Brian May Diableries Exhibition Interview – Sky News 28102019
TRANSCRIPT BY JEN TUNNEY: E&OE
SARAH-JANE MEE: And now our next guest is a rock legend and guitarist in one of the biggest bands of all time, Queen, but Brian May has another passion. He has been on a quest to collect 19th century stereoscopic photographs called “Diableries” and after 30 years he has finally found the last two missing images, completing his collection of 182 cards and they’re being put on display today in a special Halloween expedition (corrects) ‘exhibition’. We’ll go on an expedition over to the screen shall we and talk to Brian May who joins us now? Hello Brian. And when I say ‘expedition’…
BRIAN MAY: Hello Sarah-Jane.
SARAH-JANE: … because it was quite a hunt for you to complete your collection. Tell me where all of this started.
BRIAN: Yeah, it was an expedition to provide the exhibition. It was amazing. I mean I first knew of it at Portobello Road about 45 years ago and somebody said, “Have you ever seen one of these”, and there was this beautiful card with strange ghouls and ghosts and skeletons on it. and he said, “That’s nothin. H old it up to the light.” I held it up to the light and suddenly the colour all came through. All that came to life and all the the eyes glowed red and I said, “This is a phenomenal thing. What a wonderful work of art. What are these?”, and he said, “Well I don’t know much about them but they’re called “Diableries”. And that started me off on a quest around the world, which has lasted till now.
SARAH-JANE: And so they date back to Victorian times and they’re quite ghoulish. They’re not for the faint-hearted. They depict the Damned. Did all sorts of different scenes.
BRIAN: Yeah, it was an expedition to provide the exhibition. It was amazing. I mean I first knew of it at Portobello Road about 45 years ago and somebody said, “Have you ever seen one of these”, and there was this beautiful card with strange ghouls and ghosts and skeletons on it. and he said, “That’s nothing. Hold it up to the light.” I held it up to the light and suddenly the colour all came through. All that came to life and all the the eyes glowed red and I said, “This is a phenomenal thing. What a wonderful work of art. What are these?”, and he said, “Well I don’t know much about them but they’re called “Diableries”. And that started me off on a quest around the world, which has lasted till now. And so they date back to Victorian times and they’re quite ghoulish. They’re not for the faint-hearted. They depict the Damned. Did all sorts of different scenes.
SARAH-JANE: Some of them very scary but some very humorous as well.
BRIAN: That’s right. It encompasses a lot of different moods. It starts off when they began around at 1860 as really in reinforcing what the church was telling people, which was like if you’re not good boys and girls you will end up in Hell and you will be tortured etc, etc. So it starts off pretty grim but these two men, Hennetier and Habert, in Paris, decided they would gradually move away from that and the views became more and more fun. So eventually people I guess were thinking maybe it’s not so bad in Hell after all. So you get the skeleton skating on ice and skeletons represent our human souls after they’re departed. You get them swimming in pools of water and it becomes more satirical. So it starts to take the mickey out of Napoleon and the administration at the time and out of life in general and some of it’s very relevant to today. There’s one called “Satan Journliste”, which shows a journalist with two faces and all sorts of clues into in the picture as to what happens to truth. You see fake news depicted in a diablerie from 1860-ish, so there’s a hell of a lot of wonderful stuff in these views if you get my drift.
SARAH-JANE: I see. What is it their Great Pond(?) and because all 182 it started in Portobello Road in London where did it take you to get hold of all of these.
BRIAN: I’ve discovered them all around the world. They’re obviously very very successful in their day and so there are a lot you can pick up still so they start off in England and in France – well France they start and then England but they get very quickly shipped across to the USA and all over Europe. So I have found them all over the world and it’s been quite a little journey for me and I think I was the second person in the world to get a complete series of series a that’s the first 72 and the first 72 are kind of the glory days of this wonderful genre and these two guys. Hennetier and Habert. I kind of regard as kind of similar to Lennon McCartney. You know McCartney and Lennon wrote those wonderful songs, the oeuvre of the Beatles in the beginning, and then from time to time they would kind of be in competition and eventually they split up and became solo artists. It’s the same with these guys. They were eventually in competition in the B, C and D Series and when you get to E and F series it’s other people who have taken on. And it’s still happening but it’s not quite the glory days of the 1860s.
SARAH-JANE: Tell me just a little bit more about the pictures because they’re stereoscopic pictures What does that mean?
BRIAN: Well what they did, these amazing artists, was they sculpted in clay on a tabletop – a scene of for instance the Last Supper … or turn up so I shouldn’t be saying the Last Supper. Yeah, it did start off as religious-wise but it’ll be a scene like Perdition or a vision of Purgatory or actually of Heavens, strangely enough, one of the theories about Heaven, but they start off on it on the tabletop and then they photograph these scenes which are beautifully sculpted with a 3-D camera. They then print the pictures on paper, actually a kind of tissue paper. They colour them on the back and they cover them with another layer of tissue on the back and they mounted it in a plastic – sorry… not a plastic. No plastic in those days … …and then the thing goes in a stereoscope which sounds very complicated but once you have it in your hand it’s very simple. There’s the stereoscope. You put your eyes up and this is my modern version of the stereoscope this is my sort of 21st century, 19th century stereoscope and suddenly the whole thing springs into 3-D.
Now we all know what 3-D is. It’s “Avatar” and all those comics – in Mighty Mouse comics if you can remember back that far – but 3-D is to me the ultimate way of portraying an image. It’s much more real than a flat image. It’s much more evocative and you can actually feel like you can go through that window and touch the things inside. That’s the thing which gets me. That’s the magic of 3-D, which in those days was called stereoscopy.
SARAH-JANE: Well I know we’ve spoken before. You’ve done a similar project with a lot of Queen photographs that you put together in a book that you were kind enough to bring in here to the studio some months back and what are you doing with all these Diableries is a special exhibition. There’s a book just in time for Halloween…
BRIAN: Yeah. it was wonderful to find the last two cars and we use this as an excuse to have an exhibition and it’s the first Diableries exhibition since 1860 in London which is great nicely timed for Halloween, so we’re having a lot of fun here today. We had a 5-hour pop-up exhibition and we had hundreds of people come in and be entranced by these little ghouls and devils and skeletons. So the book is out number two it’s the second edition of the book and it is complete now every diablerie that was ever made, all 182 of them are in this book and you can view them in stereo with the supplied viewer. See me doing my advertising stuff – but it’s something I believe in. You know, the London Stereoscopic Company I kind of reimagined and re-birthed because it died out about the 1920. S I brought it back to life and we published these things. We published Diablaries(?) books. We published the Queen 3-D book, as you said, and lots of other things we’re about to publish. Well I did a Mission Moon 3-S, which is about the, the Apollo Moon landings, which has done very well and we’re working on a new book about “Cosmic Clouds“, which are nebulae – the places where stars are born. All of these things you have seen but you’ve never seen them in stereo.
SARAH-JANE: So you are a busy man. Have you still got time for Queen?
BRIAN: We took a little time for Queen. I’ll have to have a lot of time for it soon because we are back out in January. We’ll be in Korea, in Japan. Australia and in New Zealand. Then we’ll be back here in Europe and finally to the O2 early summer next year.
SARAH: The tickets are on sale, I gather. I think they kind of win, so we might put a few more on sale. Yeah ,Queen with Adam Lambert is a real treat and riding the wave of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” as well – the fantastic film. Any signs of a new Queen album? Got to ask. Got to get it in there.
BRIAN: Well you know, know what we do is what we do, you know. We go out there and perform what people want to hear and we haven’t made a new album. It’s funny. We had an interesting experience with Paul Rodgers – a wonderful singer that we worked with for a while. We made a whole new album – devoted a year of our lives to it – but strangely enough, although I think there’s some great stuff on it, nobody really cared. They want to hear Queen with Freddie and you know, who can blame them.
So at the moment we’re enjoying what we’re doing, which is going out playing live. We experiment with the tunes we bring them a little bit up-to-date. They’re very much living. It’s not a fossil that we are and we’re not a kind of tribute to ourselves. We are living it the legend that we created, if you like, and we love it. As long as we can still walk I think we’ll be doing it, Roger and I that is, and Adam is young blood, so we’ve been drinking his blood a little bit you can see in the other his (?) book this – oh I got that’s a whole new Diablo II series.
SARAH-JANE: Brian May thank you so much for your time this afternoon here on Sky News pleasure to talk to you as always.
BRIAN: Thank you. Bless you.
Brian’s talk from the Diableries event will be LIVE on FACEBOOK later this evening from the Century Club Diableries crypt.
Please Tune into Facebook @londonstereo at 7.30pm (UK time) this evening for his Press launch talk.
NOTE: If not there right away to stay tuned as we may be running late !