November 1, 2015

Stereogram to smartphone - a journey in 3D

Last week, I went along to a rather wonderful and insightful talk on the subject of stereography. Held at the National Museum of Scotland, to coincide with their exhibition Photography: A Victorian Sensation (which runs to November 22nd and I highly recommend a visit), the speaker, Denis Pellerin from the London Stereoscopic Company took myself and the rest of the audience on a 90 minute, immersive journey through their history, with the aid of a couple of projectors, some wonderful stereo cards and the all important glasses!

Valentine Blanchard, St Paul's, from Bankside. Albumen print stereogram. Image: Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The next day, at the Museums Galleries Scotland conference “Fighting Fit” I went along to a session entitled “Technologies Broadening Visitor Engagement: Panoramas, Time Travel and Virtual Museums”. Looking at the use of modern technologies to create virtual “time travel environments”, the speakers showcased a virtual reconstruction of the pre-clearance township of Caen, built for the Timespan museum in Helmsdale. An impressive application of virtual world technology to cultural heritage (and apparently the first of its kind in the UK) it is an excellent tool to engage new audiences and enhance their experience beyond the traditional offering.

What particularly stood out for me though, was how accessible VR technology is starting to become. With the advent of products such as Oculus Rift and platforms like Google Cardboard, the cost of virtual reality is coming closer to being within reach of everyday consumers and creators alike (for example, it is now possible to make 360 panorama images with a smartphone, the same type of device that the Google cardboard viewer runs on). As new applications are found for the use of VR technology, I find myself wondering just how far it will permeate into everyday use.

This thought suddenly brought me back to stereoscopy. It would be wonderful to have a mobile VR application that allows you to search through and view digitised stereo cards in all their 3-dimensional glory. It could be used to great effect both within and outwith the gallery space, allowing visitors to browse through entire collections in the way they were intended to, without the cost of producing facsimiles.

Like many good ideas though, someone has already thought of it. The New York Public Libraries Stereograminator presents their collection of stereograms on the web through a combination of anaglyph images and animated GIF’s, allowing the 3-d effect to be perceived straight from the browser. This has also been taken into the Cardboard realm with the development of an Android app that has resurrected the stereo viewer for the digital age.

As an iPhone user, I’m not able to have a play with this app (I’ll have to hijack one of my friends devices at some point to give it a go) but the website is a wonderful resource and I would love to see more collections showcase their examples of the “other Victorian sensation” in these sorts of inventive ways. I’m certainly tempted to try and make some stereoscopic GIFS of my own. If I have any success, I'll certainly share them here.

*Photography: A Victorian Sensation runs at the National Museum of Scotland until November 22nd (£10 adult, £8 concession). The virtual museum experience of the Caen township can be viewed online at