20 January 2014 by Nick Smith
Brian May showing “Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures In Hell” book
Brian May might well be best known as a virtuoso musician of world renown, and most of us will be aware that his doctorate is in astrophysics, but he is also a world expert on early stereographic photography technology.
As has happened so many times for this legendary guitarist as the lights dim, the crowd settles into impatient and yet hushed expectation. Brian May saunters onto the stage followed by two colleagues. He takes to the lectern flanked by Denis Pellerin and Paula Fleming, makes a joke or two, and introduces the subject of this evening’s lecture: 19th century stereoscopic photography. As odd as it might seem, May and his co-authors are launching a new book on historic 3D imagery at the British Library to a select band of a few hundred enthusiasts.
‘Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell‘ is May’s second publication on what is now an all-but forgotten art form (his first was his rather bucolic ‘A Village Lost and Found‘, which celebrated the work of British stereographic pioneer TR Williams). “It’s been a dream of mine for decades to bring stereo photography to London,” he informs the audience. For a man who has lived under the spotlight of soaring international success as a musician for most of his adult life, this might at first glance appear something of a modest dream. But, as the curiously gothic event progresses – it was held on the eve of Halloween – what becomes clear is that May is deadly serious, and his dream could well be more accurately described as an obsession.
Speaking with May a few days after the British Library event, he tells me how stereographic projection, or stereoscopy, is the technical process by which 3D images are created in the brain as a result of the fusion of almost identical images that have been marginally offset and viewed through a binocular instrument. The technology has been around since the dawn of photographic time, with the first sets of experimental stereographic plates produced in the 1840s.
“Stereoscopic images are by their very nature astounding because they have incredible dept. The compositions are stunning, not just because the eyes light up, jewellery glistens and lanterns glow. We’re looking at a whole parallel reality populated by skeletons getting up to all kinds of mischief. Add to that the political satire that is embedded in these tableaux, and you have something very special indeed.”
Stereoscope with Diableries card