There are certain books which you just have to have. For some, this could be a dog-eared and doodled-upon copy of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham or a neon-highlighted family Bible or (barf) a hardbound special limited edition of Twilight.
For enthusiasts of 3D or stereo photography – and I count myself among that ilk – there is A Village Lost and Found, written by Brian May and Elena Vidal. Describing itself as “An annotated tour of the 1850s series of stereoscopic photographs ‘Scenes in our Village’ by T.R. Williams,” the book is exactly what it says it is. A collection of stereo images from the dawn of photography is presented here, painstakingly curated and dissected by May and Vidal in a lavish 240 page volume.
Accompanying the book is an OWL Stereoscope, a stereo viewer specially designed by Dr. May for this work. The OWL is packed flat in its own folder and assembles fast in fifteen seconds. This lets the reader view Williams’ images as he intended them to be seen: in stereoscopic 3D. It also accommodates both modern and classic stereo cards. The viewer joins the book in a beautifully crafted slipcase.
When Williams first published his stereoscopic collection in 1856, he kept silent about the identity of the village, leading many to believe the village a composite fiction. The village was only identified in 2003 as Hinton Waldrist in Oxfordshire, the result of an online call for help by May. In their research, May and Vidal believe Williams had a strong connection to Hinton Waldrist, perhaps even being a resident. The photographer, in fact, appears in some of the photographs, a Hitchcockian extra in scenes he directs himself.
May and Vidal go through Williams’ series thoroughly, examining each image under scholarly light, starting with the stereo pair and moving to magnified detail. Many of the detailed blow-ups are likewise presented in stereo, giving the reader a fascinating three-dimensional look at the minutiae of pastoral life before the Industrial Revolution.
A Village Lost and Found is a labor of love, both as Williams’ original work and in May and Vidal’s revisiting. It’s as much an art book as it is an historical record of a lifestyle long forgotten. While Hollywood seems obsessed in portraying the future in 3D, with popcorn fare like Avatar, it’s a great comfort to know that the past has been preserved in much the same way.
Oh, by the way, the Dr. Brian May, CBE, PhD, who co-authored this book and designed the OWL Stereoscope is the same Brian May of Queen. In the book, he WILL rock you, in that understated scholarly British way.
For more information on Stereo Photography, check out the website of the London Stereoscopic Company.