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Anthony [E. & H. T. Anthony & Co] Civil War view [stereoview photograph], 2507, (Negative by Brady) Wounded at Fredericksburg, VirginiaStereoview photographs (also called stereoscopic photographs or stereographs) did not come into existence until the 1850s, but, as is often the case with scientific advancements, the imaginative vision that gave birth to them was in place years earlier – in this case more than two hundred years earlier. As far back as the early 17th century, visionaries were making drawings of what would develop into the stereoviewer, but stereoviewers (or stereoscopes) would not become a reality until the early 19th century.

Stereoviews are composed of two images that are nearly identical, images that are taken from viewpoints that are a few inches apart, and then mounted on cards. By viewing them through lenses set about eye-width apart, the brain is tricked into combining the images in a way that creates a three-dimensional effect. (All the technology that drives 3-D movies today is largely derived from and built upon the same principles and technology that led to stereoviews.) Sir David Brewster designed the classic box-shape stereoviewer and Sir Charles Wheatstone created the first stereoview in 1833. For the twenty years or so before photography became more widely available, stereoviews were typically drawings. Oliver Wendell Holmes’ invention of a handheld stereoviewer in 1859, which would be manufactured by Joseph Bates, would make stereoviews more convenient and accessible at the same time that stereoviews were becoming more popular due in large part to their ability to make images more widely available, as it would be several decades yet before photographs could be reproduced in newspapers. Victorians would gather in their parlors and pass stereoviewers around, allowing them to be transported to faraway places and to see the wonders of the world that they might otherwise never have seen.

Stereoviews would appear in several different formats before the years of mass-produced curved card mounts in the late 19th century. Photographers experimented with daguerreotype, tintype and albumen stereoviews, in the process recording the rapidly changing physical and historical landscape of the late Victorian years. For instance, images of the landscape of the American West, the development of the railroad system, Native American Indians and their culture, and various mining booms were wildly popular. Stereoviews allowed Americans in particular to see the vastness and diversity of the country. Virtually every small town had a photographer, many of whom were taking stereoview photographs in between the portraits that kept their businesses afloat, and many of these scenes are very rare and very collectible today, in part because they show landscapes that are otherwise often lost to us.

In the mid-1880s, manufacturers found methods to increase the production and availability of stereoviews, with large companies like Underwood & Underwood and Keystone (which would eventually buy out most of the American stereoview market) in America and the London Stereoscopic Company (which was founded in the 1850s and produced hundreds of thousands of stereoviews) in England actively marketing stereoviews to schools as educational tools. Stereoview popularity would begin to wane in the early years of the 20th century, as technological advances made photographs more easily reproduced, particularly in newspapers and magazines, and by the 1920s, even the largest companies had generally ceased production.

Stereoviews remain widely collectible today however and a number of factors influence their value. Rare images are, naturally, more desirable, whether they are rare because few were produced or because they are of a place or event that is not otherwise well-documented. Certain photographers’ work is also collectible, often because of their particular skill at composing the elements that make a good three-dimensional effect, while other collectors focus on glass-plate stereoviews. The quality of the effect itself is also a factor, although to a lesser degree, and early stereoviews are often more desirable because of their scarcity and the quality of the three-dimensional effect. (Stereoviews were initially mounted on flat cards but in later years, in the era of mass production, it was discovered that the three-dimensional qualities of a photograph could be enhanced by cupping the card. The former are flat mount views and the latter are known as curved mount views.) Highly collectible stereoviews can sell for more than $1,500 at auction, but on average, most individual stereoviews sell for anywhere from $5 to $300.

Eadweard Muybridge (British/American, 1830 to 1904) "Animal Locomotion, [collotype] plate 617", taken from Animal Locomotion. An Electro-Photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movements, Philadelphia, 1887, depicting twelve stop-action photographs of a nude man on a white horse. Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904, pronounced Edward My-bridge) was a British photographer who is best known for his stop-motion photography. Before that made him famous, however, Muybridge traveled throughout the western United States for nearly a decade, a Forrest Gump of photography, photographing Native Americans, the Yosemite Valley, the construction of the Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads, the last Indian war between the U.S. Army and the Modoc Indians, as well as scenes in California gold mining country, Alaska, and Central America. Many of these images would later be published as stereoviews or magic lantern slides.

In 1878, Muybridge, working in Palo Alto, California, with the aid of 50 cameras equipped with shutters with electrically operated triggers, captured the incredible with photography – at a full gallop, all four of a horse’s feet leave the ground at the same time for a fraction of a moment.

Muybridge took other photographs in 1878, but their importance would not be known until after his death. During his time in California in the spring of 1878, he took numerous high-quality panoramic photographs of San Francisco, both from the hills and the streets, mostly in an attempt to replace photographs he had taken the previous year that had been damaged in a fire. Of course, when the 1906 earthquake and fire hit, the city would be dramatically altered and Muybridge’s images are some of the best that illustrate how the city looked in earlier years.

By 1883, Muybridge was at work with stop-motion photography on a regular basis, in part with the encouragement of Thomas Eakins, who felt that capturing the human form in a range of motion could be invaluable to those studying the human form. Muybridge photographed animals, both domestic and zoo animals, and humans, in a variety of movements and with upgraded equipment. Throughout his life, Muybridge would continue experimenting with his stop-motion images and would even develop a mechanism for reanimating them. While his zoopraxiscope never gained wide popularity, it was among the first moving picture inventions.

Four years later, Muybridge would publish his 11-volume masterpiece, Animal Locomotion, which had 781 large folio collotype images. Sales were slow in the period, but today a single page from the work will sell for $600 to $1,600. Muybridge would publish two more volumes after he returned to his birthplace, Kingston Upon Thames, with Animals in Motion (1899) and The Human Figure in Motion (1901), both abridged versions of Animal Locomotion. An additional publication, The Horse in Motion as Shown by Instantaneous Photography, was promoted by Leland Stanford, the California governor who had supported Muybridge’s work in Palo Alto, but Muybridge himself was not involved with the book.

Timothy O'Sullivan albumen photograph, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, albumen photographTimothy O’Sullivan immigrated to New York City from Ireland with his parents when he was a small child and it was there that he later found work in Mathew Brady’s photography studio. (Brady, who was afflicted with vision problems that struck when he was still a young man, depended heavily on the talent he found in recruits like O’Sullivan and Alexander Gardner.) While O’Sullivan appears to have said he was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Civil War, this does not seem to be confirmed in the records, but he was photographing during the war and by 1862 was certainly working for Mathew Brady as part of Brady’s crew of field photographers.

O’Sullivan spent much of 1862 in northern Virginia and would eventually begin working with Alexander Gardner, who had left Brady to work on his own. Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866) would include 44 of O’Sullivan’s photographs, including perhaps his best known image, one of the many he took of the Gettysburg Battlefield, called “The Harvest of Death,” a view of a field somehow chilling in its prosaicism, the idea that it could be any field, anywhere, spread with bodies in all directions as far as the camera’s eye can see. He would also photograph other important events like the sieges of Petersburg and Fort Fisher and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

While O’Sullivan is perhaps best known for his Civil War work, some of his most magnificent work would be done as an expedition photographer. He traveled with the U.S. Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel (1867 to 1869), recording the landscape across the frontier. While the official goal was to produce images that would inspire settlers to head west, O’Sullivan also took beautiful images of Native American Indians, their occupations and villages, as well as some of the prehistoric ruins through the Southwest. He would also work with one of the first crews to survey the Panamanian Isthmus for a canal before returning to the American West with the Wheeler Expedition (1871 to 1874). (The trip faced a number of calamities, including the loss of supplies and several boats, which also meant the loss of a number of O’Sullivan’s images.) He would be retained by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Treasury Department as an official photographer upon his return to Washington, but would die in 1882 at just 42 from tuberculosis.

O’Sullivan’s photographs are highly collectible, with, as with all photography, condition and subject matter playing a significant role. Albumen images from the Civil War can bring in excess of $1,000 at auction, while collections of the stereoview photographs taken on the Wheeler Expedition can fetch considerably more.

A pencil on paper drawing by Ferdinand A. Brader (American, born 1833), Residence of Peter and Louise Lamielle, Harrisburg, Stark County, Ohio, 1886.With the kids flitting around, I’ve been casting about for something creative and have found some satisfaction with photography. It’s convenient, it’s cheap, and unlike knitting a pattern, I can stop at just about any point if (when…) there’s a household crisis. One of the things that confounds me as a photographer (mostly, I realize, due to the limitations of the equipment I work with) and one of the same reasons we appreciate the photographers we do is the ability to capture what we see. How often have you looked at your beach sunrise pictures and thought, “It just doesn’t do it justice”?

Accurately rendering a panoramic view has, apparently, long challenged, obsessed and inspired artists. The trend seems to have sprung up in the 17th century, with works that served both as slightly more helpful, more detailed maps with various public or important buildings marked, but also as advertisements for towns and cities. Matthaeus Merian, a Swiss engraver who spent most of his career in Frankfurt, where he also ran a publishing house passed to him by his father-in-law, found raging success with the publication of a 21-volume work, Topographia Germaniae, which leaned heavily on his uniquely drawn map views, a work so popular it was reprinted numerous times.

Throughout the late 18th and early 19th century, these works continued, often done in America by travelers, so they began to lose their “Chamber of Commerce” feel in some cases. By the latter half of the 19th century, commissioned paintings of panoramic views versus the earlier print versions were finding favor among the wealthy benefactors of communities, often conveying a sense of “Look what I have built” or “I am ruler of all I survey.” Artists like Ferdinand Brader (pictured above) found success with similar views done as drawings, lower-cost versions for the successful middle class.

Shortly after the dawn of photography, photographers began to experiment with panoramic views as well, with some very early glass stereoview images from high points in European cities like Paris. Throughout the last half of the 19th century and into the first half of the 20th, photographers continued to experiment with various techniques for producing panoramas, initially by seaming individual photographs together and later by working with cameras set on a clockwork mechanism that allowed a photograph, pan, photograph, pan progression (which made it possible for the occasional trickster to dart from one end of a group photograph behind the group to the other end, thus appearing in the same photograph twice).

Clearly, the idea of panoramas continue to fascinate us and the technology continues to evolve, as an iPhone app that allows panoramic photographs was a significant enough feature to warrant space as a selling feature in ad campaigns. Clearly we all just keep trying to do justice to the world we see around us!

Carte de Visite [photograph] of “Weston the Walker” (Edward Payson Weston). Known primarily for his long distance walking.As the year draws to a close, various publications begin their “year in review” analysis, naming the most important and influential people of the year. With my work, I “meet” important and influential people all year too. It’s just that most of them are dead and many of them are forgotten, but all of them are still fascinating!

Take, for example, my recent acquaintance with Edward Payson Weston (1839 to 1929). Weston (not to be confused with Edward Weston the photographer who shot some “racy” nude images that probably would have stopped Edward Payson Weston in his tracks) was a “notable pedestrian” (a phrase I think might be on my short list for my own epitaph), who made (pun alert!) incredible strides in promoting walking for exercise. Weston specialized in long distance walking, setting records for trekking hundreds of miles between cities. At 21, he walked from Boston to Washington (in February…) in 10 days, 10 hours, and his last great walk was at 73 when, in just 51 days, he walked from New York to Minneapolis. Over the years, he was assaulted by bettors, involved in a coca leaf “doping” scandal, and walked backward around St. Louis. In an incident that can only be due to a dark sense of humor on the part of the universe, Weston was struck as a pedestrian by a New York City cab at the age of 88 and never walked again before his death at the age of 90. You can read more about him in the 2012 biography, A Man in a Hurry: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Edward Payson Weston.

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