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The Victorian Stereo Sensation

Watch as this video investigates the wide range of imagery available for stereoscopic viewing.
How can 21st century audiences relate to the way the Victorians first reacted to these magical images? I think for the Victorians it was really a window to the world. I mean, they didn’t travel as much as we do, they didn’t have television, they didn’t have the radio. So they didn’t know much about the world, and suddenly, stereo could show them the world as it was, not just as it was imagined by some artists. And that’s what they loved about that. They could travel without leaving their fireside, without leaving their armchairs, and they could share with their friends. I mean, this was an evening entertainment.
They would have some stereos on the table and a stereoscope or a couple of stereoscopes and they would share, they would comment the photos. They would laugh, they would ask questions, they would try to understand what was going on. So that was their idea of the stereoscope. For us, it’s also a way of travelling back into time. In my opinion, the stereoscope is the best time machine ever. Of course, you cannot get any further than 1851, which is when the first stereos appeared, but you can really learn a lot about the Victorian era through a stereoscope, because everything under the sun, even the sun actually, even the sun itself was actually photographed for the stereoscope.
In my opinion most stereos are outstanding. Every stereo, you actually step into the picture and each time you put the stereo into the stereoscope into the viewer, you get into a different world, so every stereo, in my opinion, is nice even some of the grubbiest ones you can imagine, because once you put them in the viewer and see them in 3-D, you literally step into the picture and you start seeing things you hadn’t noticed before. What do you think makes the appeal of stereoscopy so enduring? I think it’s about really looking at things, because in our day and age we just glance at things. We see so many images, we don’t really look at them.
And when you study stereoscopy, you cannot just glance at a stereo. You have to look at it and when you put it in the viewer, you explore the whole pictures, whole different layers of the pictures or different planes. That’s what I find fascinating about stereoscopy and I think that’s what the Victorians found fascinating as well, because they spent maybe five, ten minutes just looking at one picture. This is something we never do. I mean who stop for five minutes looking at a picture? Nobody does that anymore. Things have to be fast. We have to look at, well, we’ve got films of course, movies and people like things to move very fast nowadays.
So taking your time, just exploring and being there, being in the photo is something that keeps fascinating me.

In this video Denis Pellerin discusses how Victorians enjoyed stereo images and introduces the concept of ‘armchair travel’.

This is the second of three videos recorded at the National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh, on 21 October 2015, featuring photo historian Denis Pellerin in conversation with Principal Curator (now Research Associate) Dr. Alison Morrison-Low. A transcript is available in this section.

We will use the response to stereos that Pellerin shares here as the basis for a Discussion step later in the course.

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Stereoscopy: An Introduction to Victorian Stereo Photography

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