Incredible 3D colour images from 1850s Japan

In 1851, when Scotsman Sir David Brewster invented a photographic device called the Lenticular Stereoscope, the way people saw the world changed forever. After presenting it to Queen Victoria at the Great Exhibition in London, Victorians went crazy for the new machine. Photographers were sent far and wide to record famous sights and events in stereo. “See the world from your parlour!” was just one of the many advertising slogans used to promote the fabulous new medium to knowledge thirsty Victorians. These incredible 3D images are just a fraction of the tens of thousands produced.

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21 replies
  1. John Doherty
    John Doherty says:

    In my opinion, this fixation with converting original and historic pictures into colour only detracts from their intrinsic value. Black and white was the way they were immortalised and altering them for transient modern tastes does not serve any point, in fact it lessens them, as if to say modern technology will improve the image. Thus altered, they are no longer of and from their time.

    • Flagrant Foul
      Flagrant Foul says:

      Those pictures were taken with the purpose of recording a moment in time, not to satisfy somebody’s expectation of art. If the photographer had in his possession a 3D color camera, he’d have used it. I love these gifs.

      • R
        R says:

        These images were taken as entertainment. At the time, people didn’t have television or radio or anything to occupy time, so often times families – particularly in the west – would collect and look at view cards through a stereoscope. Pictures like the ones above were exotic, in that it gave many their first (and sometimes only) references of the outside world. So in a sense, they informed – but I wouldn’t consider documentary as their primary purpose. If that was the case the photographer(s) wouldn’t have shot in this format because it was technically twice the amount of work.

    • calalal
      calalal says:

      Look at the colour flickering and it’s obvious these were probably hand-tinted at the time, by the stereoscopers themselves. And if it’s /their/ transient modern tastes you’re alluding to, I respectfully disagree with the assertion that they had no right to alter the historical photographs they were taking.

    • Steve Davis
      Steve Davis says:

      How unfortunate for you Johnathon to see it that way and not in the glorious display of detail and color that I am thankful to view. Subarashi!

    • Ryan
      Ryan says:

      You are horribly horribly wrong. The whole point of both coulourisation AND 3D for historical images, is to help the viewer see the scene as if they were living in that time. It removes that historic, nostalgic, almost mythical feeling about images from a time long before you existed. Instead we gain a feeling of reality of life without electricity.

  2. P.Hill
    P.Hill says:

    The color is fine, but I would have liked to see the images side by side, in the right orientation, so that I could cross my eyes and see the 3D without the jumping. Animated GIFs are one approach, but after some practice crossing your eyes makes it look as good as viewing through lenses.

  3. B. Culpepper
    B. Culpepper says:

    I’m gonna venture a guess and say the “Japanese Men” one are actually Sumo wrestlers considering they are all carrying the garb of Sumo, and seem to be in a stadium or venue.


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