Stereophotography: The Victorians in 3D

A cabinet card depicting a Victorian couple with their stereoscope.
A cabinet card depicting a Victorian couple with their stereoscope.

One of the joys (and sorrows) of research is all the interesting information you find on one topic while doing research on something completely different. While researching spirit photography, for instance, I came across this fascinating account of the Victorian stereoscope in the art book for National Museums Scotland’s exhibition ‘Photography: A Victorian Sensation’.*

If you think the 3D film craze is a new thing, think again. The stereoscope is one of its many historical predecessors. Essentially a pair of fancy spectacles, the device allowed you to view two nearly identical images side-by-side in a way that would make them appear three-dimensional. Alison Morrison-Low describes how enthusiastically the Victorians took to the technology:

Hundreds of thousands of stereoscopic images were sold […] in a major craze which reached every middle-class Victorian drawing-room. The demand appeared insatiable. In 1854, George Swan Nottage (1823-85) set up the London Stereoscopic Company. ‘No home without a stereoscope’ was its slogan. It sold a wide range of stereoscopes, costing from 2s 6d to £20 (about £10 and £1550 today), and became the largest photographic publishing company in the world. [p. 63]

A Victorian stereoscope from the collection of the NCC Photographic Archives
A Victorian stereoscope from the collection of the NCC Photographic Archives

The vast numbers of stereo photographs can be divided into four main categories: travel, news, social scenes and comedy. By far the largest group was that of travel. […] The beauty of the English, Welsh or Irish countryside was frequently illustrated, as well as that of Scotland. Rural poverty and derelict cottages were seldom shown, as a Romantic portrayal of scenery prevailed. [p. 67]

 Stereocard depicting market women in Welsh costume, by Francis Bedford, 1863 - 1884. IL.2003.44.6.6.296 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland
Stereocard depicting market women in Welsh costume, by Francis Bedford, 1863 – 1884. IL.2003.44.6.6.296 © Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

And speaking of the Romantics…

Charles Breese (1819-75) of Birmingham and Sydenham sold his highly thought-of quality slides at 5 shillings (£20 today) each. Entitled ‘Breaking Waves’, 1870s-80s, it comes with a quote from Lord Byron: ‘Sea with rocks and a half moon / the deep blue moon of night, Lit by an orb / Which looks like a spirit or a spirit’s world’. [p. 76]

Photograph of 'Breaking Waves' by Charles Breese & Co., from Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland
Photograph of ‘Breaking Waves’ by Charles Breese & Co., from Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland

*All page citations refer to Alison Morrison-Low, Photography: A Victorian Sensation (Edinburgh: National Museums Scotland, 2015).

Consuming (the) Victorians

Image from BBC One's The Paradise © BBC, photographer: Jonathan Ford
Image from BBC One’s The Paradise © BBC, photographer: Jonathan Ford

Are you a Victorianist, or do you just love all things Victorian?

Then feast your eyes on the 2016 British Association for Victorian Studies’ Call for Papers: ‘Consuming (the) Victorians’, brought to you with the help of the invaluable Tom de Bruin! At this 3-day conference, hosted by Cardiff University, we’ll be looking at Victorians practices of consumption, as well as how the Victorians are consumed today. Send your proposal to BAVS2016@cardiff.ac.uk by 1 March, 2016:

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 10.52.29

The Victorian age saw the emergence of ‘modern’ consumer culture: in urban life, commerce, literature, art, science and medicine, entertainment, the leisure and tourist industries. The expansion and proliferation of new mass markets and inessential goods opened up pleasurable and democratising forms of consumption while also raising anxieties about urban space, the collapse of social and gendered boundaries, the pollution of domestic and public life, the degeneration of the moral and social health of the nation. This conference is concerned with the complexity and diversity of Victorian consumer cultures and also seeks to consider our contemporary consumption of the Victorian/s.

We welcome proposals for individual papers, and encourage proposals for panels (3-paper sessions), on, but not limited to, the following topics:

Urban spaces and city life: the flâneur/flâneuse, the steam/trolley bus, the rise of suburbia, street cultures

Transformations of the countryside: the Victorian pastoral, the country retreat, the farm, garden cities and model villages, alternative communities

Commerce: the department store, fashion, retail and advertising

Politics: new political mass movements, Chartism, feminism, Fabianism, ‘Victorian values’ in the present

Art: Pre-Raphaelitism, Impressionism, arts and crafts, photography, illustration

Science and technology: the railway, the Great Exhibition and exhibition cultures, the lecture, the gramophone, physics, biology

Science, spectacle and performance: taxidermy, the magic lantern, the diorama, the cinematograph

Literature: the magazine, newspaper, sensation, railway, crime and other popular fiction markets, self-help, religious tracts

Consuming life styles: the Girl of the Period, the Aesthete, the Dandy, the Decadent, the New Woman, the Lion/ess, the fashionable author, interview cultures

Cultures of entertainment and leisure: oper(ett)a, theatre and melodrama, the recital, music halls and concert halls, sheet music and instrument manufacture, the amateur, the club and associational culture, the bicycle, sports, boating

The tourist industry: sightseeing, the preservation of and popular attraction to historical buildings (e.g. National Trust), Baedeker, new (imperial) travel cultures

Medicine and the market place: medical treatments and therapeutics, medical advertising, professional practices, public and private treatment practices, institutional medicine, alternative therapies

The pleasures and perils of consumption: music, food cultures, cooking, chocolate, alcohol, addiction, opium, fashion, smoking, sex

Consuming bodies, moral contagion, social reform and the law: the city at night, prostitution, homosexuality, pornography, the ‘Maiden Tribute’ and trafficking; censorship, temperance, Obscene Publications Acts, Contagious Diseases Acts, National Purity Association, social purity activism, feminism, social welfare movements

The ‘other’ Victorians: the Victorians through the lens of their 19th-century contemporaries; the Victorians and 19th-century Europe; European Victorians

The Victorians and their pasts/Victorian consumption of earlier periods: Victorian medievalism in art and architecture, the Victorian Renaissance

Victorian afterlives: how the Victorian/s have been consumed by subsequent periods, such as the Modernists, Leavisites, faux/retro/post- and neo-Victorianism, heritage film and costume drama, the Victorians in contemporary architecture, art, interior decoration, music

Reception in the Impressionist galleries, with access to the Victorian art gallery, followed by an organ recital and conference dinner, National Museum Cardiff.
House tour of Cardiff Castle, with interior decoration by Victorian architect William Burges.

 

For further details consult our website: BAVS2016.co.uk

All conference presenters are required to be members of BAVS or an affiliated organisation (e.g. AVSA, NAVSA).

Please submit an individual proposal of 250-300 words OR a 3-4 page outline for a 3 paper panel proposal (including panel title, abstracts with titles, affiliations and all contact details, identifying the panel chair), to BAVS2016@cardiff.ac.uk by the deadline of 1 March 2016. Papers will be limited to 20 minutes. All proposals should include your name, academic affiliation (if applicable) and email address.

Enquiries should be directed to Professor Ann Heilmann (BAVS2016@cardiff.ac.uk).

Conference organisers
Megen de Bruin-Molé (PGR, Cardiff), Rachel Cowgill (Music, Huddersfield), Daný van Dam (PGR, Cardiff), Holly Furneaux (English, Cardiff), Kate Griffiths (French, Cardiff), Catherine Han (PGR, Cardiff), Ann Heilmann (English, Cardiff), Anthony Mandal (English, Cardiff), Akira Suwa (PGR, Cardiff), Julia Thomas (English, Cardiff), Keir Waddington (History, Cardiff), Martin Willis (English, Cardiff)

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 10.53.28