As Digital Library Coordinator, I spend my days looking at cool things. Recently, I viewed 500 of the stereographs in our Library of Congress Prints and Photographs collection. Stereographs became popular in the 1850s, before the dawn of movies, but they were an early step at transporting the viewer away from a current moment and place. In River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, Rebecca Solnit defines a stereograph and tells how it should be viewed, “They [stereographs] were made to be seen in a viewer that let two photographic views taken simultaneously from slightly disparate positions merge into one three-dimensional image.” Stereographs worked especially well for capturing “deeply receding space.” The West was a perfect place for the stereograph’s strengths.
Many of the images in our digital library show TR out among wide open spaces, sometimes with an animal carcass in hand. In addition to profiling western places, the stereograph was also useful for showing the scope of crowds. One of my favorite stereographs also features one of the best image captions in our whole digital library, “A man in a tree photographs a bobcat in a tree.” That is commitment to one’s art.
Bob-cat in tree with P.B. Stewart photographing it, 1905. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Source: River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West by Rebecca Solnit. Penguin Putnam, 2003.