by Lesley Parilla
Collecting in 3-D Smithsonian Institution Archives, 87-2132 (OPPS Neg. No.), The Underwood Travel System, Catalog No. 28 [p. 4 illustration: Man holding stereoscope, pointing to Egypt on a large globe: line drawing, ca. 1907.]
Over the course of cataloging the Waldo Schmitt collection [SIA RU007231], I have been amazed by the array of material formats. Waldo was a prodigious documenter of his work using movies, diaries, notebooks, photographs, and slides. The color slides even reach back to his earlier field work. From what I can gather, Waldo appreciated using innovative methods of recording. For instance, in the 1960’s Waldo worked with a marine photographer Harry Pederson using new methods of photography to document behaviors of marine life of the Bahamas. Knowing this, I was still amazed to come across an unfamiliar format from the Smithsonian-Bredin Expedition to the Belgian Congo, 1955—stereographic slides.
Stereographic slides create 3-dimensional images, by projecting two images taken at slightly differently angles. This is achieved by a camera that is capable of taking two pictures simultaneously. The Schmitt collection has several boxes of these, documenting locations and events during the 1955 expedition across Africa. My only experience with this format was with commercially available slides showing tourist sites like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park.
Having never seen stereographic images outside the souvenir realm, I did some research, and was surprised to find that these images are not uncommon in archival collections. Additionally, I learned that stereographic photography still occurs. There are clubs across the country; some still using traditional film cameras, though digital is becoming more common. There are online instructions for turning these images in to 3-dimensional digital anaglyphs. When I went to Smithsonian’s online catalog SIRIS, I found several stereographic images were digitized. Unfortunately, they require a special viewer to see in their 3-dimensional glory. As 3-D has proven increasingly applicable and popular, I thought I would try combining the images shown above into anaglyphs, so that readers could see a new side to Africa in the 1950’s. If you have 3-D glasses lying around, now is the time to pull them out.
Viewer simulation of stereographic image #SIA2012-0403
Viewer simulation of stereographic image #SIA2012-0405