A Victorian Village in 3D: A Conversation with Brian May, Part 2

Brian May’s book A Village Lost and Found is the first time in living memory that the full stereoscopic series of T.R. Williams’ “Scenes in Our Village” has been brought together—yet it’s much more than that.

“The series very nearly disappeared,” May (yes, of Queen!) recalls. “Nobody had seen the full set of cards, and it became a real mission for me to bring this together. It’s a detailed study, showing the town not just in images, but exploring its connection with life, the townspeople, and their hopes and dreams.” In a very real way, May is continuing the work of Williams by again documenting these images and sharing them with a new audience, one that Williams couldn’t even imagine.

 

Stereoscopic images

Stereoscopic images of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania by Robert N. Dennis, circa-1865. Currently part of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs at the New York Public Library. Image out of copyright in the U.S. (Photo: via Wikimedia Commons).

 

The package that the series is presented in is an amazing feat of engineering—and that’s even before you discover the folding stereoscope that is tucked inside a sleeve. It’s been called an “OWL” by the authors, not least because of its owlish appearance, but also because of the extra space between the lenses, causing a prismatic effect —therefore called an Outstanding Wide Lens. The acknowledgement pages of A Village Lost and Found mentions a David Burder, or “Mr. 3-D,” for his technical advice, but it turns out that he had told May that it was impossible to create a focusing stereoscope. Perhaps Burder’s comment provided the impetus May needed as he sprang into designing.

“I always used David as a sounding post, but I went back to the 1850s and the “Stereoscopic Treasury” by Henry Swan made in 1853. This stereoscope used a sliding bar that fit into a sliding scope, which made it perfect for fitting in a book. Many others weren’t, so I used Swan’s as a template,” May says. “I basically made a cardboard demo, and Elena and I took it to an injection-molding company in the U.K. The company provided a great deal of help to develop it, especially on the issue of how to hold the lenses in.”

 

Stereoscopic images of Cambridge

Stereoscopic images of Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Robert N. Dennis, circa-1859. Currently part of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs at the New York Public Library. Image out of copyright in the U.S. (Photo: via Wikimedia Commons).

Brian had started collecting stereoscopes and stereoscopic images even as a young man. He’d scour London’s Portobello Market (sadly, a pleasure he has had to give up due to his fame), and later in Christie’s Auction House in South Kensington, where he was a student at Imperial College, London.

“I’m hoping that the book will turn up a few people who don’t know what stereoscopic images are, and it will bring more of them to light,” May says. “Especially if they clean out their attic and find T.R. Williams’ diaries! And if they do, please get in touch!”

 

To learn more about A Village Lost and Foundsee Part 1 and Part 3 of this series.

 

by Jennifer Myers

 

 

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