IN A HAYSTACK: Using only the search mechanisms available on loc.gov, find one item or collection of items and write a short ‘portrait’ of the object. What is it? How was it made? Who created it? How did it end up in the Library’s collection?
I really enjoyed sifting through different digital collections of the Library of Congress.
I listened around through some audio collections and watched some early clips of video too that were interesting, but this specific stereograph of Niagara Falls stuck with me. “A Fairyland of Ice & Snow” (1903) from the Stereograph Card Collection from the Photographs and Prints division. It almost feels like an image I would see on an instagram feed of someone’s recent travel explorations, in that it feels timeless in a way? Taken by R.Y. Young for the American Stereoscopic company.
“Over 8,000 stereographs are available online… Approximately 52,000 stereographs are organized and available for researchers onsite at the Library (roughly 10 percent of the collection is so far available online).” The about this collection page has a great break down of the different categories and publishers they have in their collection. They also include a paragraph explaining the stereograph’s format. Shortly after the first Daguerreotypes were shown to the general public at the London general exhibition at the Crystal Palace, American photographers began making stereographs. Stereographs consist of 2 almost identical images used to create an illusion of a 3D image, most often viewed with a stereoscope. Library of Congress link to “A Fairyland of Ice & Snow” here. The Stereograph Cards collections page also references an article from The Atlantic Monthly in1859 where poet and physician Oliver Wendell describes in detail the experience of viewing in 3D:
“The first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting ever produced. The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out as if they would scratch our eyes out. The elbow of a figure stands forth so as to make us almost uncomfortable. Then there is such a frightful amount of detail, that we have the same sense of infinite complexity which Nature gives us. A painter shows us masses; the stereoscopic figure spares us nothing…“
— Oliver Wendell, Atlantic Monthly (1859)