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Stereo Views: The Nineteenth Century Meets the Twenty-First Century*

Stereographs were extremely popular in the nineteenth century. They consisted of two near-identical photographs of the same scene, which when seen through a binocular viewer called a stereoscope, created an illusion of startling three-dimensional depth. By the 1850s, stereo views were a widespread and inexpensive mass-marketed form of entertainment: a stereo viewer and basket of cards were to be found in every proper Victorian parlor. Watkins made more photographs in stereo than in any other format, inventing imagery that made spectacular use of its three-dimensional effects.

In the exhibition, Carleton Watkins: The Art of Perception, twenty-first century innovations have been used to bring nineteenth-century images to the museum audience. Original stereo cards are displayed, and to optimize viewing conditions for these works six computer viewing stations are installed in a separate room at the end of the exhibition. Utilizing cutting-edge technologies designed specifically for the exhibition tour to stimulate the stereoscopic effect, the viewing stations provide access to approximately 200 stereo views by Watkins, organized by year, subject matter, and region. Using special eyeglasses with LC (liquid crystal) lenses that synchronize with the computer via a transmitter, the museum visitor sees the selected images in three dimensions. The software interface for this unusual presentation was designed by the multimedia firm Perimetre Design, using stereo-imaging technology developed by StereoGraphics, creators of the stereo-viewing system for Mars Pathfinder.

* Adapted from press materials produced by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

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Press Release

Carleton Watkins: An Eye for the West

Stereo Views: The Nineteenth Century Meets the Twenty-First Century*