Stereoscopy is the great-great-grandfather of modern 3D. The background of modern 3D lies in a discovery made nearly 200 years ago. In 1838 Charles Wheatstone became the first to describe stereopsis and stereoptic vision, which enabled him to develop the first stereoscope.
Popular culture is overrun by more or less successful forms of 3D. The technique is used in the gaming, film, and photography industries.
This is how stereoscopy works:
Because there is some distance between our eyes, each eye sees a slightly different image. The brain unifies the two images, which gives us an impression of depth.
The same optical phenomenon is employed when we see stereo images in a stereo optical device. We take care that each eye, left and right, sees its own image of the same object from a slightly different angle. Two photographs which at first glance seem identical are placed precisely against each other.
However, the two motifs have a small displacement such that the eyes perceive the world from two slightly differing angles. Seen through a stereo device, the two level images are gathered into one in which we experience depth.
The popularity of the stereo image
Stereo images were popular from the mid-1800s to the end of the century, when stereo pictures had become an significant part of pictorial culture. The stereoscope acquired an influence on how one read and interpreted images.
Stereo pictures let people visit theaters in Paris without leaving home, or travel to Peru, Russia, Svalbard, and Bergen's Hanseatic wharf.
One might also have the feeling of seeing an event over again through pictures. Earthquakes in Italy and royal visits in Copenhagen—there was no part of Europe or the rest of the accessible world that was not interpreted by stereoscopic mapping.
Stereoscopic photography and pornography were also found together. It was possible to buy stereo pictures in a small format that could fit into a jacket pocket.
The "Umbra" is a bellows camera manufactured in mahogany, brass, and leather. The lens could be changed such that the camera could also be used for another kind of photography than stereo work. It was not unusual for a photographer to have an extra camera that could be converted to another use.
The dealer was Benefink & Co, which operated in the Cheapside district of London. The manufacturere E. & T. Underwood was closed ca. 1905.
E. & T. Underwood was known for producing high-quality cameras. The Umbra became popular with the Pictorialists about 1900. Pictorialism was a direction in photographic art that arose ca. 1895, when it became easier for photographers themselves to alter their pictures. The images were usually edited in the darkroom or photographed with soft-focus techniques.
The camera has a curtain shutter behind the lenses; it was manufactured by Thornton-Pickard and called Time and Instantaneous.
The stereo shutter was patented in 1897.
Stereo viewers were made in many different versions.
Large, costly desktop models, and the easier (and cheaper) handheld variants like this one, that has a handle which can be folded. A little soft material around the metal edge makes the experience more comfortable when you are viewing into another world.
Stereo camera on a tripod
Stereo camera from the Preus Museum Collection
The stereo camera "Stereo Photosphere" was patented in France in 1895 by Napoleon Conti.
The design is unusual, with two hemispherical front parties house shutters, topped with cylindrical lenses. We do not know if Conti was aware that the camera's appearance reminded of certain female attributes, but there were cartoons that alluded this.
The simple model of this camera was patented in France on November 4th 1888 by Napoleon Conti. Stereo model came in 1895. The camera is in brass with an oxidized silver surface and was marketed as the camera for officers and explorers.
Paul Wing, Stereoscopes
In the second half of the 1800s there was a huge market for stereo photographs and also stereo viewers was necessary to see the photos with the desired three-dimensional effect.
This book is devoted stereoscopes, or stereo viewers, from the first 100 years. This book can be found in the museum's rich library.
Stereo Photographs made it possible for the viewer to travel to places you didn't have the opportunity to visit physically.
Stereo images were viewed through a stereo veiwer, allowing to give a 3D effect. The photographs were taken with specially designed cameras with two lenses, spaced apart as your eyes. The images were taken from slightly different angles so that they appear with depth when they are gathered into one image.
The Fish Warfs, Bergen
The Fish Warfs, Bergen, Norway