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Making 2-D 3-D!

On December 10, 1827, American landscape photographer Benjamin West Kilburn was born. He was the younger brother who eventually took over the family’s business of commercial landscape photography.

One of the latest entertainment crazes in Europe, the stereoscope, had arrived in North America. The stereoscope was a device used to view a scene photographed to render that scene three-dimensional when viewed by someone with normal vision in both eyes. A card with a double photograph was inserted into the holder, the eyes against each of the eyepieces. Demand for stereo photographs was huge.

Kilburn’s operation produced scenes for sale as stereoviews. He used a version of special camera with a double lens, set slightly apart mimicking the placement of human eyes, to photograph the same view but from a slightly different angle. Developed on a card and placed into a viewer with binocular or double eyepieces, the scene appeared 3-dimensional. Kilburn set out to take ever more exotic and difficult to reach landscapes. He travelled by train. He travelled on foot.

He had an eye for the breathtaking view and visited many locales just coming into being as great nature or wildlife parks. With his trusty stereoscopic camera, he photographed thousands of scenes of Canada and the U. S. A. – from la Chute-Montmorency to Niagara Falls; from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon. People anywhere in the world could now see samples of North American vistas in 3-D – geysers, mountains, waterfalls, lakes, grottos, rapids, and raging rivers.

One of B. W. Kilburn’s stereoviews of trains on eye-popping trestles… here, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
One of B. W. Kilburn’s stereoviews of trains on eye-popping trestles… here, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Kilburn grew into one of the finest image-makers of his era. He made several trips to other continents with his camera and added to his company catalogue of landscape highlights from Ireland to Switzerland’s Mt Blanc to the sphinxes, palaces, and pyramids of Egypt. He framed the views to capture great depth of field, special texture, special light. Kilburn’s company produced over 15,000 views taken before the turn of the 20th century. They are historical images of environmental features that can be revisited and studied by today’s ecology researchers.

In a day before location cinematography, stereoviews provided thrills for armchair travel and adventure, firing imaginations of future generations of explorers, adventurers, and photographers. Newer cameras and viewers came onto the market. A famous stereoscope family member was the View-Master that placed images on transparencies set into a circular card. Today’s 3-D is part of the ongoing evolution of image creation as photographers continue to experiment with stereoscopic image making.

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage