See the 19th Century in 3D… Thanks to Brian May’s stereograph collection


20 Oct 2014 by Louise Jury

Brian May and Death of Chatterton

Poor man’s gallery: Henry Wallis’s Chatterton and, inset, Brian May

Brian May is lending part of his collection of rare 19th century three-dimensional photographs to Tate Britain for a new exhibition.

The show will reveal how pioneering photographers used the stereographic format to recreate famous paintings in 3D as well as capture everything from travel scenes to weddings.

May, the guitarist with Queen, has collected thousands of stereographs over 40 years. They are pairs of photographs taken at slightly different angles, mounted side by side and viewed through lenses in a stereoscope with the viewer seeing only one image — mimicking the way our eyes take in slightly different views and the brain puts them together.

May said they circulated in their millions in the 1850s and 1860s. Many Victorians became familiar with paintings such as Henry Wallis’s Chatterton or William Powell Frith’s Derby Day through their stereoscopic counterparts, which became known as “the poor man’s picture gallery”.

May, 67, who has written a book with expert Denis Pellerin to accompany the show, said it was “a big thrill” that stereographs were being shown for the first time at the Tate.

He added: “I never thought I would see them there because they were always regarded as the poor end of the market and something probably not artistically very worthwhile.

“But I feel they are masterpieces in their own right. They sold millions, it was like the TV of the day. You are looking at something that reflected everything the population was interested in.” May’s own interest was kindled as a child when he bought a stereoscope through an offer on a cereal packet.

Poor Man’s Picture Gallery: Victorian Art and Stereoscopic Photography is a free display at Tate Britain until April 12, 2015.

London Evening Standard 20102014