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A 3-D View: Professor Brings History of Stereoscope to Life at English Conference

graverhead.jpgWhat does Dr. Bruce Graver, professor of English, have in common with one of the most accomplished guitarists in music history?

Graver and the legendary Queen guitarist, Brian May, might have very different “fields of expertise” — British Romanticism vs. British rock ‘n’ roll — but they do have at least one similar interest: stereoscopy.

The process of creating three-dimensional images has been a popular form of entertainment for generations of children — made most famous through the various editions of the View-Master. A stereoscope is a device for viewing stereographic cards containing two similar, but separate, images that are placed side-by-side to create the illusion of one three-dimensional image.

May has become a leading collector and historian of stereo cards. Since receiving his first View-Master when he was 4 years old, Graver also has accumulated a collection of “stereoviews” that date back to the mid-1800s.

He recently lectured on the history of stereoscopy at the prestigious Wordsworth Summer Conference in Grasmere, United Kingdom — part of Britain’s Lake District. The 10-day conference hosts leading scholars from around the world whose scholarship is focused on British Romanticism (late 18th to early 19th century) and the work of poet William Wordsworth.

1Ogle-CDV-Bowder-Stone-Back.jpgThough the conference is dedicated to poetry and prose, Graver focused on the career of Thomas Ogle. As it happens, Graver’s interest in Ogle was pure happenstance. Graver, a Wordsworth scholar, said he learned about Ogle while conducting an Internet search for Wordsworth “and the stereoscope kept coming up.” Ogle and Wordsworth both lived in the Lake District.

A book binder in England in the early 1800s, Ogle would ultimately become a famous photographer of the lakes, mountains, and rivers of Wordsworth’s Lakes.

In the mid-1850s, Ogle, in addition to his book-binding duties, taught landscape and figure drawing at the Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge in Preston, England. There, he developed an interest in the new art of photography.

Ogle opened up a portrait and photography studio and soon began experimenting with stereographic photographs, which were sold all over the English-speaking world.

“It was immediately evident that the stereoscope was a great toy,” Graver explained. “It set off a craze.”

Graver added that the stereoscope can be credited with popularizing the photograph as an art form.

“Ogle’s story is the story of how photography became an important part of people’s lives,” he said. “Like the inventors of personal computers, he helped transform a complex new technology into something everyone had to have at home.” 

Top: Dr. Bruce Graver

Above Left: The Bowder Stone in Borrowdale. Ogle’s portable darkroom tent can be seen on the bottom right.

Right: A stereoview of a lake about 100 yards from William Wordsworth's home. 

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