on stereo viewing

Lot 960 in this spring’s auction. A Zeiss stereo viewer.

Toronto. Our brain is a marvellous organ. Each eye sees a scene/person at a slightly different angle. The brain merges these two images to create what we see as a stereo or 3D ‘picture’ of the scene or person we are looking at.

The most gadget-free means to view a stereo card is by ‘free view‘ This technique can often be learned and is easily performed by serious 3D collectors like our Bob Wilson or Stan White. Years ago, Oliver Wendall Holmes created the famous Holmes viewer to allow simple folk like me to easily view stereo cards – used for education decades before TV arrived – and for travel and medical education as well.

Sometimes, such viewers and a bunch of cards were enclosed in a fancy piece of furniture like the Taxiphote. Zeiss joined the game with its own clever viewer (lot 960 above). A professional version was used with reconnaissance photos and hyperstereo to determine the topography of an area (I have such a viewer – looks much like the lot shown plus a special scale and knob for adjustment). Around mid last century the famous View-Master was marketed with seven tiny colour images per disk for the young.

When someone came along with the projection of stereo pairs, so called anaglyph glasses (typically a red filter for one eye and a cyan filter for the other) allowed monochrome stereo to be viewed. Cheap filters and a cardboard frame meant very inexpensive manufacture. For colour, polaroid filters were used.

Check the above links to fill out this fascinating story of how we see in 3D, be it live scenes, stereo cards, stereo movies or stereo TV. One strong effect of modern day cataract surgery  is the sudden restoration of stereo vision, an effect that slowly disappears and becomes common place once again.

And like all things, stereo seems to ebb and flow over time. In the 1900s we had stereo cards. In the 1950s it was 35mm cameras and accessories and books. Then movies; then TV. The last movie I saw in 3D was a far better creation and long viewing times didn’t hurt the eyes. Unfortunately special glasses are still needed for projected 3D whether stills, movies, video, or TV.

Be sure to visit our spring events to add to your collection and user gear. You may not see a special piece of 3D history, but then again … . Posts closer in will cover each event augmenting the data already on the right sidebar of this site.


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