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This article is taken from PN Review 245, Volume 45 Number 3, January - February 2019.

Pictures from a Library
Pictures from the Rylands Library
42: A Slice of Life seen through a Stereoscope
Stella Halkyard
TWO SMALL seemingly identical photographs sit cheek by jowl on a piece of dull grey cardboard. On first glance their muted tones could easily fail to arrest attention. However, when used in a stereoscope and adjusted to bring what are in fact two slightly different images into sharp 3D focus (as demonstrated by the curator shown here), the viewer is transported into a highly detailed, miniature world of wonder. Enthralled, the viewer encounters a tiny treasure, a slice of life as a miniature artifact, ‘in which the immensity of the world can be held in the palm of our hands’ (Sheenagh Pietrobruno).

Invented in the early nineteenth century by Charles Wheatstone, the design of the stereoscope was refined by successive tinkering over time to take shape as a light, handheld device, like the example shown here. Stereoscopes were an essential accessory in the drawing rooms of middle class homes in Europe and America. Within domestic spaces they were used with stereoscopic photo-prints as a popular form of entertainment and education from the mid nineteenth century until the 1920s. Those who used them could ‘gain visual knowledge of the world by travelling in their armchairs from the security of their parlours.’ (Pietrobruno).

His Majesty inspecting the shells at Holmes and Co. Ltd, Munition Works, Hull, 1917

Writers and scholars have pondered on the stereoscopic image’s ability to elicit delight, seeing its power to conjure miniature worlds to which ‘we yield in self surrender’ and ‘without dread’ (Steven Millhauser). The stereoscope could capture ...


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