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Full house as Brian May delivers photographic history lecture

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VISION: The audience wore 3D glasses

Queen guitarist Brian May visited De Montfort University (DMU) to launch a new book uncovering the hidden history of stereoscopic photography.

Dr May wrote ‘Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell’ jointly with Denis Pellerin,  curator of his collection and currently a PhD student at the university’s internationally-acclaimed Photographic History Research Centre and Paula Fleming, former photographic archivist at the Smithsonian in the USA.

The book details the stories and images of Diableries, tiny tableaus of costumed devils. The scenes made satirical and salacious comments on politics, society and life in 19th century France, often to avoid the censor.

These scenes were photographed with a stereographic camera and the prints pasted in their pairs onto cards which appeared in 3D when seen through a stereo viewer.

More than 240 people packed into the Hugh Aston building on Thursday to hear the authors deliver a fascinating lecture on their book and the years of research behind it.

Perhaps surprisingly, the book is the first time anyone has ever written about these cards. They could only find one reference to these cards before, in a Victorian photographic journal.

The audience were asked to wear 3D glasses so they could see the special effects as each of the stereo cards were shown.

Dr May, who has a PhD in astrophysics, said: “It’s a real pleasure and a privilege to be here. We have never given this lecture to as informed an audience.

“Stereo cards are more thrilling that Avatar in my opinion. We all felt this was worthy of proper attention and research, and six years later here we are.”

Denis said: “These cards tell the history of France. The creators put hidden messages inside the cards and created caricatures of Napoleon III and his wife to make political protests and show opposition to the regime.”

“Every time you look at them you see another detail,” said Paula. “They are just incredible objects of art.”

Dr May, a lifelong collector of these stereo cards, was put in touch with Denis through Paula. “It was meant to be,” he said. “We shared this passion and it has sustained us through six years of writing this book.

“We are conscious that we are something of stereoscopic crusaders, to reclaim these works of art for the 21st century.”

He also praised DMU Emeritus Professor Roger Taylor who is a close friend and with whom he has collaborated on his photographic research.

The event was a showcase for the work of the academics in the highly-regarded PHRC. Established in 2011, it is a centre for international scholarship and world-renowned research and is already the largest concentration of photographic historians in Europe

Professor Elizabeth Edwards, director of the PHRC, who introduced the lecture, said: “It’s impossible to find any field since the 19th century that has not been profoundly influenced by photography.

“I am incredibly gratified that people are beginning to refer to the “DMU way” of doing research in the history of photography. It is a testament to the reputation and standing of the centre in the academic community.”

It has a thriving hub of MA students and a large community of PhD scholars. The PHRC has a growing number of strategic alliances and its current partners include the British Library; Metropolitan Museum of Art; National Gallery of Art, Washington; National Media Museum, Bradford; The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford and the Société Française de Photographie, Paris.

Posted on Friday 8th November 2013

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