November 15th, 2019

Four Letter Word

I went into Hastings eager to buy stereo views- only none of the many antique shops in the old town had any to sell me.

"I get them in sometimes," said Robert of Robert's Rummage.

The man who sells postcards and militaria was quite chatty. "I used to have a man come down from London to buy them off me," he said. "A man who worked with Brian May. I'm afraid he's got Altzheimer's now." I mentioned buying from eBay. "I never go there" he said. "As far as I'm concerned it's a four-letter word."

Just So You Know What I'm Talking About

This is the "Paragon" stereo viewer, patented in 1893 by the Keystone View Company.

The image being viewed is called Happy Valley- one of a set of views of riverside scenes published by A.J. Fearnley at the Photo Works, East Boldon, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

The riverside scenes came with the viewer. They're very leafy. I flicked through them and thought, "Well, these are a bit dull." Then I slipped one in the viewer and...

...I was no longer looking at a picture but into it.

A block of vegetation resolves itself into leaves and branches- some nearer than others are. An expanse of featureless photographic paper is now air; you can almost breath it. You look through and beyond foreground and middle-ground (the old landscape painters strove for this effect and could only ever hint at it) and the furthest objects which were indistinct when flat now dazzle because you're looking into sunshine out of shadow...

I've seen 3D before of course. They have it in the movies now (where I'm not sure it belongs) but it never gets old.

And that's something else about these stereo views. They not only put you in a place, but in a time- and these leaves grew, this water ran, that boy sat on the river bank over a hundred years ago...