A Victorian Village in 3D: A Conversation with Brian May, Part 1

What does Brian May, astrophysicist and lead guitarist for the legendary rock group Queen, have to do with the Victorian era? Read on to find out.

 

Illustrated London News

The front page of the “Illustrated London News,” which covered the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851. (Photo: Thinkstock)

 

 

Back in the 1850s, a new fad was starting. “The year 1851 is a milestone because stereo photographs were exhibited in the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park,” May explains. “Queen Victoria was quoted as liking them, so they really became something very trendy…a real craze.”

Not long after, a man called T.R. Williams, skilled in the somewhat new technology of stereophotography, began shooting a series of stereoscopic images titled “Scenes in Our Village.” The village, called Hinton Waldrist, was where Williams’ family would visit in the summer. Realizing that this way of village life was fast disappearing with the industrialization of the Victorian era, Williams began a labor of love, indelibly committing a lasting picture of what he held so dear and communicating it to a modern audience.

Flash forward to a young boy more than 100 years later, discovering 3-D, or stereoscopic images, in his box of breakfast cereal. With these amazing images of wild tigers, lions and hippos not commonly seen in the English fauna, an obsession was born—although it took quite some time for the obsession to bear fruit. Brian May was distracted for several years by Queen, but has returned to his childhood passion.

A Village Lost and Found encompasses more than 30 years of research by May and co-author Elena Vidal, and presents a detailed study of not just the stereoscopic photos but a people, place and time that has disappeared.

 

victorian village

Photo: Thinkstock.

 

“As soon as I started seeing T.R. Williams’ work, I felt a great empathy with it,” May says. Every time I saw one of his images I was entranced, I was drawn in, and I wanted to share that with people.”

Although May had many of Williams’ images from the “Scenes in Our Village” series, his collection was far from complete. Part of the 30 years of research entailed finding and contacting the descendants of Williams and the townspeople of Hinton Waldrist, plus other stereoscopic image collectors to complete the set. Scanning in the images has been time-consuming but worth it.

Was there any special precautions taken to preserve the original images during scanning?

“Not really—albumen prints are pretty stable, unless they are exposed to bright sunlight,” May says. “Generally speaking, it’s okay to scan them once. The question is how much to allow yourself to restore them! I allowed myself to remove the odd tea stain but wanted present the old images as you’d find them today. But I also wanted to make them easy to view in the book, so sometimes I would take the luxury of fixing a tilted edge.”

 

To learn more about A Village Lost and Found, check back for Part 2.

 

by Jennifer Myers

 

 

 

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