VistaScreen’s “Chi-Chi the Giant Panda”: Why does this even exist?

Whilst musing over ridiculous stereography, Rau’s Camouflaged Penguin often stood out in my mind as an example of a talented photographer doing some shoddy work. No more, however. We have a new champion to crown today: Stanley Long, the photographer behind the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of English stereoview purveyor we’ve come to know and love as VistaScreen.

Long has a checkered past on this blog already. We’ve seen some excellent cave and cavern series from him and some very nice artistic nudes. We’ve had a glimpse under the tent at the big top in his series on the Bertram Mills Circus, which he clearly had a love for but perhaps lacked the technical acuity that early in his career to pull off well. And then we have some sets which cause us to scratch our heads, like County Cork, which is full of mundanity – and some which are just downright laughably bad, including ZSL London Zoo. But even those terrible zoo stereoviews pale next to this set in terms of mundanity, ridiculousness, and just downright silliness. Because we’re about to meet Chi-Chi the Giant Panda. For 10 images. One juvenile panda. 10 images. And just wait until we get to the captions.

Being that this blog has no intention of becoming the Fox News or The Daily Mail of stereographic journalism, no spurious conjecture will be made of the following sort:

“‘Chi-Chi the Giant Panda’ was photographed on the single worst day of Stanley Long’s life. His partner had just left him for another man, and had taken his considerable savings, his favorite Teddy Bear, and his dignity as well. VistaScreen called Long up and demanded that he head to the London Zoo posthaste. He walked out his front door to find that his former lover had punctured his tyres, and he started walking, stopping only to buy a bottle of the cheapest plonk he could afford. He finished it on the stroll, loaded up his Heidoscop with a single roll of 220 film, broke into the Panda enclosure, and took some photos before promptly passing out. The VistaScreen people had to retrieve him, pay a fine, and recover his negatives – and decided to print the set regardless. Already having spent their budget for the shoot bailing Stanley out, they hired his mentally challenged 7-year-old nephew to write the captions, and there we are.”

No, surely we can avoid such sensationalism. But we still have to wonder about this set. I think it very likely that he did indeed shoot this entire set on a single roll of 220 film or on two rolls of 120 film in the course of an hour or less, during which he also wrote down “panda facts” given out by the London Zoo. He probably had the warders posing poor Chi-Chi so he could get his shots done. The sparse number of shots taken would explain why some crooked images – where there isn’t perfect left-right parity in the images, and stereopsis is difficult – made it into the final set. It also explains some of the… less impressive… angles he caught Chi-Chi in. The captions are just random Panda facts, some about Chi-Chi, and some about the species in general. Granted, this is a children’s set, but still, there has to be something more interesting to say than “occasionally hibernates in winter”.

And even granting that this is a children’s set, VistaScreen had over 100 of them – where’s the demand for this one? What deranged subset of the population of British children had it as their heart’s desire to see 10 mediocre stereoviews of a single juvenile Giant Panda, accompanied by rather random “Panda Facts”? I can imagine the conversation now:
Lady Highcastle: Billy, we’re ordering some more VistaScreens now! Your father’s ordering one of those queer ones he never shows us that comes in a paper sleeve, I’m getting another historic manor tour, and your sister is getting another circus series. What do you want? Locomotives? Aeroplanes? Ocean liners?
Little Lord Billy: I want more animals!
Lady Highcastle: Well, you already have Animals 1 and 2 – how about a zoo series? There’s the London Zoo, the Bristol Zoo, the Woburn Alley Zoo, the Dudley Zoo-
Little Lord Billy: NO! Those all have STUPID animals in them. I want pandas!
Lady Highcastle: Well, the only one listed seems to be about one caged panda named Chi-Chi, but that shan’t be an obstacle. We’re members of the British ruling class, and we have the means to hire Stanley Long to go on an expedition to China to find the 10 best pandas in the world in their natural habitats and-
Lady Highcastle (aside): And to think he’ll be Lord of the Manor one day… small wonder the aristocracy is stuck in inevitably decline…

Whatever the reason, one day (and I’m certain these were taken in one day), Stanley Long took these stereoviews with his trusty Heidoscop, they went through the… effort… to caption them, shrink them, print them, cut them, and package them, making them ready for sale to the British public. And now, some 60+ years later, I make them ready for your viewing pleasure. Aren’t you thankful? You should be thankful. So without further ado:


3 Replies to “VistaScreen’s “Chi-Chi the Giant Panda”: Why does this even exist?”

Leave a Reply