and as it will be long after I too am gone. There are over 40,000 individual stereoviews in the Collection. They will take a long time to catalogue and process.
Holmes-style Cards & Paper Stereography
In the 3.5×7 inch “Holmes-style” format, I also have several thousand additional cards, from cheap lithos to rare Diableries, on numerous additional subjects. While I’m generally not terribly interested in American scenery, I have a fairly large selection of Niagara Falls. I grab up cheap NYC cards when I can – I’m a Brooklynite after all! Otherwise, I have a reasonably large pile of “mixed bag” views. Genre, travel, industrial scenes, foreign travels, etc – the usual stuff you’d find in a grab-bag of cards that come in big boxed lots and the like.
I doubt I’ll be featuring a lot of Holmes cards on this blog. I just don’t tend to fancy them – or at least, those produced by the major manufacturers – as much as I do glass-plate stereoviews and other, slightly more obscure formats. If you are interested in the topics covered on this blog, however, Holmes-style stereoviews are the most common sort of stereography in most collectors’ cabinets. Auctions sites like eBay are flush with them, and you can probably get a nice starter collection for a hundred bucks or less.
I’ve also begun collecting Raumbild-Verlag sets, and have twelve of the complete series as of right now:
- Die Olympischen Spiele
- Die Weltausstellung Paris 1937
- Reichsparteitag der Arbeit
- Parteitag Großdeutschland
- Die Soldaten des Führers im Felde Band I: Der Feldzug in Polen
- Aus der Lebensgemeinschaft des Waldes
- Die Soldaten des Führers im Felde Band II: Der Kampf im Westen
- Der Erste Großdeutsche Reichskriegertag
- Deutsche Plastik Unserer zeit
- Fliegen und Siegen
- Die Kriegsmarine
- Das hunderttürmige Prag
I also have a number of the post-war mini-sets, the Siegfried Brandmüller “Europa” boxed set, and about 1,200 loose cards, from many different sets. Raumbild-Verlag’s stereography between 1936 and 1945 is a controversial subject, as explained in a post titled “Raumbild-Verlag Otto Schönstein“. This post explains what the cards are – and how to avoid seeing them on this blog if they offend you.
Toy Format Stereography
I collect two main forms of toy-format stereography: VistaScreen cards, and Tru-Vue (and knock-off) filmstrips. VistaScreen, and its primary photographer Stanley Long, have long fascinated me. Ages ago, I won a boxed lot which included an envelope containing 9 images of the circus, which lacking a scope, had to be free-viewed. Months later, I decided to try them in a Raumbild scope, and an addiction was born. I now have over 200 VistaScreen sets – and I’m always looking for more.
Tru-Vue was a company that, somewhat bizarrely, spun off from Rock Island Bridge & Iron Works. Based in Illinois, they created a system by which stereo pairs recorded on 35mm positive film could be advanced through a viewer, creating a slideshow. In the 1930s, they bridged the gap between glass-plate and Holmes-style stereography and color stereography, including commercial formats such as ViewMaster, and personal formats such as Stereo Realist.
Whenever possible, I prefer the look of glass-plate slides to that of printed cards. Hence, I tend to collect them with reckless abandon – and have thousands of them, which fill up lots of nooks and crannies in the flat (much to my wife’s chagrin). The bulk of them can be divided into two categories – amateur stereography & Great War images (which often overlap). I also have about 750 Verascope Richard views of the Swiss Alps, which I have yet to catalogue, and all sorts of other stereoscopic bits and bobs – commercial sets on numerous random topics, etc. Outside of my Great War glass, by far my favorite collection is the amateur set I’ve dubbed the “Puthon Collection” – which we’ll get to later.
Stereoscopes and Handheld Viewers
And as far as scopes and viewers go, the best of my Holmes-style 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 couple dozen Holmes-style viewers (and a box of spare parts), numerous Raumbild “Photoplastikon” scopes, a bunch of VistaScreen viewers, and a couple of the OWL viewers. These are my preferred method for viewing 3.5×7″ stereoviews.
As glass goes, the pride of my scope collection is a Planox Magnetique 6×13 cm 20-slide-per-tray system. It uses an innovative system of super-strong magnets to lift a diapositive from the tray and into the viewing area. With a simple downward push on a lever, the slide is replaced, the tray advances one notch, and the next slide is ready to lift. I also have a Unis Metascope, which takes trays of 25 slides – in both 45×107 mm and 6×13 cm formats. In terms of handheld scopes, I have Unis scopes in both sizes, and a number of nameless French imports.
And those amateur images you talked about investigating?
The most interesting non-war segment of my collection is my collection of 45x107mm French glass amateur diapositives, from dozens of different lots. The most intriguing of them was 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? At this point in time, I’ve begun posting the Puthon Collection. Why not go have a look at what’s available at the moment, and help with my investigation? Or if that’s not to your fancy, just click along to any of the links to the right and find something that is – this blog will (hopefully) be featuring stereography for every taste!