Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Great 3-D War

Bust out your red and blue 3-D specs. (If you're one of the 50 people who bought my limited-edition zine a couple of years ago, you already have a pair!).

Sometime in the past couple of days, some Facebook friend of mine posted something about World War I. That's about as specific as I can be. Facebook ephemera flits, floats, and quickly fades. But this one stuck a little because it reminded me of something I've meant to try.

I've mentioned before that I collect stereocards. They're basically Victorian Viewmasters, popular in parlors around the turn of the last century. Two photos shot simultaneously a few inches apart from each other are mounted on a heavy card and viewed through a stereoscope, which merges the images into a 3-D scene. It's easy to understand why these were so popular. They were often published in series with a theme: world travel, religious tableau, slice of life, natural wonders. Stereocards offered a startling "you are there" experience for people who'd never have a chance to see such sights in real life.

A stereoscope with a stereocard loaded for viewing. This isn't mine, but looks a lot like it.

It's an affordable hobby. Stereocards are common, and are typically found in antiques stores for a few bucks each, depending on quality. The most I've paid for one is $20, but it was exceptional. I'm sure that in 1900 a well-appointed parlor could have hundreds of cards. I've got a few dozen.

Pulling today's themes together: what I've wanted to try, and my friend's Facebook post prodded me to do, is convert some old stereocards so their images could be viewed with modern red-blue 3-D glasses. It's easy in theory: since the photos are already black and white, just use Photoshop to convert the left eye into the proper blue color, the right eye into the proper red color, and overlap them.

Turns out it's pretty easy in practice, as well!

Here are two of my stereocards shot in the trenches of World War I.

BTW, the bottom one is the one I paid $20 for. I give it free to you.
Photoshopping them as described produces these:

I'm moderately happy with the results. I think some detail is lost in converting the images to red and blue, especially in dim areas. In person, these views really pop! But I'm calling this experiment a success.

I've got a lot of these cards. Maybe when I get a little time, I'll convert some more of my favorites.

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