From the 19th Century to the 21st
Stereoscopic Images are a Home Commodity
Updated on September 19, 2010, 3:17 PM - Written by Tim Buttner
The Nineteenth-Century proved to be one of great technological advances, whether it was in industry, transportation, or home entertainment. There were many means of entertainment during this century; the theater, vaudeville, the opera, the symphony, art museums, etc., however most of these were experiences that one had to travel away from home in order to experience. Not the case when one chose to stay at home with a good book, or play a game of chess with their kids. Half a century before people showed up in droves at movie theaters to see moving pictures they were able to see and own photographs in their home… and many were stereoscopic1 photographs. The demand for stereoscopic photographs was high in the period between 1851-1930. The occupation of stereoscopic photographer was held by amateurs and professionals alike, which made the domestic life of any person who sought to be successful in this career worthwhile.
It was in 1838 that Charles Wheatstone first devised the stereoscope in order to demonstrate binocular vision and how humans perceive depth perception as a result of it. It was invented a decade before photography, and yet the addition of photography made the images more varied and detailed, which made the effect more startling. Sir David Brewster invented a refracting, lens-based stereoscope in 1849 that was easier and more portable than Wheatstone's model. In 1851 the wet-plate collodion was introduced and the popularity of stereoscopic photographs grew after a stereoscopic viewer was presented at the Crystal Palace to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, quickly followed by American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes stating that "we must have special stereographic collections, just as we have professional and other special libraries." (Holmes, The Stereoscope and the Stereograph). Millions of stereoscopic viewers were produced between 1851 and 1930. The market for stereoscopic photographs grew as the types of photographs varied from local history and events, to grand landscapes, to portraits of exceptional people, and even charming genre scenes. As photographs of war and natural disasters started to find their way into newspapers, stereoscopic ones also were recorded for viewing.
Merchants Exchange, Philadelphia 1849
Salt print from a paper negative, Langenheim brothers.
In America, and in Europe, there were many people who gravitated to the new photography livelihood. Some famous American photographers and stereographers were William Henry Jackson, Edward Anthony, Albert Southworth, Carleton Watkins, Timothy H. O'Sullivan, and the Langenheim brothers William and Frederick. William and Frederick were both German-born American photographers who grew to immense fame and respect in the 1840s while operating studios in Philadelphia and New York City. William was the oldest of the brothers, and the first to immigrate to Texas from Brunswick, Germany in 1834. There he fought in the Texas War before he moved to Philadelphia, and to his shock found his brother had just previously arrived. They opened their studio at "26-27 Exchange, Philadelphia," (Hannavy, 825) which turns out to be the Merchant Exchange Building that still stands today located at 3rd and Walnut St. William focused on the business side, and was a lawyer, while Frederick was the photographer and both benefited from the enterprise. There were many prominent Americans who sat for portraits from the Langenheim brothers, including President John Tyler, the McAllister family, and Henry Clay. The Langenheim brothers had a studio in New York City at the same time that they were in Philadelphia, and that was located at 201 Broadway. They traveled between the two cities for work, but the Langenheim brothers also did a great deal of traveling around the United States and the rest of the world. Not only were they among the first photographers to capture Niagra Falls, but also they were the first to do so in stereoscope. Their travels brought a lot of success because they essentially became the first photographers to sell popular tourist views.
Niagra Falls, New York, 1855-1856
Glass Stereograph, 2 9/16 X 2 3/8 in., Langenheim Brothers
The population in Philadelphia in 1840 was 93,665 in comparison to the population of New York City, which was 312,710. Living in either city afforded residents the ability to live in close proximity to shops, markets, and hospitals unlike rural-living Americans. Most Philadelphians and New Yorkers lived within walking distance of their work, if they didn't live in the same building. No one had a phone, as it was a relatively new invention by the 1870's that hadn't been mass produced yet, and corresponded with people long distance through letters. The Langenheim brothers are listed as having the same residence as their work at 201 Broadway in New York, according to one source. It is feasible that the same was true for their Philadelphia residence, which the same source claims they lived at 216 Chestnut St., and is true for many photographers, artists, and writers during the 1800's and even in modern times. Much of the Langenheim brothers' income was put back into their business, as exemplified by their investment in the Talbot calotype process. The correspondences between the brothers and William Henry Fox Talbot show that they were making enough money to offer Talbot a great deal in order to purchase his patent. As William wrote to Talbot in one letter "I have concluded to make another offer for Your Patent right. We will pay One thousand Pounds Sterling for it. Two hundred immediately, two hundred in six months, two hundred in twelve months, two hundred in eighteen months, and two hundred in twenty four months from date." The amount that he was offering was a large sum, and they ended up paying upwards of six thousand dollars for the patents. And what for? An investment that ended up being a failure for the brothers. Still they proved to run a successful studio, and even managed to use the calotype process for their stereo images. This leads to the conclusion that they were living well during those times. Enough so that it is possible to believe that, although it is written nowhere, they had people working under them. There are no written sources that can tell about their wives, but their sister (who stayed behind in Germany) is recorded to have married an old college-mate of William's, Peter Wilhelm Friedrich von Voigtländer. Voigtländer studied in Gottingen, Germany and happened to be an important piece to the success of the two brother's business as they practically represented him and his company in America. "It is perhaps not surprising that Langenheim & Beckers advertised themselves in the later 1840s as sole agents for Von Voigtländer's innovative metal-bodied daguerrotype camera and Professor Petval's fast lens." (John Hannavy, pg. 825). The Langenheim brothers thrived from 1854 to 1861 as they styled themselves the American Stereoscopic Company when they produced stereo photographs in large quantities with lantern slides.
Today the modern home is rapidly changing. Technology is accelerating at a rate that Moore's Law predicted, but didn't quite foresee. The Internet has practically invaded every home in the United States, and for the most part the rest of the world. Cable television and the Internet are going to merge together and become one, as Verizon's latest breakthrough of Internet speeds of 1 Gbps demonstrates that soon streaming video over the Internet will be no problem. Stereoscopic 3DTV's will have built-in connectivity to the Internet and people will be streaming through the Internet new 3D television shows, sporting and live events, and movies. YouTube already allows people to watch videos in stereoscopic 3D on certain channels, such as the 3D Film Factory's channel, and some cable networks like ESPN and Discovery have already begun broadcasting Stereoscopic 3D channels.
Work is now brought home with many people on their computers, and soon iPads and addition notebook devices. The privacy they once had is gone as the phone, cell phone, and e-mail makes them easily accessible to employees, employers, and business partners. With the video chat features of iChat the last few years, and now FaceTime on the iPhone and iPod Touch, people are able to correspond with people halfway around the world in real time. On the stereoscopic film Tintin (2011) Peter Jackson (co-producer & co-director) worked with Steven Spielberg (co-producer & co-director) while he worked in the volume with the actors in Los Angeles from New Zealand using video chat capabilities.
a device by which two photographs of the same object taken at slightly different angles are viewed together, creating an impression of depth and solidity.
ster•e•o•scop•ic || adjective,
ster•e•o•scop•i•cal•ly || adverb,
ster•e•os•co•py || noun
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Langenheim Brothers. Niagra Falls, Summer View, Suspension Bridge, and Falls in the Distance 1855-1856. The Getty. 16 Sep. 2010. <http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=137183>
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