Stereoscopy- “An unhealthy addiction”
Sam “Jesta” Geden is currently aspiring to be a stereoscoper and until I met him late last year, I had no idea what that meant. Stereoscopy is based on the idea of providing images with depth so that it looks three dimensional and the most amazing thing about it is that it dates back to 1838. Think Queen Victoria and crinolines, rather than James Cameron and blue people. Sam has recently uploaded a gallery called ‘Societal Disharmony’ onto the London Stereoscopic Company’s website, and I was lucky enough to be featured in it so look out for a chick with red hair and dodgy eyeliner in the stereos below! What I personally found interesting about stereoscopy is how it is a valuable social document but I had never heard of them before.
But over to the expert!
Hey Sam! So how did you get into Stereoscopy?
It started when I went to a lecture on the subject of stereoscopy when I was in London. It was a talk that Brian May, Denis Pellerin and Paula Fleming gave on the Diableries that supported their book. I first knew Brian because of Queen but grew to know him more for his animal rights work; now I know him mostly as a combo of his animal rights work and his writings on stereoscopy.
Why was stereoscopy so popular?
It was the Victorian equivalent to the cinema and it was accessible to everyone. Stereoscopes and stereos were cheaply available and so could be purchased by all social classes and incomes. Of course, cheaper ones were often poorly coloured and more expensive ones were prettier to look at and more comfortable on your eyes. For a time, stereoscopy was the ‘it’ thing, before the moving pictures of cinema and photography became more mainstream.
What inspired you to try your hand at creating your own work?
I got into stereoscopy because I was so taken with the “Diableries” book and how those amazing images were brought to life that I was compelled to try and make my own. My early ones were absolutely terrible but I stuck with it. My favourite types of stereos – to make and to view – are “Genre Views”, which are ones that tell a story. I strive to make ones like that, but my major limitation until now have been a lack of people to make good ones. I’ve gravitated towards taking Doctor Who-themed Stereos because Doctor Who is such a visually-strong show and I want to capture a lot of those elements in 3D. One of my goals before the Summer is to go to Cardiff and see the Doctor Who Experience before it closes so I can take Stereos of all the displays they have there. One of my favourite stereo moments was showing a William Russell – one of the original companions of Doctor Who, and 92-years-old! – a 3D portrait of himself. The sound of pure joy and astonishment he let out when he saw it is one of the big reasons of why I do what I do… As well as the reactions you gave today!
Do you have a favourite artist or piece?
My favourite image is based on the painting “The Death of Chatterton”; the painting was by Henry Wallis and James Robinson created a Stereo of it. He was later sued by the people who owned the reproduction rights of it for copyright infringement. The stereo is currently in Dr Brian May’s personal collection, as he is hugely passionate about this artform.
How did you come up for the idea of ‘Societal Disharmony’?
‘Societal Disharmony’ came about through a couple of emails with the London Stereoscopic Company’s Denis Pellerin. I expressed interest in making a stereo gallery for the company’s website and he set me the challenge of making a narrative gallery. So the game was afoot! In my notes I wrote it as “Denis’ Stereoscopic Challenge!” – it proved more difficult than I thought to come up with good stories for the format, because this method of storytelling requires a certain simplicity and economy with details so as to give viewers the gist of the story, while leaving some things ambiguous for them to ponder and discuss with others – and simplicity has never been my strong suite!
Then it hit me – I remember when I gate-crashed an executive meeting of the University of Essex’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy Society, and the way that the execs played off each other stuck with me as being very interesting from a character perspective. And given that my lovely interviewer Scout was one of those execs, it feels somehow more “authentic” to have her in this gallery. So the idea formed where a couple of execs would have a massive argument that would somehow get everyone else involved. That way there’s a lot of scope for physical comedy and other interesting things in 3D. It had to be interesting in 3D, or otherwise it wouldn’t be worth doing.
There were challenges.
The room we shot most of the stereos in wasn’t the most accommodating in its design, so it led to some awkward angles and a couple of ideas being downright unusable – though the good folks reading this article can see a mono version of my favourite unused shot. But given that this was the first time I had done something of this scope – with other people actively participating in the frame and telling a progressing story with each stereo – I think the end result is quite satisfactory. But then I’m a huge perfectionist so I’m rarely happy with my own work. And given how temperamental Stereoscopy is – is one of those rare beasts that’s as much a science as it is an art form – things can so, so easily go wrong. But when everything clicks, it’s magic.
The whole creative process was so much fun and everyone involved really got on-board with my dimensional machinations! I think there’ll be more in the future, definitely. But, y’know, you have to go bigger and better than before so right now I’m letting ideas simmer on the back-burner for now while I focus on more pressing things like essays and other nagging University affairs! But who knows, in a couple of months we might have another gallery on our hands.
What about the London Stereoscopic Company?
The London Stereoscopic Company began in 1854 and closed in 1922, and at one point boasted having over a million individual views for sale. In 2006 it was revived by Brian May and is now the quintessential place for 3D information and material. To give some background of Brian, he had a life-long fascination with 3D ever since getting novelty Stereo packets from Weetabix cereal. During his career with Queen, he went around the world collecting stereos – to this day he has over 100,000 in his collection and is one of the foremost authorities on the topic. Denis Pellerin – who co-wrote the books with Brian – has extensive knowledge of the sociology behind the Stereos because of his background in French history. He and Brian started working together on “Diableries” in 2013 and have collaborated on all manner of Stereoscopic endeavours ever since.
What advice do you have for people that want to give it a go?
It depends with what part of it you find interesting. If you like it for the art, try and get your hands on ‘The Poor Man’s Picture Gallery’ by Denis Pellerin and Brian May. If you’re in it for the social commentary, ‘Crinoline’ is the one for you! Definitely look at the Diableries, no matter what interests you about it all. The great thing about stereos is they make interesting scenes more interesting and the 3D makes people pay more attention. Also, stereoscopy takes time. It’s a rare instance of being as much a science as it is an art-form. So many of mine even as late as early 2016 have been botched because I took the two images too far apart, which makes for an uncomfortable and eye-straining experience.
If you want to follow Sam’s work, you can follow him on twitter or Instagram and view his gallery.
And to learn more about about stereoscopy follow these links!
LSC website: http://www.londonstereo.com
Brian May’s information can be found here.