Today’s guest article comes to us from Mathew Olkovikas, who shares how he made use of a CANE Discretionary Fund Grant in his school. Grants are available quarterly; apply by October 1st to be considered for the next one!
This spring, thanks to a generous contribution from CANE’s discretionary fund, Pinkerton Academy’s Classical Society, a Latin club founded in the 1924-1925 school year, significantly expanded and enhanced its Archaeostereoscopeon, a growing collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century stereoview cards of Mediterranean archaeological sites and Classical sculptures.
I initiated this project about half a decade ago, having happened by chance on a stereoview of the Colosseum in a local antiques shop. I knew immediately what it was: with a functional viewing device, these two apparently identical antique photographs of the same subject set side-by-side on a rigid card would present the site as it appeared in about 1880 in beautiful detail and in true 3D!
The technology of three-dimensional photography was, amazingly, realized as early as the 1830s. Then, following the invention by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1861 of an affordable viewer type which consumers bought en masse, entrepreneurial companies looking to provide interesting scenes to sell sought out the most exotic and storied sites from around the globe, compiling thematic sets to offer in the West. When seen through a viewer, these beautiful antique cards align two photographs, taken with specialized right-and-left cameras, with the viewer’s two eyes, so that a very detailed scene is understood by the brain as any natural sight would be: with authentic and fully perceptible depth.
Of course, the heyday of this technology overlapped more or less exactly with the early days of archaeology, so there are countless scenes available of Classical statuary and archaeological sites as they appeared from about 1860 to 1920. These photos are also fascinating because they show sites from unusual vantage points, such as the Parthenon, for example, taken from on top of one side of the temple, looking down through the building, and the Pantheon, whose condition and surroundings vary remarkably during this time period. I find students to be fascinated by these stereoview cards, which show not only different vantage points on sites with which they are often already familiar, but also many more obscure sites as well, serving to broaden their knowledge significantly. Many of the cards also contain much descriptive background information printed on the reverse. Students are drawn in both by the sites themselves and also by the engrossing quality of the antique photography juxtaposed with the curiously modern-seeming technology of the three-dimensional viewing experience.
I try whenever possible to develop projects that cross disciplines in unexpected or unusual ways and that knit together various, wide-ranging facets of students’ potential interests. Ultimately, the goal is to appeal not only to many sides of individual students’ multiple academic inclinations, but also to many different types of personalities, thereby demonstrating the universal relevance of the Classics to discipuli- and I find that this particular exploration of the intersection of Classics and stereoscopy does exactly that.
Since starting the project, Pinkerton’s Classical Society had amassed a serviceable collection of these cards, with many sites from around the Mediterranean represented, but also with a growing diversity of vantage points of the more famous sites. There are good online retailers that specialize in stereoviews and we gather annually to nominate scenes and then vote on which few we’ll purchase, using some of our funds collected from dues and other minor fundraising activities to buy three or four new cards. Students explore the collection, check out what’s available that we don’t have, try their hands, so to speak, at the mystical art of “freeviewing,” i.e., learning to view cards in 3D without the aid of a viewer, and then ultimately submit their nominations for fresh acquisition. CANE’s grant allowed us this year to select and acquire a far greater number, as well as, mirabile visu!, a second viewer of superb quality.
Our Archaeostereoscopeon project has been perfect for our club, but it also dovetails excellently with our classroom studies themselves. I’ve taken to designating a few enthusiastic “cardmasters” in my A-Period class (7:15 sharp!) who carefully select a few new cards to highlight every other day. An impressive number of students will then spontaneously check out the current offerings throughout the school day. We also are able, thanks to our growing collection, to trot out often multiple views to share as a class when we hit certain relevant points in the curriculum. Turn-of-the-century stereoscopy really brings an incomparable sense of the reality of these spaces to students in the classroom and has had the additional benefit for us of providing intriguing points of true comparison for our students who have actually visited these sites and seen these statues on our biennial trips to Italy and Greece. Sometimes minor or even major issues of archaeological attribution arise, shedding a bit of light on the development and currency of Classical scholarship. Most importantly to me, however, these stereoviews help to convey to students the ephemeral—and therefore precious—nature of what the ages have left to us.
You can attempt to freeview the cards I’ve included at the end of this article in order to appreciate the three-dimensionality without a viewer. A caveat: this activity may not be for the easily 3Dsick! The objective is effectively to uncross your eyes so that each is directed at the correct photo, viz., right eye directed at the right photo, left directed at the left. As you begin to uncross your eyes, the two images will appear to move toward each other, then will progressively overlap until you see a whole central image, with two faded images to the left and right in the periphery. That central image, if you are able to stabilize and focus on it, will suddenly have perceptible depth. Objects in the foreground will seem to pop out toward you and objects in the background will recede into the distance.
Troubleshooting: this is difficult to do if the image of the card is too large. I find it comfortable to freeview with the whole card displayed at about four to five inches in width, at about an arm’s length in distance. Also, some find it bafflingly difficult to perform the uncrossed-eyes maneuver. If you encounter this difficulty, try looking slightly above your computer monitor at an object ideally somewhat distant, then blur your focus. Next, try to lock your eyes as they are and drift your gaze downward to the stereoview on the screen. You will see it blurred, but with the strong central image and weaker left-and-right images. Now just adjust your focus and eureka! Depth.
So, on behalf of all of Pinkerton’s Latin program and its Classical Society, maximas gratias vobis, CANE, for your support of our Archaeostereoscopeon; we’ll strive to help it achieve its full potential.
A Holmes-type stereoscope with stereoview: vista from atop the Parthenon.
A masterpiece of Praxiteles: Hermes with the infant Dionysus, whose arm was then largely intact.
The “Thesion [sic]” in Athens, now widely understood to be the Hephaisteion.
Mycenae from above the lions’ gate, with a curious description of the circular space within.
Discipuli in their natural habitat stereoscopically enjoying stereoscopy.