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  The research archive of Gary W. Ewer regarding the history of the daguerreotype

IIn my post of July 22, notice appeared regarding the exhibition of the Southworth & Hawes "Parlor and Gallery Stereoscope" taking place in Springfield in 1854. Today's post mentions the exhibition of the stereoscope at the (Boston) Athenæum two years later in 1854. On this day (July 24) in the year 1852, the following article appeared in "To-Day: A Boston Literary Journal" Vol. 2 (July 24, 1852) pp. 55- 56: - - - - - - - THE STEREOSCOPE. Mr. SOUTHWORTH has a large stereoscope arrangement of some daguerreotypes of the Laocoön, in the Athenæum Library in Boston, which is remarkably fine. The illusion is absolute. The spectator sees the copy of this celebrated group, in complete relief, standing off from the curtain behind it; and has nothing whatever to confirm his judgement, which informs him that he looks on reflections from a perfectly flat surface. Illustrations of the stereoscope, such as could be made by a few simple lines readily drawn, have been frequently repeated for some years past. Any experimenter can make them, who will remember the difference between a one-eyed person and a man with two eyes. If a one-eyed man looks on one object, he sees but one view of it. A two- eyed man sees two, which his judgement unites into one. If the reader will make a drawing of a book near him as his right eye sees it, and another as his left eye sees it, he will see at once how different these two views are. If, now, he will place these two drawings accurately before him, and look at them both with a dividing screen, so that Right Eye shall not see Left Drawing, nor Left Eye Right Drawing, he will produce the illusion of the stereoscope. A one-eyed man has it always. And here is one reason why, to give a certain picture-like effect to a piece of scenery, one frequently closes an eye in looking at it. The application of this simple principle to two daguerreotypes of the same object, taken from points slightly apart, -- just as far apart as the pupils of two eyes, -- is a novelty, so far as we know, attempted first, within twelve months, by some English gentlemen. Of course, the two daguerreotypes thus taken differ from each other, just as the two images seen by two eyes differ. If, then, two eyes can be made to look at them, each seeing its own picture, there may be as completely the illusion of relief, as there is the sense of relief when two eyes look on the real object. This is effected by setting the two daguerreotypes opposite each other, at right angles to the plane of vision. In the plane of vision is a mirror, which reflects each -- taking the rays at an angle of 45 [degrees], and delivering them nearly parallel to each other -- to a spectator opposite it. This spectator looks through two orifices; his Right Eye at the Right Eye's picture, his Left Eye at the Left. And he sees, therefore, not a flat plate, but the complete representation of a raised surface. The effect of the Laocoön in this stereoscope is really finer than one often gains in looking at the statue; for the lights were carefully arranged for it, as they cannot always be commanded. The metallic lustre of the silver is no disadvantage in the effect. Curiously enough, the deception stops at a point which we should not have thought of. The appearance is that of high relief; every muscle standing out, as in the statue, and the whole appearing at the proper distance from the curtain behind. But there is, at the same time, an unmistakable feeling that there is only half a statue. It seems as if it were a high relief, split from the wall. Not that one could have seen the other half, but one is sure it is not there. The whole looks as if it were only meant to be seen from the front. We have seen no explanation of this curious part of the illusion. We venture the following: -- We are saved from this feeling, where the statue itself is the object of vision, by a series of rays from the very edges of the part visible, which grow up less and less distinct, till all are lost. Some rays even will strike one side the pupil of the eye, which do not strike the other. Hence that complete rounding, or varnishing, on an imperceptible line, not absolutely definable, which distinguishes the edge of a curved body, and which no painter grasps, or can. Now, the daguerreotype is not as sensitive as the human eye. These gradations are rendered by it in part, but more suddenly, with less precision and infinite subdivision than on the retina. The edge is more defined, -- the profile of the statue more marked. And there follows, of course, to the judgement of the spectator, the same opinion which he has when he looks at a full relief, split from the block which supported it. -------------------------------------------------------------- 07-24-99

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