Living in Stereo
View-Master blew my mind as a kid. I thought it was so cool that by viewing two tiny, nearly-identical images- one for each eye- I could experience a hyper-realism that somehow looked more authentic and vivid than the same image appeared using only my own eyeballs. I finally got the opportunity to pick up a 3D camera of my own and have spent the last few months and countless rolls of film experimenting.
I bought a TDC Colorist- a fairly standard, relatively inexpensive stereo camera produced in the late 1950’s. No rangefinder, but for this kind of stereo photography the depth-of-field is more important than precise focusing. It’s an extraordinarily simple technique: Two exposures are made simultaneously and from a distance apart that more or less matches the distance between the average person’s eyes. When seen simultaneously through a viewer- a single image per eye- the ‘stereo’ effect is created. Groovy.
Stereo photography is nearly as old as photography itself: By the mid to late 1800s it was already a hugely popular form of entertainment as a means for people to experience foreign lands, cultures, and events. Oh yeah- and porn. Lots and lots of porn. Being relatively cheap and inexpensively mailed, it was an easily accessible amusement for most anyone interested in most any subject. Advantageous, too, that the stereograms could be handily concealed within the pages of a book or gentleman’s wallet.
Stereo photography seemed a natural companion to my affinity for roadside attractions so I have been taking the Colorist along on any adventure where we might encounter a souvenir stand or anything weird, wonderful, and made of concrete. The choice of subject matter plus use of ultra-vivid, super-saturated color slide film has been delivering delightful results.
I asked @cwiggins to pair these sets for me and describe the best way to view:
“If you have some talent viewing random dot stereograms (those posters of 3D sailboats and unicorns and stuff you used to find at the mall) you can see the 3D effect of these images right here on the screen without any goggles or viewers. Hold your head about 18” or so from your display, make sure your eyes are level (don’t tilt your head), and defocus your eyes until you see a 3rd image between the two: that middle image will be in 3 dimensions. If you can do it, it’s awesome. If you can’t, sorry… it’s hard for some people.”
This relaxed eye-crossing method of viewing stereograms doesn’t work for me- I find it tedious and a little uncomfortable, but evidently most people have no problem. I use an awesome illuminated viewer that really makes the slides look great, and an old-timey stereoscope for printed cards.