Sunday, July 25, 2010

Of Stereroscopic Vintage Photos and Rock Bands

A reproduction Holmes stereoscope.Image via Wikipedia
I am too old to have paid much attention to Rock-and-Roll music beyond the mid-70's.  All the good stuff happened before then anyway.  But I was interested to read an article in the Arts Section of the New York Times about Brian May (the link is at the bottom of this post).  I could never have told you this, but Brian May was the lead guitarist in the mega-Rock-and-Roll band, Queen.  I also could never have told you that he is one of the premier collectors of vintage stereoscopic viewing cards.

You've seen these old cards: two dusty images that look identical, printed on cardboard.  They were the earliest version of the Viewmaster or now, 3D movies and television.  These cards were immensely popular with the middle-class both in America and in Europe during the latter half of the 19th Century.  For the first time, people got a sense of the reality of the photograph. Oliver Wendell Holmes was quoted as saying:

The first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting ever produced.  The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture.  The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out as if they would scratch our eyes out.  The elbow of a figure stands forth so as to make us almost uncomfortable.  Then there is such a frightful amount of detail, that we have the same sense of infinite complexity which Nature gives us.  A painter shows us masses; the stereoscopic figure spares us nothing...

Cover of "A Village Lost and Found"Brian May has written the first of three planned books on one of the photographic subjects that he collects.  The book is entitled, "A Village Lost and Found".  The village referred to is Hinton Waldrist, in Oxfordshire, west of London.  The village was photographed stereoscopically over the years by an early practioner of the art, T.R. Williams.  Nobody could identify the place in these old photos until May posted one online.  Within 36 hours, someone identified the location for him.  He has visited it many times since then, comparing current views to the originals in the old images.

The Library of Congress has a collection of over 52,000 stereographic images on a wide range of subjects. Maybe ten percent of these are online. 

But there was yet more to impress with regards to Mr. May.  After the band broke up, Mr. May eventually returned to the university to complete his studies.  He got his Ph.D. in astrophysics in 2008.  His thesis was entitled, "A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud".  So now, it is Doctor May, Rock Star, to you...

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