Stereographs were the latter day virtual reality, an inventive means to immerse the viewer into another place and time. Two photographs are exposed simultaneously but from slightly different perspectives. When the final print is viewed through a stereoscope a depth of field is introduced that brings the photograph more to life.
In 2018 I digitally re-imagined many dozens of American Civil War scenes using an animation process that essentially reveals that same depth of field but on more common 2D screens. In doing so, the need for specific viewing equipment is eliminated and the immersive nature of the stereoscope is maintained.
The results can be visually arresting and offer a new sense of relatability that is ordinarily eliminated with a flat, two dimensional photograph. This year I have been fortunate to work on a series of stereographic images taken at Ellis Island. They were made available by the University of California at Riverside’s California Museum of Photography Director of Collections Leigh Gleason, PhD. A part of the Keystone-Mast Collection, these are undated scenes of mostly nameless people that document their immediate experiences upon arrival in the United States in the very early 20th century.
Animating the stereographs themselves is not straight forward, as many dozens of frames have to be created in order to reveal the depth of field. This is a process of alignment, contrast correction and patience. The ending file sizes are very large, so the animation files are converted to a video format that is compatible on smartphones, tablets and desktops.
The videos serve as somewhat short visual documentary evidence, complete with environmental effects not found in tradition photos. They are immersive and educational.
Here is a short video that uses the same animation process, this time with Civil War photos, to deliver a narrative.
Matt Loughrey lives with his family near Castlebar on the west coast of Ireland where he has a home studio. He founded the My Colorful Past project in 2015. The project’s mainstay on the web is on Instagram.
Photo: “Emigrants detained at Ellis Island,” a stereograph from the Keystone-Mast Collection, University of California at Riverside’s UCR California Museum of Photography.