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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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

The Autochrome project

written for the stereosite by Peter Norman (Burgess Hill, UK)

The Autochrome Project is a per­son­al endeav­our to pro­duce a work­able method of recre­at­ing the Lumière Autochrome. 

Stereo­scop­ic autochrome, France 1928
Stereo­scop­ic autochrome, France 1928

The Autochrome was one of the prin­ci­pal ways of pro­duc­ing colour pho­tog­ra­phy in the ear­ly 20th Cen­tu­ry. Patent­ed in 1904 by the broth­ers Auguste and Louis Lumière, the process con­sist­ed of a glass plate coat­ed with a micro­scop­ic lay­er of mixed pota­to starch gran­ules dyed orange-red, green and blue-vio­let. This cre­at­ed a ran­dom mosa­ic screen in which each par­ti­cle of starch act­ed as a colour fil­ter and then a black and white sil­ver emul­sion was coat­ed on top. The plate was placed in the cam­era, back to front with the mosa­ic screen fac­ing towards the lens. Dur­ing Expo­sure, light hit­ting the sur­face of the starch would split into its addi­tive colours of red, green and blue before reach­ing the pho­to­sen­si­tive sur­face beneath. The plate is then put through a ‘rever­sal process’ which involves devel­op­ing the exposed neg­a­tive image and then bleach­ing it away using an acid. This leaves the un exposed sil­ver which is then fogged with light and re devel­oped to pro­duce a pos­i­tive image. When viewed through trans­mit­ted light the ran­dom pat­tern of the micro­scop­ic grains would recre­ate the orig­i­nal colour of the scene. 

Starch mix of the Autochrome project under the micro­scope
Pro­file of an Lumière Autochrome plate

The Lumière broth­ers in the l’Il­lus­tra­tion mag­a­zine 1907
Col­ored insert for a detailed arti­cle about the Autochrome process in the l’Il­lus­tra­tion mag­a­zine 1907

A much sit­ed char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Autochrome is its colour palette. With the view of the dyed starch as an ana­logue to coloured pig­ment, the process dove­tails unique­ly between the worlds of pho­tog­ra­phy and paint­ing; on the one hand it offers up a clear view of a past life and on the oth­er ren­der­ing a twi­light impres­sion of a world that we cov­et. 

These char­ac­ter­is­tics have formed my rea­sons for want­i­ng to be able to explore and use the colour palette for mak­ing pho­tographs on glass. Fol­low­ing a revival of learn­ing and prac­tice in ear­ly pho­to­graph­ic process­es this has increased the knowl­edge and inter­est of these tech­niques. Due to the com­plex­i­ty of the Autochrome pro­duc­tion I feel an alter­na­tive method of repro­duc­ing this process needs to be con­sid­ered. By draw­ing from the orig­i­nal Lumiere research mate­ri­als repro­duced in ‘The Lumiere Autochrome, His­to­ry, Tech­nol­o­gy & Preser­va­tion’ by Bertrand Lavedrine and Jean Paul Gan­dol­fo, this has pro­vid­ed me with a foun­da­tion to how this could be pos­si­ble. By break­ing down the process into its con­stituent parts, alter­na­tive ways of look­ing at each stage can be achieved. This has con­sist­ed of research into dye­ing dif­fer­ent starch­es, how it is applied onto glass and how this can be coat­ed with pho­to­graph­ic chem­istry.

Mak­ing of pho­to­graph­ic emul­sion in the dark room.
Coat­ing is only pos­si­ble on an absolute­ly hor­i­zon­tal sur­face.
Coat­ed glass plates in the dark room.
Bat­tery pow­ered dry­ing box.

To expand upon this research and devel­op­ment, in Octo­ber I vis­it­ed the George East­man House in Rochester, New York to learn Pho­to­graph­ic Emul­sion mak­ing with Process His­to­ri­an, Nick Bran­dreth & Mark Oster­man. This was part of a week­long pri­vate tuition that involved mak­ing a Sil­ver Bro­mide Dry Plate emul­sion and coat­ing it onto glass plates. Fol­low­ing this I have begun to start mak­ing basic sil­ver bro­mide emul­sions on my own. The next stage is to focus on devel­op­ing more com­plex emul­sion for­mu­las that will increase the pos­si­bil­i­ties of The Autochrome Project. 

Neg­a­tive on a glass plate coat­ed with my own sil­ver bro­mide emul­sion.

Dig­i­tal inver­sion of a neg­a­tive

In sup­port of this, my research has includ­ed look­ing at Stereo Autochromes as I believe this to be a fas­ci­nat­ing area in its own right. A large amount of these appear to have come from pri­vate col­lec­tions and offer an inti­mate view of life on the ear­ly 20th Cen­tu­ry. Whilst my study is not only for the pur­suit of Stere­oscopy, I feel that by explor­ing this area in future can only increase the scope of my project. 

Stereo­scop­ic autochrome, France 1920s
Stereo­scop­ic autochrome, France 1928
Peter Norman (Burgess Hill, UK)

I am a UK based pho­tog­ra­ph­er spe­cial­is­ing in his­tor­i­cal process­es, includ­ing dry plate pho­tog­ra­phy. A few years ago I came across an ear­ly colour process called the Autochrome from a por­trait of the author Mark Twain. I quick­ly became fas­ci­nat­ed with Autochromes and decid­ed to see if it was pos­si­ble to recre­ate this tech­nique. My progress is ongo­ing and my project has involved vis­it­ing the East­man House Muse­um in Rochester, New York to learn Pho­to­graph­ic Chem­istry. Along­side this I am a Art Han­dling Tech­ni­cian at the Nation­al Por­trait Gallery in Lon­don.

Insta­­gram-pro­­file: theau­tochrome­pro­ject

An Abbreviated History of Stereo-Pair Illustrated books

written by David Starkman, USA

The first book that I ever saw illus­trat­ed with stereo pairs was “The Stereo Real­ist Man­u­al” by Mor­gan & Lester, pub­lished in 1954. This book fea­tured side-by-side stereo pairs that were approx­i­mate­ly 2.25″ x 2.25″ square, both in col­or and black-and-white. For view­ing, a plas­tic hand-held stereo view­er was includ­ed in a pock­et glued inside the back cov­er of the book. It was sim­ple, and quite effec­tive. This same view­er is still being made today, and has been includ­ed with numer­ous books. The most recent wave of 3‑D books with stereo pairs have been a series pub­lished by Chron­i­cle Books (begin­ning with “Beneath the Sea in 3‑D”, and fol­lowed by many oth­ers in the same for­mat). These have the images print­ed side­ways (par­al­lel to the spine of the book) with fold out flap in the back cov­er which incor­po­rates the view­ing lens­es. This basic con­cept and for­mat turns out to be quite old, but more about that lat­er.

Some­where along the way I became fas­ci­nat­ed with the idea of stereo illus­trat­ed books that incor­po­rate a view­er, and how to achieve this with stereo pairs, rather than anaglyphs.

The Stereo Real­ist Man­u­al, 1954
Beneath the Sea 3D, 1997
19th century

The first book ever to incor­po­rate actu­al side-by-side stereo pairs was “Tener­ife, An Astronomers Exper­i­ment” by C. Piazzi Smyth, pub­lished in 1858 by Low­ell Reeve in Lon­don. Accom­pa­ny­ing the text were 20 albu­men stereo images, which were log­i­cal­ly includ­ed by hav­ing an out­line for the stereo pair, and the cap­tion print­ed on a page, and then the sep­a­rate right and left images past­ed onto the pages. Obvi­ous­ly a labor inten­sive process, the book was issued in an edi­tion of 2,000. The pub­lish­er offered an acces­so­ry “Book Stere­o­scope” man­u­fac­tured by Negret­ti and Zam­bra.

The idea of such stereo illus­trat­ed books must have had some pop­u­lar­i­ty, as the well known stere­o­scope mak­er Smith, Beck & Beck made a spe­cial book stere­o­scope and patent­ed it in 1859. The view­er is designed to rest direct­ly upon the stereo pair. The lens pan­el moves up and down by means of an adjust­ment knob to allow for focus­ing. The achro­mat­ic lens­es are pris­mat­ic, and may be rotat­ed to adjust for images of var­i­ous sizes. An angled mir­ror on the ver­ti­cal sup­port­ing pan­el reflects light onto the images, and the sep­tum is made of frost­ed glass, to reduce shad­ows that it might cause on either of the images. Even today one could not think of a sin­gle fea­ture to improve on the design of a stere­o­scope for this pur­pose! To the best of my knowl­edge a bet­ter, or even equal, view­er for book stereo pairs has nev­er been made.

Tener­ife. An Astronomers Exper­i­ment, 1858

Book Stere­o­scope by Smith, Beck and Beck, 1859

The next, and much more ambi­tious use of stere­ograms in a book was “Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia” by Joseph Bono­mi, with notes by Samuel Sharpe, pub­lished in Lon­don in 1862. This attrac­tive book con­tains 100 stereo­scop­ic pho­tographs, con­sist­ing of actu­al pho­to­graph­ic prints past­ed side-by-side onto a hor­i­zon­tal­ly ori­ent­ed page. There is no bor­der for the prints, just a cap­tion cen­tered below them.

This is all just a back­ground for what real­ly intrigues me more — stereo illus­trat­ed books that actu­al­ly incor­po­rate a view­er into the design. The first such men­tion of a book incor­po­rat­ing a stere­o­scope was point­ed out to me by Paul Wing. It is a Masch­er design — the same Masch­er who had intro­duced the stereo daguerreo­type view­ing case. The Stereo­scop­ic Book was intro­duced in an 1856 issue of Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can. A flat lens pan­el was attached to the cov­er of the book, and the stereo pho­tos placed on the pages that face the lens pan­el. While one would expect to find more, the only known exam­ple of a Masch­er Stereo­scop­ic book is in the Smith­son­ian col­lec­tion. In 1871 J. Fletch Wood­ward patent­ed a stereo pho­to album design that looks like a book, and the design could eas­i­ly have been incor­po­rat­ed into a book — albeit a very expen­sive book.

Per­haps the first most sig­nif­i­cant incor­po­ra­tion of a view­er into a book was in the book “Gems of Amer­i­can Scenery — White Moun­tains.“ This was print­ed in 1878 using an 1876 patent by Edward Bier­stadt, and con­sist­ed of a thin fold­ing flap on the cov­er of the book, with 1/2” square pris­mat­ic lens­es. The 24 views were print­ed on heavy stock in the Arto­type Process, and are remark­able today for their pho­to­graph­ic qual­i­ty, yet with the non-fad­ing advan­tages of the print­ing process. The Chron­i­cle books men­tioned at the begin­ning of this arti­cle are basi­cal­ly an updat­ed ver­sion of this 1876 design!

Gems of Amer­i­can Scenery — White Moun­tains, 1878
Instruc­tion pho­to, 1878
Schoenstein, Germany

The next book design to intrigue me was the “Raum­bild Album” intro­duced by Otto Schoen­stein in Ger­many around 1935. Although the view­er is not per­ma­nent­ly attached to the book, nei­ther are the views. The book con­sists of very thick cov­ers large enough for A4 size text pages. The cov­ers con­tain pock­ets; one for a fold­ing stere­o­scope, and sev­er­al more for sep­a­rate stereo view cards print­ed on thick pho­to­graph­ic paper. In the most com­mon con­fig­u­ra­tion there are four card pock­ets, each with 25 views, and text pages bound into the mid­dle of the book. In some Raum­bild books, such as the 1936 Olympic Games, the first 25 views are past­ed onto thick­er pages that are incor­po­rat­ed into the text pages.

The Raum­bild book is one of my favorite designs. It has the out­ward appear­ance of a book, and can con­tain text pages like a book, but it func­tions more like a boxed set of stere­o­cards with an accom­pa­ny­ing text­book. Although Schoen­stein exper­i­ment­ed with some oth­er designs over the years, this was the prin­ci­pal one. The design was used for a num­ber of Nazi pro­pa­gan­da titles through the World War II years, and was last used in 1952 for a book on the Helsin­ki Olympic games.

Raum­bild, 1936
Orig­i­nal adver­tise­ment for Raum­bild
Farrar & Rinehart, USA

In 1937, three quite remark­able books were pro­duced in the USA by Far­rar & Rine­hart, Inc. of New York. These were “Sail­ing In: The Stereo Book of Ships”, “At The Zoo: The Stereo Book of Ani­mals”, and “What is it? The Stereo Book of Puz­zling Pic­tures.” The books incor­po­rat­ed a fold­ing stere­o­scope design by Mr. Van Dyke Hill.

On the back cov­er of the book met­al clamps attached to it hold a square rod which has a small round­ed sec­tion at the bot­tom end. A recess at the bot­tom edge of the cov­er holds a small met­al framed flat stere­o­scope, which is con­nect­ed to the square rod by a flat tele­scop­ing arm with a square tube at the end, which sur­rounds the rod. When the square tube on the arm is at the low­er end of the rod, which has the round sec­tion it may be fold­ed into the recess in the book cov­er along with the stere­o­scope. To use the stere­o­scope one folds the arm ver­ti­cal in rela­tion to the book, and then slides it upwards so that the square part of the tube engages the square rod. Once the tube is seat­ed on the square part of the rod the arm will stay ver­ti­cal on it’s own. Then the lens pan­el is flipped over into the view­ing posi­tion, and the arm may be extend­ed to focus prop­er­ly on the stereo pairs that are print­ed on the parts of the page that will align with the stere­o­scope. Three images may be placed on each page, and the lens pan­el may be slid up or down on the rod to bring it into view­ing posi­tion for each of the three stereo images.

Far­rar & Rine­hart, 1937
Far­rar & Rine­hart, 1937
Wonders of the Stereoscope, USA

In the late 1970s a book appeared on the pop­u­lar mar­ket which was quite ambi­tious, and received nation­al dis­tri­b­u­tion in the USA at pop­u­lar book­stores (I know, because we bought our copy new!). “Won­ders of the Stere­o­scope” fea­tured a hard cov­er text­book, and a sec­ond “book” fit­ted into the same hard slip case which con­tained a recessed area for a set of lithe stereo view cards (repro­duc­tions of antique orig­i­nals) and a unique fold­ing plas­tic stere­o­scope. The stere­o­scope was unique and designed specif­i­cal­ly for this book. I don’t know how many were pro­duced, but exam­ples today are fair­ly scarce, and the design does not seem to have been used again.

Won­ders of the Stere­o­scope, 1976
Won­ders of the Stere­o­scope, 1976
Tanner+Staehelin, Switzerland

In 1983 the Swiss pub­lish­er Tanner+Staehelin came out with two books that incor­po­rat­ed a stereo view­er into a fold­ing flap on the back cov­er. By print­ing the stereo views only on the pages fac­ing the view­er, and the text on the remain­ing pages, they came up with a very mod­ern and effi­cient design for a stereo-pair illus­trat­ed book, with built-in view­er. The basic design is real­ly just an upda­teon the orig­i­nal Masch­er con­cept, and the design used in the “Gems of Amer­i­can Scenery — White Moun­tains” book. The two books were titled “Reise Ins Land der 3.Dimension” (Jour­ney into the Land of 3‑Dimension) and “Baum­buch” (The Tree Book). The first book was in Black and white, and the sec­ond one in col­or. Both books incor­po­rat­ed a unique dot­less screen print­ing process that offered near pho­to­graph­ic qual­i­ty. The first book used a lens pan­el fold­ed over from the card­board back cov­er, with the lens­es glued into the sand­wich formed by the flap.

Reise Ins Land der 3.Dimension, 1983
KMQ, Germany

There is anoth­er vari­a­tion on this theme that is also worth men­tion­ing: Over/Under illus­trat­ed books. In this for­mat the right and left images are place one above the oth­er, and a pris­mat­ic view­er with prisms angling upward and down­ward to bring the two images togeth­er is used. The main advan­tage of this for­mat is that there is no size lim­it to the print­ed pic­tures, and even panoram­ic views may be pre­sent­ed. This con­cept is men­tioned in the 1903 “Stereo­scop­ic Phe­nom­e­na of Light and Sight” by Theodore Brown (reprint­ed in 1994 by Reel 3‑D Enter­pris­es, and now out-of-print), but not com­mer­cial­ly exploit­ed in a book until the KMQ com­pa­ny in Ger­many came out with a low-cost plas­tic over/under prism lorgnette. As far as I know they have only used it in one book (Faszinierende Natur, 1983).

Faszinierende Natur, 1983
Faszinierende Natur, 1983
Chronicle Books, USA

Going back to the more tra­di­tion­al side-by side con­cept, this idea has most recent­ly been used for a series of 3‑D books pub­lished by Chron­i­cle Books in San Fran­cis­co, Cal­i­for­nia. Their first ven­ture into this was with the book “Cal­i­for­nia in Depth” by Jim Crain pub­lished in 1994. This book used a page size of 10” wide by 9.5” high.

Through­out the book com­plete stereo cards were repro­duced in a sepia tone to an over­all width of 5”, rather than the orig­i­nal 7”. This had the effect of reduc­ing the cen­ter-to-cen­ter dis­tance to 2.25” for bet­ter view­ing with the enclosed fold­ing stereo view­er, con­tained in a pock­et in the back of the book. In 1997 Chron­i­cle Books pub­lished a fur­ther series of 3‑D books by Mark Blum, start­ing with “Beneath the Sea in 3D”. These books were all in the same book for­mat as “3D Muse­um” from 1995, using a view­er incor­po­rat­ed into the back cov­er, remain­ing a per­ma­nent part of the book.

Cal­i­for­nia in Depth, 1994
Beneath the Sea 3D, 1997
Shokokugan, Japan

In 1995 & 1996 Shokoku­gan has pro­duced sev­er­al stereo books with side-by-side stereo pairs. The first was called “Fish Eyes”, and fea­tures stun­ning full col­or under­wa­ter 3‑D pho­tog­ra­phy tak­en with a cus­tom under­wa­ter stereo cam­era rig. For this book a new all plas­tic lorgnette style view­er was pro­duced, and put in an enve­lope in the back of the book, in a very sim­i­lar fash­ion to the 1954 “Stereo Real­ist Man­u­al”.

The next book, “3‑D Muse­um” con­sists of famous works of art (Such as the Mona Lisa, works by Dutch Mas­ters, French Impres­sion­ists, etc.) con­vert­ed by com­put­er manip­u­la­tion into full three dimen­sion­al images. This book proves that with mod­ern skill and tech­nol­o­gy you CAN make a 3‑D pic­ture out of a 2‑D one. The images are just stun­ning, and the 3‑D con­ver­sion is vir­tu­al­ly flaw­less. For this book Shogoku­gan copied pre­vi­ous designs, with yet anoth­er vari­a­tion on the “lens pan­el flap in the back of the book” con­cept. The only major dif­fer­ence is the use of very large diam­e­ter lens­es, mak­ing the view­ing even eas­i­er.

Fish Eyes, 1995
3‑D Muse­um, 1996
DK Publishing, UK

In 1998 DK Pub­lish­ing, based in the UK, began a series of teen ori­ent­ed 3‑D books in a series called “Eye­wit­ness 3D”. These books all used a method of pre­sent­ing 3‑D where the Left Eye image is print­ed reversed (mir­ror image), while the Right Eye Image is print­ed nor­mal­ly. Through the use of clever design, injec­tion mold­ing of plas­tic, and die cut­ting the pages, the book incor­po­rates a mir­ror as the view­ing aid to see the stereo pair. The unique­ly shaped plas­tic framed mir­ror stores flat in a pock­et in the back of the book, and inserts into a slot between the right and left images for view­ing. The design allows for the pages of the book to be turned, while the mir­ror remains in place. At least 8 titles were made in this series: 3D Cats, 3D Human Body, 3D Rocks & Min­er­als, 3D Insect, 3D Micro­life, 3D Ocean Life, 3D Plant, & 3D Rep­tile.

The idea to print this way is not new. Sev­er­al 1950’s mag­a­zines used this method, with the idea that a view­er need not be sup­plied, as a sim­ple pock­et mir­ror could be used. DK, how­ev­er, has to be giv­en cred­it for com­ing up with a design viable in a pub­lished book for­mat. As the author I have to express my per­son­al opin­ion that while this for­mat works well (once you fig­ure out the best view­ing and light­ing posi­tions), the book size is incon­ve­nient and awk­ward. Each book is 13 inch­es tall and 6 inch­es wide, mak­ing it very unfriend­ly for stor­ing on a book­shelf!

3D Cats, 1998
3D Cats, 1998
London Stereoscopic Company, UK

Most sig­nif­i­cant of the recent pub­li­ca­tions is a series of books pub­lished by Bri­an May and the Lon­don Stereo­scop­ic Com­pa­ny. This began in 2009 with the pub­li­ca­tion of “A Vil­lage Lost and Found”. To cre­ate a pub­li­ca­tion of the high­est qual­i­ty, he and his com­pa­ny came up with a book design con­sist­ing of a hard cov­er book con­tain­ing the stereo pairs, a rigid slip-case to hold the book, and also a fold­er con­tain­ing a cus­tom designed book stere­o­scope. Called the “Owl” view­er, it folds flat to fit into the slip case that sits adja­cent to the book. When opened up, and fold­ing part snapped into the final view­ing posi­tions, it is a true hand held stere­o­scope design that can be rest­ed on top of the stereo pairs in the book for view­ing. It even incor­po­rates a focus­ing fea­ture. A final bonus is that clas­sic 3.5″ x 7″ stereo view cards may also fit into the hold­er on the view­er for stereo view­ing. Since 2009 sev­en more books have been pub­lished. Most are in this lux­u­ri­ous for­mat. Some come with a lorgnette ver­sion of the Owl view­er called the “Lite Owl”.

A Vil­lage Lost and Found, 2009
A Vil­lage Lost and Found, 2009

That cov­ers most of the vari­a­tions on the side-by-side stereo pair book designs, and a cou­ple of vari­a­tions. I’m sure that there are dozens more titles and vari­a­tions that I am not yet aware of. It is always fun to dis­cov­er a new 3‑D book, and I would be pleased to hear from read­ers about oth­er titles that they know of or own.

David Starkman (Culver City, California, USA)

I joined the Los Ange­les 3‑D Club in Sep­tem­ber 1977, one month after mar­ry­ing Susan Pin­sky.  I start­ed 3‑D with the View-Mas­ter Per­son­al Stereo Cam­era, then the Wol­len­sak Stereo 10, and for ten years or so I used a Busch Veras­cope F40. Around 1990 I began using a cus­tom full 35mm SLR rig, fol­lowed by the RBT X2 and RBT S1 cam­eras. In 2014, I switched to dig­i­tal and am cur­rent­ly using a Fuji­film W3 and twin SonyP200 rig. I was Pres­i­dent of the LA 3D Club ( from 1981 to 1982. In addi­tion, I served as Tech­ni­cal Direc­tor for many years, and am cur­rent­ly co-Club Archivist with Susan. I have been “Newviews” co-Edi­­tor for “Stereo World” mag­a­zine since 1981. A mem­ber of the Nation­al Stereo­scop­ic Asso­ci­a­tion, The Stereo­scop­ic Soci­ety (UK) and the Inter­na­tion­al Stereo­scop­ic Union, I have made a full-time liv­ing in 3‑D from 1984 to 2006 with Reel 3‑D Enter­pris­es ( My Beginner’s 3‑D guides on the LA 3D Club web site, and on their archives, and on the StereoPho­toMak­er down­load page.

Insta­­gram-pro­­file: davidestark­man

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