Stereo views

Antique stere­oviews are your tick­et to time trav­el, and can tell great sto­ries from the past! Look­ing at a vin­tage card through your stere­o­scope, you can step right into the scene and imag­ine how things must have been for peo­ple in a par­tic­u­lar era. The pop­u­lar­i­ty of this medi­um in the 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry now allows us to view his­to­ry via this immer­sive medi­um. This sec­tion is devot­ed to the mag­ic of antique stereo-pho­tographs. Learn all about the do’s and don’ts of col­lect­ing antique stere­oviews, and build­ing a well curat­ed col­lec­tion of your own here. We will also peri­od­i­cal­ly share stere­oviews that are part of pri­vate collections. 

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Michael Burr’s Favourite Model

written for the stereosite by Jonathan Ross, UK

Michael Burr was one of the most pro­lif­ic pho­tog­ra­phers of staged genre stere­oviews in the Vic­to­ri­an era. Fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of mas­ters like James Elliott and Alfred Sil­vester and fre­quent­ly adapt­ing the themes of oth­er pop­u­lar pho­tog­ra­phers, this Birm­ing­ham based entre­pre­neur cre­at­ed a cat­a­logue esti­mat­ed at over 1,000 images dur­ing a peri­od from 1862  to the mid 1870s and evi­dent­ly sold his work in large quan­ti­ties as there are so many of his stere­oviews still surviving.

Like most pho­tog­ra­phers Burr had his favourite mod­els who make reg­u­lar appear­ances in his tableaux, and in the 300 or so of his works in my col­lec­tion I have iden­ti­fied one who appears over 40 times. Many of the mod­els in genre pho­tog­ra­phy have the appear­ance of char­ac­ter actors and it would be inter­est­ing to find out if any had suc­cess­ful careers on the stage, turn­ing to mod­el­ling work when they were ‘rest­ing’.  We know that pho­tog­ra­phers like C.E.Goodman and Mar­tin Laroche pho­tographed actors from cur­rent the­atre pro­duc­tions and many genre scenes look like stage sets though they were actu­al­ly con­struct­ed in pho­tog­ra­phers’ stu­dios for the sole pur­pose of cre­at­ing stere­oviews. How­ev­er the iden­ti­ty of most of the actors/models in genre scenes remains unknown so I do not have a name to give to the actress who will be the main pro­tag­o­nist of this sto­ry. She will just be Our Heroine.

One of her best known roles, and per­haps the most rel­e­vant to read­ers of this arti­cle, is as the wife of  a stere­o­graph enthu­si­ast who, while her hus­band is occu­pied in scru­ti­n­is­ing the lat­est offer­ings from the trav­el­ling stereo sales­man, takes the oppor­tu­ni­ty to flirt with the top-hat­t­ed pur­vey­or of 3D delights.

An Optical Delusion – Things seen and Things Not Seen

An Opti­cal Delu­sion – Things seen and Things Not Seen’ card is an ear­ly exam­ple of a theme that stere­oview pub­lish­ers explored until the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry, pro­mot­ing the view that trav­el­ling sales­men are gen­er­al­ly a bad lot and not to be trust­ed around your womenfolk.

The first image car­ries a typ­i­cal Burr label, a small strip past­ed to one side of either the back or front of his cards with the title and, just vis­i­ble here, the word Copy­right or Reg­is­tered. Very few of Burr’s cards have his name on them though occa­sion­al­ly you find one with  an M.Burr blindstamp. 

I first noticed Michael Burr’s name in a 2003 pub­li­ca­tion by Tex Treadwell’s Insti­tute for Pho­to­graph­ic Research called The Eng­lish Mas­ters of Genre Stere­oviews, but Denis Pel­lerin and Bri­an May’s book The Poor Man’s Pic­ture Gallery (which con­tains a short biog­ra­phy) and the Nation­al Stereo­scop­ic Asso­ci­a­tions list­ings have opened my eyes to the extent of his out­put. To begin with I did not val­ue his work as high­ly as some of his pre­de­ces­sors but it is a con­sid­er­able achievement.

This vari­ant of An Opti­cal Delu­sion (an Amer­i­can pirate copy) shows Our Hero­ine get­ting a bit more inti­mate with the slimey sales­man and in ‘Where Igno­rance is bliss, tis fol­ly to be Wise’ the rus­tic hus­band has dropped off in his chair while his wife bids Au Revoir to the sales­man, look­ing like a pan­tomime vil­lain in his tophat. As always, Burr’s views are filled with enjoy­able details, in this case the accou­trements of a coun­try cottage.

At this stage I should say that there is no indi­ca­tion of the sequence in which Burr’s images should be viewed but I have always enjoyed cre­at­ing a sce­nario from what were often clear­ly vari­ants made to max­imise the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of a day’s work in the stu­dio, and imag­in­ing myself behind the cam­era, direct­ing the actors and rear­rang­ing the props.

‘The Cot­tage Coax­er’ is a case in point. We see the same rus­tic cou­ple in the same cot­tage set­ting but there is no evi­dence of the stereo salesman’s vis­it, though the cou­ple have clear­ly had a row about some­thing and the wife is using her pow­ers of seduc­tion to restore her hus­band to bet­ter humour. This fine­ly tint­ed copy in excel­lent con­di­tion has a dif­fer­ent style of label to the one described above but one that is fre­quent­ly found on cards pro­duced by Burr and oth­er pho­tog­ra­phers, so pre­sum­ably a bor­der that was read­i­ly avail­able to printers.

Temptation Tries the Man

The sec­ond set of views we are look­ing at  sees Our Hero­ine still in a hum­ble cot­tage set­ting but, ini­tial­ly at least, in  the vir­tu­ous role of a house­wife, doz­ing in her chair after a morning’s chores. A young admir­er has crept in while she slept and appears about to pull off her bonnet.

The title, ‘Temp­ta­tion Tries the Man’ is set in yet anoth­er font but one that is quite famil­iar from oth­er Burr views.

A sec­ond view, with the title ‘The Thief Cap­tured’, sees her admir­er at her feet with Our Heroine’s hand in his while she holds up her oth­er hand in a ges­ture which seems to say, chan­nelling Bey­on­cé   “Put a ring on it”.

A vari­ant of the view, on an unusu­al yel­low mount,  has the young man on his knees while Our Hero­ine is stand­ing with a coy ges­ture but a rather pleased expres­sion on her face. Per­haps the offer of a ring was forthcoming?

Both these last two images have labels in anoth­er style with a plain sans serif font.

Family Jars

The next three stere­o­graphs, all with the title ‘Fam­i­ly Jars’, which pre­sum­ably means a row or what the British police call a “Domes­tic”, show Our Hero­ine in the same rather run down cot­tage set­ting,  which is now in a hell of a mess, fend­ing off a man in a carpenter’s hat with just a brush and a pair of bel­lows as he pokes his head through the door, an evil expres­sion on his face and a sort of cud­gel in his hand. She has the kitchen table tilt­ed against the door to keep him out.

The man, inci­den­tal­ly, is played by the same actor who the trav­el­ling sales­man in the first view of this sto­ry was hop­ing to make a cuck­old of.

In the next view the man is through the door but his wife has the bet­ter of him and he is flat on his back, tan­gled up in the table, as she keeps  him down with her broom, shak­ing her fist at him as if to say “Don’t try that again, Buster!” He holds up his hand sub­mis­sive­ly in admis­sion of defeat.

In the last Fam­i­ly Jars vari­ant, the cou­ple are rec­on­ciled and Our Hero­ine offers her mis­cre­ant hus­band a glass of stout while he, with his leg up on her knee, smiles back, glad the ruc­tion is over.

A dif­fer­ent­ly titled image, of the same actors in the same set­ting, is ‘After a Storm cometh a Calm’, and needs no fur­ther explanation.

Curiosity Punished

‘Curios­i­ty Pun­ished’ is the title of the next three stere­o­graphs, show­ing Our Hero­ine and a female com­pan­ion in slight­ly nicer sur­round­ings – at least the plas­ter isn’t falling off the walls  — but being pestered by a young fel­low who can’t restrain the urge to get a look at the girls in their désha­bille. Men tend to come off the worse in their encoun­ters with Burr’s women and this fool­ish chap is about to get a soaking.

In the sec­ond vari­ant, Our Hero­ine has the intruder’s head trapped in the door and he doesn’t look at all hap­py about it. Her boot­ed foot is up against her friend’s chair to give her extra force and the crino­line she is hold­ing looks like it could make a use­ful net to catch the fool in.

In the third vari­ant, curios­i­ty may not have killed the cat  but it cer­tain­ly got this chap a good past­ing. Our Hero­ine is whack­ing him with a hair­brush with one hand while the oth­er has a hold of his hair. Her com­pan­ion is poised to tip a jug of cold water over him too. “That’ll teach you to spy on us!”

Rustic Music

‘Rus­tic Foot Bath’ was the name of a pop­u­lar stere­oview first pub­lished under the name of Phiz (the pseu­do­nym of Alfred Sil­vester) c.1858 and recon­struct­ed almost exact­ly by Michael Burr lat­er, as was his wont. In Burr’s ver­sion Our Hero­ine rocks the same sort of off the shoul­der look as in ‘Curios­i­ty Pun­ished’ and has the same female com­pan­ion as in that series only this time her friend is en trav­es­ti, play­ing the role of a roman­tic musi­cian, ser­e­nad­ing his lady love. In the Phiz ver­sion both parts are also played by women but I don’t think there was any Sap­ph­ic sug­ges­tion intend­ed, just an excuse to show some bare ladies’ legs.

In a vari­ant of the image Our Hero­ine has her arm around the musician’s shoul­ders and is gaz­ing at ‘him’ with an ador­ing look.

Burr, like oth­er Genre pho­tog­ra­phers, was not one to waste a good set on a sin­gle image. After all quite a lot must have been invest­ed in build­ing the scenery, not to men­tion hir­ing the cos­tumes and pay­ing the actors. So in the fol­low­ing view, Rus­tic Music becomes ‘Rus­tic Foot Bath’ and Our Hero­ine strikes a rather more raunchy pose, break­ing the forth wall with a Fleabag style glance at the view­er and the sug­ges­tion that it is not just her feet she is about to wash — her top might be com­ing off at any moment.

Our Hero­ine also appears désha­bil­lé in an image enti­tled sim­ply ‘Evening’ in which she pos­es with a water­ing can  and some severe­ly dehy­drat­ed pot plants.

Love Below Stairs

In the “Love Below Stairs” series we see her in the role of a domes­tic ser­vant at a time when fol­low­ers were not allowed. In oth­er words if you were someone’s cook or house­keep­er you were not per­mit­ted to enter­tain gen­tle­men callers. In this nice sepia stere­o­graph called ‘The Sur­prise’, Our Hero­ine is con­ceal­ing a man  under the kitchen table, hav­ing heard her mis­tress approach­ing. He is hop­ing that the lit­tle dog does not give the game away, while she is giv­ing us a look as if to say “Don’t breathe a word!”

In a rather grub­by vari­ant, the man is dis­cov­ered and it looks as though the dog is to blame. Our Hero­ine knows she is in trouble.

Her mis­tress sends him pack­ing though he twirls his mous­tache defi­ant­ly. Our Heroine’s pleas are to no avail.

Domestic Difficulties

In ‘Domes­tic Dif­fi­cul­ties’ we see her Upstairs in her employ­ers’ break­fast room, clear­ly involved in some kind of alter­ca­tion with her mis­tress, while the man of the house cau­tions her from behind a raised news­pa­per. We may assume that he and she have been car­ry­ing on and per­haps she feels secure in her posi­tion? The pale green mount and the crop­ping of the images sug­gest that this is a pirat­ed view.

In this fine­ly tint­ed vari­ant we see Our Hero­ine beg­ging her mas­ter for help while he denies every­thing and his wife shakes her fist in rage. We can see that Wifey has snatched off her servant’s cap and is hold­ing it in her left hand. Per­haps it was of too fine a qual­i­ty for a house­keep­er and may have been a gift from her master?

In the final vari­ant of Domes­tic Dif­fi­cul­ties Our Hero­ine is ordered out of the house, but her mas­ter is giv­ing us a look  as if to say “Oh well, it was worth it!”. He is slip­ping her some­thing, which I assume is some mon­ey, and she doesn’t look too put out.

The male char­ac­ter is once again played by the Michael Burr reg­u­lar who you may recog­nise as the rus­tic stereo enthu­si­ast we met ear­li­er and the belea­guered car­pen­ter in Fam­i­ly Jars

What are you all looking at?

Out on the street, Our Hero­ine joins a crowd with her female com­pan­ion from Curios­i­ty Pun­ished and a lit­tle black boy I recog­nise from oth­er Burr views. The title of the view is ‘What are you all Look­ing at?’

To which the answer, accord­ing to Ray Nor­man from is Donati’s Comet. “First observed on 2 June 1858 from Flo­rence Obser­va­to­ry. Through­out 1858 the comet increased in bril­liance until it was clos­est to Earth on 10 Octo­ber. It was the first comet to be pho­tographed and was the most bril­liant object in the night sky in the 19thcen­tu­ry.”

Our Hero­ine was not con­fined to play­ing rus­tic types or domes­tic ser­vants and in the next two views we can see her as a lady of fash­ion on the streets of Lon­don in her splen­did crino­line. ‘Art in ’60 – Your Like­ness & A Shave 6D’ (six­pence) gives us an insight to the pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dios of the time with street hawk­ers tout­ing for busi­ness and enter­pris­ing trades­men like this bar­ber offer­ing pho­to­graph­ic por­traits in the same premis­es that you might vis­it for a shave. The sign above the win­dow reads “Por­trait Saloon and Easy Shav­ing Shop”, with one beside it announc­ing  “A Lit­tle Like­ness & a Shave 6D!!! Ladies the Same, With Crino­lines Extra” (though I imag­ine they were not offer­ing to shave any ladies!  We can see some stere­oviews dis­played in the shop win­dow and in frames out­side, along­side por­trait pho­tographs in oth­er for­mats. The hawk­er has some more por­traits in a frame hang­ing from his neck and there is a sign on the ground which reads “Stop!!! The Lat­est Out. Crino­lines Done Outside.”

In the first view we can see the barber/photographer in the door of his busi­ness with a cam­era on a tri­pod and a dark slide in one hand with the oth­er raised as if to say “Hold it!”  Our Hero­ine is seat­ed with a lit­tle dog on her lap, watch­ing with amuse­ment as the hawk­er and a deliv­ery boy (played by the young black actor we saw in the crowd scene) trade insults.

In a vari­ant of the scene we can see that hawk­ers are per­sis­tent types as Our Hero­ine appears to be declin­ing his sales pitch but he is not pre­pared to take No for an answer. He has grabbed the hem of her crino­line to stop her mov­ing off, in the process reveal­ing her pet­ti­coats. The pho­tog­ra­ph­er and the deliv­ery boy are find­ing the whole per­for­mance quite funny.

Crinoline Difficulties

Still dressed in her fash­ion­able crino­line and accom­pa­nied by her lit­tle dog, Our Hero­ine next appears in a series called ‘Crino­line Dif­fi­cul­ties’, with alter­na­tive titles ‘The Dan­gers and Per­plex­i­ties of Crino­line’ or just ‘The Dan­gers of Crino­line’.  All the vari­ants involve her hav­ing prob­lems get­ting through a nar­row gate­way and var­i­ous­ly com­ing a cropper.

This first one has been in the wars a bit but it is the only one I have seen with the tophat­ted and mon­o­cled gent look­ing on. It has a W. H. Mason of Brighton blind­stamp, as do quite a few cards in my col­lec­tion, lead­ing to the con­clu­sion that Mason was a retail­er and pos­si­bly not a pho­tog­ra­ph­er himself.

In this one a young labour­er is lean­ing on his shov­el and look­ing on. He has either offered to help or has made some wise­crack about her crino­line but, either way, Our Hero­ine is fend­ing him off.

How­ev­er, as we know,  Pride Comes Before a Fall and her crino­line catch­es on the gatepost and brings her crash­ing to the ground. She will be glad of the young labourer’s help now.

Unob­served she does no bet­ter. That crino­line is just not going to let her get through unscathed.

The sto­ry­line cer­tain­ly serves as a good excuse to show a lot of lacy under­wear and provoca­tive amounts of ankle.

This one comes with the title ‘A Styl­ish Affair’. Our Hero­ine is well and tru­ly in a pick­le and her poor lit­tle dog can do noth­ing to help.  Down she comes with a crash again.

There is noth­ing left to do put pick her­self up, see if she can fix her crino­line and hope she hasn’t sprained her ankle! 

Crino­lines were most def­i­nite­ly a gift to pho­tog­ra­phers and artists with a sense of humour but Our Hero­ine would doubt­less have been glad to take hers off at the end of the day’s shoot.

The Elopement

A series called ‘The Elope­ment’ sees her in the guise of a young lady run­ning away from her board­ing school with her lover, a sailor.  The first  image has the title ‘Is He Com­ing?’.

She hears him call to her and lets down a rope lad­der in readi­ness for her escape. Her pos­ses­sions in a bun­dle and a box tied up with string.

She begins her descent and her lover fol­lows after, hold­ing her wrist to make sure she is safe and car­ry­ing her bun­dle for her.  In my opin­ion Our Hero­ine looks more suit­ed to play­ing the pro­pri­etor of a board­ing school than one of the pupils  but we can allow Burr a lit­tle the­atri­cal license in cast­ing his favourite mod­el once again.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly the course of true love nev­er did run smooth and Burr casts the same cou­ple in a view enti­tled ‘The Sailor’s Adieu’.  He is still wear­ing his sailor’s uni­form while she seems to have walked into a melo­dra­ma from anoth­er era and is dressed in a corset­ed vel­vet gown with a tiara on her head. Our Hero­ine stands dis­con­so­late, her eyes down cast, a hand­ker­chief  ready to wipe away her tears, while her sailor boy waves good­bye. He prob­a­bly has a girl in every port. A chess­board on the table shows the game is over.  This scene may have noth­ing to do with the Elope­ment series and may well just be an exam­ple of Burr mak­ing use of two of his actors while they were around, but it is irre­sistible to try to make the connection.

Some time ago I acquired the fol­low­ing image of Our Hero­ine look­ing rather like The Queen with an anx­ious expres­sion, trans­plant­ed into some papi­er maché cave, and when I saw that the card was titled sim­ply ‘Fear’, I didn’t know what to make of it.

How­ev­er the fol­low­ing two cards, acquired lat­er,  have the title ‘Haidee and Juan, Can­to 2nd’, which denotes a scene from Lord Byron’s poem ‘Don Juan’.

The epony­mous hero Juan has sur­vived a ship­wreck and is cared for in a cave by a pirate’s daugh­ter Haidée.

Our Hero­ine looks rather grand­ly dressed but I sup­pose if you have a tiara it‘s a shame not to wear it.  It appears that the pirate is also a slave trad­er so per­haps in the ‘Fear’ image Haidée is fright­ened that he will find out that she has been shel­ter­ing Juan. Who knows?

Any­way, I have now shared most of the images of this anony­mous actress from my col­lec­tion of Michael Burr stere­o­graphs with you and would like to end with one with this sim­ple title:

It shows Our Hero­ine iso­lat­ed in a cave, but dressed to kill and hold­ing onto her anchor of Hope  — which seems like quite an inspi­ra­tional image for The Time of Covid, while writ­ing from Lon­don dur­ing a peri­od of Tier 4 Lockdown.

I hope to find more images of her in days to come  and maybe to dis­cov­er her name. In the mean­time, I hope you enjoy this story.

Jonathan Ross (London, UK)

Jonathan Ross began to take an inter­est in stereo pho­tog­ra­phy after a decade of work­ing with holog­ra­phy. He helped estab­lish the first Euro­pean gallery of holography,the short-lived The Holo­gram Place, in 1978 and his pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny SEE 3, was one of the pio­neers of embossed holog­ra­phy, now ubiq­ui­tous in the fields of secu­ri­ty print­ing and pack­ag­ing. He sold SEE 3 in 1990 and began col­lect­ing holog­ra­phy and oth­er 3D imag­ing tech­niques, doc­u­ment­ing his acqui­si­tions on the Jonathan Ross Holo­gram Col­lec­tion web­site. In 1998 he opened Gallery 286 in his Lon­don home on Earl’s Court Road and has had a con­tin­u­ous exhi­bi­tion pro­gramme of con­tem­po­rary art and holog­ra­phy since then in addi­tion to curat­ing exhi­bi­tions of holog­ra­phy inter­na­tion­al­ly.

Insta­­gram-pro­­file: jross286

“Tissues” or “The Happiness of the Collector in Collecting”

written for the stereosite by Thomas Asch, Switzerland

What to do in 2020, these dif­fi­cult times for pas­sion­ate col­lec­tors? There are no local col­lec­tors’ fairs and also trips to cities with promis­ing flea mar­kets are not pos­si­ble. I try to adapt, deep­en my knowl­edge of indi­vid­ual stereo pho­tographs of my col­lec­tion and go hunt­ing for new col­lectibles more often online. On var­i­ous plat­forms such as ebay I am look­ing for new rar­i­ties in my field of pas­sion: stereoscopy.

Recent­ly a major lot of Tis­sues was offered in an online auc­tion that caught my eye. Of the sev­er­al dozen cards on offer, only 3 were ful­ly dis­played, while the oth­ers were only seen in a pile next to it.

Fig. 1: Offered pile with 3 open cards

From the descrip­tion, which was kept very brief, you could only spec­u­late on the qual­i­ty of the oth­er “hid­den” cards, but the offer appealed to me. I trust­ed in my col­lect­ing instincts and decid­ed to bid. At the last minute I drove the price up a lit­tle and in the end I won the auc­tion. An inde­scrib­able moment for the col­lec­tor on the hunt… After that the long days of wait­ing fol­lowed until the cards final­ly arrived in the mail.

But just look­ing at a few cards gave me the cer­tain­ty: A very fruit­ful acqui­si­tion! A large vari­ety of top­ics and the con­di­tion almost con­sis­tent­ly good!

Fig. 2: My work table dur­ing the assess­ment of the tissues

What is a “Tissue”?

Before I show a few exam­ples of the cards, I would like to briefly high­light the spe­cial fea­tures of the “Tis­sues”. Tis­sues are black and white pho­tos copied on very thin paper, which appears almost trans­par­ent. The back of these thin pho­tos was more or less artis­ti­cal­ly col­ored, i.e. paint­ed with col­ors, so that when look­ing at them against a light source the pho­to is pre­sent­ed in col­or. A tis­sue is struc­tured like a sand­wich. A frame in the front and the back. In between the from behind col­ored pho­to and anoth­er pro­tec­tive tis­sue paper.

Fig. 3: Lay­ered view of a Tis­sue from the front
Fig. 4: Lay­ered view of a Tis­sue from the back
Fig. 5: View of the assem­bled tis­sue with light­ing from behind

Now to some exam­ples out of the pur­chased bundle: 

“Surprise” Tissues

Some­times the scenery of the pho­to is sub­merged in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent light by the spe­cial col­oration of the back side. As an exam­ple observe the day / night Tis­sues. One of these is this stereo pic­ture of the Place de la Con­corde in Paris. (This is com­posed of two shots tak­en one after the other.)

Fig. 6: Place de la Con­corde by day

If you hold the card up against the light, the scene appears as a night shot with a full moon and artis­tic, fil­i­gree light­ing of the square.

Fig. 7: Place de la Con­corde in the back­lit view

In addi­tion to the col­ored back side every sin­gle lamp was marked with a fine nee­dle prick to allow light to shine through the paper. An enor­mous effort to pro­duce the indi­vid­ual cards.

These stere­os with an unex­pect­ed visu­al effect when back­lit are called “sur­prise Tis­sues “. I will show two more exam­ples later.

Theater tissues

But to stay in Paris, I’ll show two exam­ples from the “Les Théâ­trales de Paris” series. These are recre­at­ed scenes from then-cur­rent per­for­mances on the Parisian the­ater stages. For nat­ur­al pho­tos, there was sim­ply too lit­tle light in the the­ater itself.

First two scenes from “Voy­age dans la Lune” after Jules Verne, which was per­formed in 1875 in the Théâtre de la Gaîté.

Fig. 8: Voy­age dans la Lune, No 3 Le Canon (Jules Marinier, 1876)
Fig. 9: Voy­age dans la Lune, No. 11 Les Hiron­delles (Jules Marinier, 1876)

Then two scenes from “Cen­drillon” based on a fairy tale by the Broth­ers Grimm, per­formed in the Théâtre Impeér­i­al du Chatelet.

Fig. 10: Cen­drillon, Nr 7 La Course aux Lat­er­nes (Adolphe Block, 1867)
Fig. 11: Cen­drillon, No. 9 Le Lac d’Azur (Adolphe Block, 1867)

What is remark­able about the “Le Lac d’Azur” card is the elab­o­rate­ly “built-in” rain through very fine cuts in the left part of the stereo pic­ture with aston­ish­ing effect when viewed stereoscopically.

Genre Scenes

Card by card I enjoy immers­ing myself in the illus­tra­tions to embrace the detailed con­tents of each image, to clas­si­fy them in time, as well as to deter­mine their ori­gin. At that time it was uncom­mon to name the pho­tog­ra­ph­er specif­i­cal­ly on the card itself.

Some­times chance can help you. This time it was a recent talk by Denis Pel­lerin, in which he showed a sub­ject assigned to the Gaudin Frères that, in a slight­ly dif­fer­ent vari­ant, was also found on one of the acquired cards. So I had the cru­cial clue regard­ing the photographer.

Fig. 12: Punch and Toby (Gaudin Frères)

On anoth­er card with a street scene, on clos­er inspec­tion, you can see the same house facade as in Fig. 12 as a back­drop. Hence the legit­i­mate assump­tion that this pho­to was also cre­at­ed by the Gaudin Frères.

Fig. 13: Beg­gar with broom in front of the reused back­drop from Fig.12 (Gaudin Frères)

I have not yet been able to assign all of the oth­er Tis­sues. For exam­ple: Accord­ing to the frame of the fol­low­ing stereo pho­to with the boys in uni­form, play­ing leapfrog, the card was dis­trib­uted by Adolphe Block. But who is the pho­tog­ra­ph­er? Is he hid­ing behind the embossed ini­tials Ch. D. in the low­er left cor­ner of the frame?

Fig. 14: Boys in uni­form playing

Research­ing such images is very enter­tain­ing and some­times takes me a long way away from the start­ing point. It’s not uncom­mon to come across infor­ma­tion that leads to a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent card in your collection.

The Whole World

The vir­tu­al jour­ney through this col­lec­tion led me not only to Paris, but also to oth­er won­der­ful cities like here, thanks to this spe­cial night illu­sion, to Milano …

Fig. 15: Milan Cathe­dral from behind (Accord­ing to the infor­ma­tion on the frame: Pho­tographed by J. Andrieu, dis­trib­uted by A. Block in Paris and the card was bought from C. Eck­en­rath in Berlin)
Fig 16: Milan Cathe­dral. The cloudy night sky with the moon is only paint­ed on the back of the left half of the picture

… and even as far as Rio de Janeiro … 

Fig. 17: Hotel Pharoux, Rio de Janeiro

This pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with Vic­to­ri­an pho­tographs is an extreme­ly excit­ing activ­i­ty in times of order­ly calm and opens many unknown win­dows into bygone worlds direct­ly from one’s sofa.

Some­times, how­ev­er, all you need to do is to put a bright light on the back of a card to be able to enjoy a very sur­pris­ing scene on a Tissue.

Fig. 18: Emp­ty rail­way bridge (pho­tog­ra­ph­er: unknown, pub­lish­er: A. Block, sell­er: C. Eckenrath)
Abb 19: The same card with a sur­prise-train in trans­mit­ted light.

The cards of this recent pur­chase will keep me busy for a while and are a won­der­ful addi­tion to my collection.

Thomas Asch (Zürich, Switzerland)

The Col­lec­tor: In the ear­ly 1980s I found at a flea mar­ket a bun­dle of View­mas­ter reels with a view­er and this was the spark for enthu­si­as­tic col­lect­ing of stere­oscopy until today. My col­lec­tion con­sists of stereo cards, View­mas­ter and of course “hard­ware” such as Stere­o­scopes and Cam­eras. 
The Pho­tog­ra­ph­er: In 1983 I bought a  Revere from the 50s as my first Stere­o­cam­era and short­ly after that a View Mas­ter Per­son­al Cam­era to begin cre­at­ing my own stereo pho­tog­ra­phy. Main stereo sub­jects in the fol­low­ing years were my fam­i­ly and trav­el pho­tos on var­i­ous trips.  After my retire­ment from an IT job, five years ago, my activ­i­ties and pre­ten­sions as stereo pho­tog­ra­ph­er broad­ened sig­nif­i­cant­ly.

Insta­­gram-pro­­file: thomas.asch_3d_passion

Negative Notions: Proper digitization of stereoscopic negatives for parallel viewing

written for the stereosite by Ian Ference


My inter­est in stere­og­ra­phy is pri­mar­i­ly informed by two things – my back­ground as a pho­tog­ra­ph­er, and his­toric stud­ies of the Great War. For this rea­son, I have amassed quite a few stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tives from ~1914–1921. The image I am using for the prac­ti­cal demon­stra­tion is des­ig­nat­ed “FasserNeg56”, a part of the Alexan­der Otto Fass­er Col­lec­tion, the most impres­sive and impor­tant of the many ama­teur Great War stere­og­ra­phy col­lec­tions in the Boyd/Jordan/Ference Col­lec­tion. It depicts a Nieu­port 10 sesqui­plane being worked on by the crew, and has a cor­re­spond­ing pos­i­tive that you can view on my per­son­al blog. Need­less to say, it is of great his­toric impor­tance, as are the oth­er 136 neg­a­tives in this par­tic­u­lar set.

Your inter­est may be else­where. While the images used in this arti­cle are of the war, and from the Fass­er col­lec­tion, the tech­niques are uni­ver­sal. Whether your inter­est is in trav­el stere­oscopy, 3D erot­i­ca, or macro stere­oviews, the the­o­ry and prac­tice described below apply equal­ly well to all sin­­gle-sub­­s­trate stereo­scop­ic negatives.


Stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tives are, by nature of their cre­ation, trick­i­er drag­ons to con­quer than are those made by tra­di­tion­al two-dimen­­sion­al cam­eras. They are vicious chimeras, prod­ucts of dis­tinct pho­to­graph­ic and stere­o­graph­ic process­es, and dif­fi­cult to tame, espe­cial­ly when we talk of those in Euro­­pean-style. What do I mean by “Euro­­pean-style”? Sim­ply that both parts of the stereo pair appear on the same sub­strate – usu­al­ly glass. Amer­i­can and British stere­o­g­ra­phers often used large-for­­mat cam­eras to pro­duce paper cards. These cam­eras would cre­ate two neg­a­tives, one for each tak­ing lens. These are not dif­fi­cult at all to print (or dig­i­tize). For the remain­der of this arti­cle, I will be refer­ring to Euro­­pean-style sin­gle glass neg­a­tives. The the­o­ry, of course, also applies to cel­lu­loid negatives.

Most sam­ple scans of neg­a­tives made by sell­ers on auc­tion sites are abject­ly ter­ri­ble. The above image rep­re­sents a bet­ter-than-aver­age attempt to dig­i­tize a stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tive, made by my late friend Doug Jor­dan. How­ev­er, as you exam­ine it, you should be struck by three prob­lems. Most obvi­ous­ly, the expo­sure is ter­ri­ble – you don’t even need to attempt to view the image to see that! Next, upon attempt­ing to par­al­lel view the scene, you’ll notice that you can­not – it will either appear flat or cause eye-strain. The pan­els are reversed, and it appears as if it were a cross-view image! This is not cor­rect. Final­ly, upon care­ful study, you might think that the sol­diers stand­ing about the mor­tar are wear­ing their medals back­wards. They aren’t – each pan­el is actu­al­ly a mir­ror image, and the entire stere­oview is flipped hor­i­zon­tal­ly! From the same neg­a­tive, a decade lat­er, I cre­at­ed the fol­low­ing dig­i­tal ver­sion, with­out much pain or effort:

In addi­tion to prop­er expo­sure in “devel­op­ing” the dig­i­tal neg­a­tive – an ana­logue to the dark­room con­cepts of expos­ing, using con­trast fil­ters, choos­ing a devel­op­er, etc – knowl­edge of how lens­es work, and appli­ca­tion of that knowl­edge to the more com­plex stere­o­graph­ic set­ting, allows me to quick­ly and eas­i­ly flip the entire “dig­i­tal print” hor­i­zon­tal­ly and then exchange the pan­els to cre­ate a nice rep­re­sen­ta­tion of what I per­ceive as the orig­i­nal photographer’s intent. Keep in mind that this involves some artis­tic inter­pre­ta­tion on my part – just like real dark­room work! But once ones grasps the the­o­ry intu­itive­ly, putting it into prac­tice makes dig­i­tiz­ing stereo neg­a­tives more excit­ing than dig­i­tiz­ing stereo pos­i­tives. Instead of being a pain in the arse, it’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty to exer­cise cre­ativ­i­ty and deci­sion mak­ing in inter­pret­ing the neg­a­tive into a final work. To the end of mak­ing this acces­si­ble to every­body, I will first dis­cuss the the­o­ry behind cre­at­ing stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tives, before address­ing the prac­tice of prop­er­ly dig­i­tiz­ing them.


Your eyes are lens­es. What hits the back of your eye is an upside-down rep­re­sen­ta­tion of what you are see­ing; your visu­al cor­tex steps in and sorts it for you. You may not know this, but cam­era lens­es do the same thing. Because many peo­ple pre­fer dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy these days, you may not have strips of neg­a­tives lying around to proof that effect. So I will demon­strate with a sil­ly lit­tle car­toon drawn by my won­der­ful wife Stacey.

After devel­op­ing a neg­a­tive, you’ll wind up with a piece of glass (or cel­lu­loid) which looks like this:

You can then make a con­tact print from the neg­a­tive, with the emul­sion side of the neg­a­tive fac­ing the emul­sion side of the print­ing sub­strate (usu­al­ly paper or glass). This has the effect of again invert­ing the darks to lights, as well as the effect of revers­ing the image – which faith­ful­ly repro­duces the scene:

Now all you must do is take the print in front of you and rotate it 180º and voila! – a faith­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the scene. Our pen­guin, igloo, and snow­man are all in their right place. Fol­low­ing from this, you might think that the same process should work on a stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tive. If you go into your dark­room and try it, you will get a dis­ap­point­ing result sim­i­lar to the first scan shown in this arti­cle, though not identical:

Two of the flaws of the ini­tial image are still appar­ent: the expo­sure is ter­ri­ble and the pan­els are reversed.So what of the third flaw – why is it not the case that on the con­tact print, the entire stere­oview is flipped hor­i­zon­tal­ly? The answer is sim­ple: Con­tact print­ing is not anal­o­gous to mak­ing trans­paren­cy scans on mod­ern scan­ners. In mak­ing a con­tact print, or enlarg­ing, the image is nat­u­ral­ly hor­i­zon­tal­ly reversed. This makes up for the inver­sion of the image. Scan­ning is pred­i­cat­ed on mak­ing an iso­mor­phic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the phys­i­cal object. This is why emul­­sion-side-down dia­pos­i­tive scans look just like the orig­i­nal trans­paren­cy – and why scans of neg­a­tives are always reversed.

How­ev­er, we still need to address the trans­po­si­tion of the pan­els – why the heck does nei­ther a con­tact print nor a dig­i­tal scan pro­duce a prop­er stereo­scop­ic image, free-view­able in par­al­lel or in more detail through a scope? The answer to this goes back to the notion of the fact that the Euro­­pean-style stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tives under con­sid­er­a­tion con­sist of two images on a sin­gle sub­strate. Let’s con­sid­er our sil­ly pen­guin car­toon again – but this time, let’s con­sid­er pho­tograph­ing it with a glass-plate stereo­scop­ic cam­era. Let’s pre­sume that the pen­guin is at the zero plane, the igloo is clos­er to us (neg­a­tive par­al­lax), and the snow­man is far­ther away from us (pos­i­tive par­al­lax). What we want is to obtain a stere­oview that looks like this:

But let’s see what hap­pens when we load up a glass plate and click the shutter:

Both images are tak­en simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, and the light cre­ates a stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tive on our sin­gle glass plate:

Wait a minute – it says “right pan­el” on the left, and “left pan­el” on the right? Wor­ry not that your san­i­ty is slip­ping away, dear read­er.
 What we’re look­ing at here is the emul­sion side of the neg­a­tive. What the left lens saw is on the right; what the right hand lens saw is on the left. Visu­al­ize your­self stand­ing in front of a stereo­scop­ic cam­era and this should intu­itive­ly make sense. If you’re think­ing that this might have some­thing to do with the image trans­po­si­tion dis­cussed above, you’re on the right track. But to demon­strate, we’ll go ahead and make a con­tact print from this neg­a­tive, rotat­ed 180º as we would with a flat negative:

Uh-oh! This doesn’t look like the above stere­oview, and for a very salient rea­son: in rotat­ing it so that the fig­ures appear upright, we have placed the expo­sure made by the left-hand lens on the right, and the image made by the right-hand lens on the left. This is the rea­son that many stere­oviews (pos­i­tives) print­ed by ama­teurs from sin­gle glass plates appear to be slight­ly mis­aligned – they are! One side would have to be print­ed off the oppo­site side of the neg­a­tive, and then the oth­er, each while the pos­i­tive plate was half-masked. Now that we under­stand the process­es by which stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tives are cre­at­ed, we can hope­ful­ly bet­ter appre­ci­ate that although it takes a bit more work, we can make amaz­ing dig­i­tal recre­ations from the neg­a­tives in the “dig­i­tal darkroom”.


What fol­lows is an exam­i­na­tion of the process I use in cre­at­ing the best pos­si­ble dig­i­tal pos­i­tives from stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tives. It must be not­ed that, as with most things in dig­i­ti­za­tion (as well as the tra­di­tion­al dark­room), your mileage may vary as regards avail­able equip­ment and tools (soft­ware) – and that one’s own indi­vid­ual aes­thet­ic can come into play heav­i­ly when pro­cess­ing from a neg­a­tive. As stat­ed pre­vi­ous­ly, a neg­a­tive has far more data than a pos­i­tive – and there­fore, is far more open to inter­pre­ta­tion when print­ing or dig­i­tiz­ing it. The process of scan­ning a pos­i­tive is a study in cre­at­ing as close to a repro­duc­tion of the orig­i­nal work as is pos­si­ble. The process of cre­at­ing a dig­i­tal pos­i­tive from a scan of a neg­a­tive is an inter­pre­tive process. My own aes­thet­ic is to cre­ate true B&W works from B&W neg­a­tives, unless I have a cor­re­spond­ing pos­i­tive that shows the photographer’s intent to tone or tint the image. But it all starts with the scan.


For most pos­i­tive scans, it is suf­fi­cient to scan direct­ly to JPEG or TIFF for­mat – minor alter­ations can of course be made, but gen­er­al­ly you’re just look­ing for an accu­rate repro­duc­tion of what is already estab­lished. How­ev­er, neg­a­tives are far more sil­ver-dense than are pos­i­tives. In this dense sil­ver, there is a lot more data. That’s why it is essen­tial to use soft­ware that can scan to the Adobe DNG (dig­i­tal neg­a­tive) for­mat, because this is the only cur­rent for­mat that ade­quate­ly rep­re­sents the amount of data con­tained in the den­si­ty of a neg­a­tive. I pre­fer Sil­ver­Fast, an inex­pen­sive and pow­er­ful soft­ware bun­dle that allows direct use of the scan­ner bed in “trans­paren­cy – glass” mode:

Sil­ver­Fast also offers the option of mul­ti­pass scan­ning – that is to say, tak­ing two pass­es over the neg­a­tive to cap­ture max­i­mal detail – which is anoth­er option not offered by the lousy soft­ware bun­dle that’s usu­al­ly deliv­ered with a scan­ner. In any case, the most essen­tial aspect of any scan­ning soft­ware is its abil­i­ty to cre­ate Adobe DNG files. Once you have picked a soft­ware prod­uct, it’s time for the fun to begin. Here’s my work­flow, in order:

  1. Clean the neg­a­tive and scan­ner bed. This may seem like a no-brain­er, but most glass slides pur­chased from online auc­tions, estate sales, and so on are at least some­what dirty. Pure water (not tap!) can be used on the clear side of the glass, by appli­ca­tion with a microfiber cloth. On the emul­sion side, a dry cloth is prefer­able, but a lit­tle water vapor from breath­ing can come in handy with tough dirt / smoke dam­age. Always err on the side of cau­tion. Also make sure your scan­ner bed is clean and free of dust; a blow­er bulb can be your best friend.
  2. Place the neg­a­tive emul­­sion-side down and make a pre­view scan. If you’re not using a scanner/software com­bo that allows for place­ment direct­ly on the scan­ner bed, you may have to use a hold­er to hold your neg­a­tive. These are often prob­lem­at­ic, as the image area of a neg­a­tive can cov­er an entire plate and thus be blocked by the hold­er; when pos­si­ble, use the direct scan method. In any case, use pre­view scans to select the image area and make sure that, upon eye­balling it, the slide appears to have 0.1º or less vari­ance from being com­plete­ly straight. Every major action per­formed after the image is in your edit­ing soft­ware – such as unnec­es­sary rota­tions to cor­rect for slop­py scan­ning – only degrades image quality.
  3. Dou­ble-check your set­tings. Acci­den­tal­ly scan­ning to the wrong fold­er or with the wrong image name only caus­es headaches. But much more impor­tant­ly, make sure you’re uti­liz­ing the entire Adobe RGB col­or space (more on why you should scan B&W neg­a­tives in col­or lat­er), and scan­ning at a high enough res­o­lu­tion. I rec­om­mend 4800 ppi if pos­si­ble, mul­ti­pass to DNG in 48 bit color.
  4. Check your envi­ron­ment. If some­one in the flat above you is thump­ing their bass, you’re run­ning appli­ances which cre­ate vibra­tions (air con­di­tion­ers, loud phono­graphs, old hard dri­ves on the same table), and so on, you’re liable to get a less­er-qual­i­­ty result.
  5. Hit the scan but­ton. You’ll prob­a­bly have to wait 15+ min­utes for the result. Don’t for­get to check each scan before remov­ing the slide from the scan­ner – it might be the case that you need to res­can for any num­ber of rea­sons. Best to make sure you have a good base scan before clean­ing and plac­ing your next slide!

And that’s it – you should now have a DNG file that looks alto­geth­er unlike the orig­i­nal neg­a­tive. But don’t wor­ry about that; in our next step, you can make it look like the orig­i­nal neg­a­tive if you want – but you’ll prob­a­bly want to improve on it. One of the few upsides to mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy is that it’s much eas­i­er to improve on a dodgy neg­a­tive by mak­ing a dig­i­tal neg­a­tive and prop­er­ly pro­cess­ing it. At the very least, it wastes less pho­to­graph­ic paper!


Although it is com­mon par­lance in the dig­i­tal world to refer to pro­cess­ing a dig­i­tal neg­a­tive as “devel­op­ing” the file, this is rather sil­ly – you are already work­ing on a neg­a­tive that was devel­oped before you were born. Much bet­ter to refer to it as pro­cess­ing in my opin­ion. But I digress. This is the step where you do most of the fun­da­men­tal work of mak­ing the image look nice – that is to say, cor­rect­ing the bad expo­sure that we iden­ti­fied as one of the three major flaws of most neg­a­tive scans. Most stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tives are scanned direct to JPEG or TIFF. Our inter­im step allows you to do things that you can do in the dark­room – but instead of dic­tat­ing that you want greater edge acu­tance by using Agfa Rod­i­nal instead of Ilford ID11, you slide a lit­tle slid­er bar to the right.

In order to process a DNG file, you’re going to need soft­ware. I use Adobe Pho­to­shop CS6; oth­ers pre­fer Adobe Light­room after I con­vinced him into scan­ning to DNG. There are gen­er­al­ly some­what infe­ri­or free prod­ucts avail­able as well. The afore­men­tioned Adobe prod­ucts are eas­i­ly obtained in cer­tain fash­ions, but doing so is out­side the scope of this arti­cle. In any case, I will be using Pho­to­shop for pur­pos­es of explain­ing my work­flow; feel free to try the prod­uct of your choice and exper­i­ment – that’s half the fun any­how, is it not?

This is what FasserNeg56 looks like when opened in CS6:

And when opened in Pho­to­shop, and invert­ed (Command‑I):

Not too impres­sive, but rather char­ac­ter­is­tic of what you get if you don’t put in the work in edit­ing. Did I men­tion yet that you’ll be learn­ing to edit in reverse? You will. But that’s not as daunt­ing as it sounds, if it sounds daunt­ing at all – those who are still nos­tal­gic about their time in the dark­room are prob­a­bly look­ing for­ward to it, for though the smell of fix­er is not present, the adven­ture of inject­ing one­self into an image cer­tain­ly is. Those slid­ers you saw above, and the ones on the oth­er pan­els – these are your “dig­i­tal dark­room” tools. Expo­sure is anal­o­gous to the amount of light you use when enlarg­ing or mak­ing a con­tact print. Con­trast is the over­all con­trast of the image, where­as Clar­i­ty is sim­i­lar to edge acu­tance – the con­trast at bor­der regions between light and dark.

In any case, the best means of becom­ing expe­ri­enced in the use of these new­fan­gled slid­ers is by play­ing around with them – much like exper­i­ment­ing in a tra­di­tion­al dark­room! It took me dozens of tries to get what I want­ed out of the first stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tive I scanned; by my 20th I was get­ting it in one or two attempts. You learn to pre­vi­su­al­ize what will come out the oth­er side using this tri­al-and-error method, much as when you learned pho­tog­ra­phy, you learned to pre­vi­su­al­ize how a giv­en scene would look with what­ev­er lens and film you were shoot­ing. My final slid­ers for this image look like this:

With the end prod­uct (hav­ing been invert­ed) look­ing like this:

Is this the cor­rect expo­sure, con­trast, bal­ance, et cetera? There is no answer to this ques­tion; even though a pos­i­tive exists for this image, we don’t know that it was how the pho­tog­ra­ph­er (known to be Alexan­der Otto Fass­er) want­ed the image print­ed. As an Amer­i­can in Neuil­ly, it it far more prob­a­ble that he had the plates devel­oped and print­ed by a Parisian pro lab than that he took time away from his sur­gi­cal duties to do dark­room work him­self. Thus, this par­tic­u­lar print is my inter­pre­ta­tion of Fasser’s neg­a­tive, and can’t be oth­er­wise. And this is one of the lit­­tle-known (these days) joys of work­ing with the neg­a­tives of anoth­er – one may, or indeed must, inject them­selves into the cre­ative process. Once you’ve refined your own cre­ative process, you’ll be ready for the final steps to pre­pare a pleas­ing par­al­lel-view­able pos­i­tive for dig­i­tal dis­play or printing.

Finishing Touches

So now we have a prop­er expo­sure at high res­o­lu­tion; we have over­come one of the three major obsta­cles dis­cussed in the intro­duc­tion. With Pho­to­shop, GIMP, or anoth­er soft­ware project, we can com­plete the final three steps. The first step is sim­ple – flip the slide horizontally:

Only one prob­lem to go! But first we must account for the slide’s oxi­da­tion. The sec­ond step is some­what more com­plex, and may vary depend­ing on the soft­ware prod­uct you are using. Remem­ber that we scanned to 48-bit col­or space, instead of sim­ply mak­ing a greyscale scan. This has left the oxi­dized sil­ver on the invert­ed image appear­ing as a blue/cyan fog over parts of the image – usu­al­ly the periph­ery. In Pho­to­shop, using the “Black & White” func­tion in “Adjust­ments” brings up the fol­low­ing menu:

And the cyan and blue slid­ers can be used to achieve a tonal match with the rest of the image, where­as a straight greyscale scan would not have allowed this! This can also be achieved in any num­ber of oth­er ways, includ­ing in the DNG pro­cess­ing stage. I chose this method because it is sim­plest to demon­strate; all that mat­ters is that what­ev­er means you use, you remove as much of the vis­i­ble oxi­da­tion as is pos­si­ble. We are only one step away from cre­at­ing a final image that we can be proud of. We must now do the third step – swap­ping pan­els and crop­ping. This is sim­ple to do in any image edit­ing soft­ware; I will share my Pho­to­shop work­flow, but you may fol­low what­ev­er makes log­i­cal sense to you – just don’t do any­thing to com­press the image! I start out by select­ing the entire image area, copy­ing it, and open­ing a new doc­u­ment (which uses the pix­el dimen­sions of the orig­i­nal, and will use whichev­er col­or I choose for the inter­sti­tial area between pan­els). I then copy what appears to be the right-hand side of the scan, and paste it into the left side of the new document:

Note that I care­ful­ly moved the new­ly trans­posed pan­el until all of the cen­tral over­lap area was cov­ered – this does mean a tiny amount of image loss, but that is more than made up for in cre­at­ing a pleas­ant view­ing expe­ri­ence. I then copy-paste the left-hand pan­el from the scan into the right side of the new doc­u­ment, and sim­ply crop off the over­lap area. Then I flat­ten the image, and am left with:

Of course, there is more that one can do to improve on this image. But retouch­ing stere­oviews is a top­ic for anoth­er arti­cle; suf­fice it to say that prac­tic­ing these tech­niques and work­flow allows one to process numer­ous stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tives in an hour, rather than spend­ing hours on each. There are a num­ber of oth­er things I could include here; for exam­ple, dur­ing the trans­po­si­tion step, it is very easy to paste the sec­ond pan­el on top of the first, des­e­lect the red chan­nel on that lay­er, and instant­ly have a pleas­ing anaglyph. If this makes intu­itive sense to you, then you might wish to add it to your work­flow, but for brevity’s sake I dis­clud­ed it from this article.


It is a shame that the mid-cen­­tu­ry piv­ot away from stere­og­ra­phy (View-Mas­ter and Real­ist aside) has left a knowl­edge gap that has ren­dered most dig­i­tized stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tives ill-exposed, trans­posed, and back­wards. Most archives do not have a spe­cial­ist capa­ble of cre­at­ing prop­er par­al­lel rep­re­sen­ta­tions, and thus many are list­ed in find­ing aids but obnox­ious­ly unavail­able for view­ing. Those archives that do dig­i­tize their neg­a­tives some­times get the expo­sure right, but rarely prop­er­ly flip and trans­pose, lead­ing to the appear­ance of flat­ness and back­wards imagery. Read­ers who come from pro­fes­sion­al archival back­grounds should be able to quick­ly improve their skillsets, and thus improve the qual­i­ty of dig­i­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tions on their archives’ webpages.

Many stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tives linger on auc­tion sites for months or years; it is like­ly that the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of these neg­a­tives have no cor­re­spond­ing pos­i­tive still extant, and thus are basi­cal­ly “lost arti­facts”. But things once lost can again be found, and hope­ful­ly this arti­cle will inspire some read­ers to seek out stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tives with­in their field of inter­est, dig­i­tize them, and make them avail­able to the pub­lic. Not only is this a pub­lic good, in that it helps to pre­serve his­to­ry, but it is a much more fun and cre­ative process than mere­ly dig­i­tiz­ing pos­i­tives. Just refrain from bid­ding against me when it comes to neg­a­tives por­tray­ing the Great War!


For those of you who were intrigued by the the­o­ries behind the cre­ation of stereo­scop­ic neg­a­tives and how that impacts their dig­i­tal pro­cess­ing, there are fur­ther venues of explo­ration avail­able. In terms of the­o­ry of ana­log pho­tog­ra­phy, light­ing, lens func­tion, lens aber­ra­tions and coat­ings, and dark­room tech­nique, I high­ly rec­om­mend Aaron Sussman’s The Ama­teur Photographer’s Hand­book. The title might include ‘ama­teur’, but the sheer vol­ume of infor­ma­tion read­i­ly approach­es the entire­ty of some of my com­rades’ BA pro­grams. Mine is an 8th edi­tion, pub­lished in 1973, and hand­ed down to me by my father. I’m sure oth­er edi­tions are equal­ly won­der­ful. And for those with any ques­tions or who wish to dis­cuss any of this sub­ject mat­ter fur­ther, please reach out by email:

Ian Ference (Crown Heights, Brooklyn)

I have been “into” stere­og­ra­phy for the last 30 of my 39 years; for the last ten I have been a seri­ous col­lec­tor. In 2018, I put my love of shar­ing knowl­edge into action when I launched my blog, Brook­lyn Stere­og­ra­phy. When my clos­est friend and col­lect­ing part­ner Doug Jor­dan passed away in Jan­u­ary 2020, I accept­ed stew­ard­ship of the Boyd/Jordan/Ference Col­lec­tion. I hope be able to add to and grow the col­lec­tion, includ­ing a per­ma­nent endow­ment for the online enti­ty, before my own demise. Most of my 3D efforts are put into main­tain­ing and build­ing this col­lec­tion, and into research­ing Great War stere­og­ra­phy in gen­er­al. Sec­ondary areas of spe­cial­iza­tion with­in his­toric stere­og­ra­phy include Raum­­bild-Ver­lag and Vis­taScreen, among oth­ers.

Insta­­gram-pro­­file: ian­fer­ence

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