The Poor Man’s Picture Gallery  @ Tate Britain (4.11.2014)

(The text here comes from my own notes and does not necessarily reflect the speakers view)

The trains mean I arrive a few minutes late and miss the introduction from Denis Pellerin who curates Brian May’s collection of stereographs which is filled with witticisms. It is about stereoscopy, giving a number of examples. We are given 3D glasses to view the projected photographs; one can obtain similar effects by screwing up one eye.

Stereoscopes of works of art were used to show them to a much wider audience although these were in fact photographic recreations of the original scenes depicted.
Without stereoscopic glasses the photos look fuzzy as they are in fact double exposures. Pellerin jokes that there is “more to stereo than meets the two eyes!”
Millions of stereoscopes were made and many are still around while I the
subject tends to be ridiculed by the art establishment.
Elizabeth Edwards from De Montfort University
Her interest in stereoscopy centres around the relationship between photography and history in the 19’th Century. The “historical imagination” is a term she uses. National heritage used to be privately owned while mass enfranchisement was made possible by photography. Many things such as natural history could be more widely accessed. Photography is more visceral and stereoscopy played an important part in all this.
The Middle Ages are a popular form of historical imagination! Lots of stereo cards were made of historical places and this affected the way in which historical monuments were seen by the nation. Stereo cards helped to make old monuments important and worth saving. History became compulsive subject in 1906 for all schools. Performing historical pageants became popular and were much photographed while stereoscopy played an important part in dissemination of the historica
Inside the “Sepia Cube”: stereoscopic photographs of sculptures as ideal exhibition space – talk by Dr Patrizio Di Bella from Birbeck University
Stereoscopes made a very useful medium for seeing sculpture. Some stereoscopes were housed in mahogany boxes and selling stereo cards became a profitable business.
Stereo cards sold individually and in packs while photographs of sculpture were used in the making of these cards. There were problems with the technology as in the use of collodion. Cameras were considered the new engines of the fine arts and stereoscopy proved a good way to communicate sculpture to a much wider audience. Stereo cards were used in the viewing of sculpture from the 1862 Great Exhibition; they made it possible to enjoy the sculptures on show without having to go to the crowded, noisy and sometimes smelly exhibition.
Stereo cards of sculptures suggest a correct point from which to view them; appropriate backgrounds can be maintained. Anyone could become a collector thanks to stereo cards that allow the body of the sculpture to be there without actually being here! They perform function of modern art gallery. Sepia toning of prints helps; they effect darker tones and leave the higher tones in white marble statues.
Stereoscopes helped focus the view of the onlooker encouraging closer views like the audioguides of today!
Chat with couple who ask what my interest in stereoscopy is; they own a small collection of magic lantern images. Cheap stereograph viewers available via EBay!
Lindsay Smith, lecturer in English from Sussex University, talks about The Death of Chatterton, a famous painting that was photographed with models and made into a stereoscope by more than one photographer; Robinson was the first and later followed by Michael Burr. The subject concerns the death of a 17 year old poet by suicide. Ruskin has commented on the original painting by Henry Wallis which has effected the way the work has been understood.
The steroscope gives a much more tangible effect to the work. Why Chatterton as a subject? There is the experience of the domestic interior with an accompanying desire to inhabit the space which is made feasible via stereoscopy.
Chatterton was born in Bristol from a mother who was widowed. He spent his childhood in the environs of a church and was later apprenticed to a lawyer. He fact ked Medieval documents claiming they were written by a monk but these were found out to be false. Chatterton had moved to London and later killed himself; he was later buried in a workhouse cemetry that no longer exists.
Wallis’ painting of him attracted a lot of praise and it was soon made into a photograph. The idea of a destitute contemporary young male artist was a subject that attracted interest; a kind of Male Ophelia! Photography imbued with new significance the subject in hand.
(Ref- The Profligerate Camera book.)
James Robinson made a photographic image of the subject of this painting using models and was sued for copying the idea of the original. He argued that the effect of the stereo card could not in anyway be taken for the painting. Although he lost his case other stereo graphs continued to be made of paintings without impunity.
Stereo photographs promise an intimacy not available in paintings!
Michael Burr made more than one stereograph of The Death of Chatterton; such an image allows one to look into the face of death!
Henry Walli also did an image of the room in which Shaespeare was born; similar scene but no obvious human presence in spite of figurines and a death mask.
The notion of forged likeness a common theme!
The painter and poet D.G.Rossetti had an almost obsessional interest in Chatterton and wrote about him
There is no actual photograph of Chatterton’s face!
Stereo photographs allow one to enter a sacred space
Another professor from De Montfort University; Dr. Kelley Wilder who talks about “Knowledge in 3D: art and science of the real”
Hard fact – what might that be? Ruskin concerned with this. Stereoscopes as a way of thinking; an abstract realm of thought transferred to the concrete world of images.
Litchtenberg a naturalist from the 18’th century; in 1765 expressing a desire for real representation, fixing the image of a Camera Obscura. Made figurative representations of the discharge of electricity through imprints of discharges recorded in a block of resin. Didactic message in image that tells us something about electricity; Knowledge encapsulated in image! Stereo photographs similar to this.
(Lichtenburg images are available via EBay!!)
Paintings of children in oval frames.
Colours of camera Obscura very jewel like; striking! Encouraged close looking and observation. Educational.
Cartesian idea of vision not complete; vision also happens in the brain not just at the front of one’s eyes. This was an I mportant idea at that time.
Soap bubbles featured in paintings of this time that considered the nature of voluntary attention, both physical and mental. A photograph pictures children examining a soap bubble – their concentrated gazes! There are stereoscopes of soap bubbles! Generated problems that took years to solve; allowed people to study soap bubbles.
Observation of the process of thinking, way one looks at stereo image. Forces one to be introspective, observing what is already known. Meant to enable us to think about the way we perceive the world.
Another professor of English, this one from Exeter and male. John Plunkett Talks about “Live pictures for All: realism, Art and Stereoscopy” which concerns itself with the era of Victorian Britain
There is a relationship between vision and touch just as there is a relationship between stereoscopy and painting!
Before stereoscope achieved commercial status in mid 19’th centruy
Questioned that spatial perception relied on the eye also involved touch
Conflicting accounts of what stereoscope represented
David Brewster 1826 said that our minds are being effected when observing
The greater one’s knowledge the more likely one is to be deceived
Haptic dimension of stereographs, embodied realism; mind feeling it’s way to the depth of the picture.
Wendell Homes in 1859 suggested the idea of stereographs retaining skins of carcasses without body!
Many genres of stereoscopic subjects reproduced e.g Tintern Abbey popular
Tinted photographs used in stereographs
Filters used to make Chromatic stereoscopes
Many new viewing practices at this time e.g. Microscopes of different kinds
Stereographs were exhibited in different ways
Tactility of 3D
General Discussion
Soap bubbles – interesting motif in art – tactility! If you touch them they are gone.
Stereoscope has always been advertised as being educational and amusing but not used to any real extent in the teaching of fine art.
Introspective effect of stereoscopes
Exerted considerable effect on popular taste in 19’th century
London Stereoscopic Company stil going
Label of art allowed men to look at images of naked women
Lenses of stereoscope magnify
1850 to 1861 golden age of stereoscopes with revivals since e.g. Just after First World War
Ongoing fascination with 3D images
Stereoscopic quality to some paintings (also photographs?)
Soap bubbles can have a stereoscopic effect
Dreamlike quality to stereoscopes; magical appeal
Create lifelike quality

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s