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California in Depth: A Stereoscopic History

Author: Jim Crain

Description: San Francisco, California: Chronicle Books. Hardcover, 112 pages. Out of print.

It's rare to find a book containing stereographic pairs ready for viewing. And this one comes with its own viewer. This stereoscopic history comes with one hundred and sixty-nine of the author's best nineteenth-century California stereo views. The images reprinted in this volume are reduced to 2.25" x 2.25" allowing them to be viewed well with the included stereo viewer.

As cultural historians have explained (in Earle, et. al. Points of View: the Stereograph in America - A Cultural History.), the stereograph provides a unique perspective on history. The modern, twentieth-century photograph is a flat, two-dimensional affair unlike the three dimensional representations made by the old time stereographers. Today, many photographers even take advantage of this flattening effect in their compositions. Although there are many active stereo hobbyists, it's rare to see an ordinary snapshot or candid street photograph in stereo. Yet the historian of tomorrow will be missing out on the sense of reality, spaciousness and volume the three-dimensional image gives us of the past.

Yet for a long time the three-dimensional view has been largely dismissed by historians as a mere novelty. Nothing could be further from the truth in this reviewer's opinion. Recently, while viewing some stereograph cards of Florida steamers I was struck by how much the stereo perspective can enrich the historical experience. It was immediately apparent how little of the size and presence of the steamer the flat, non-stereo prints that make up the stereograph convey. But slip the same card into the viewer and the steamer looms, towering over the docks, its size readily apparent. The true distance from the dock is seen. The crowd becomes a mass of humanity rather than a brownish lump of silhouettes.

In California in Depth the author presents an eclectic selection of views from his collection showing the true value of the stereo image lies in recreating the past long after progress has swept it away.

May be available from the publisher: 800-722-6657 voice-ordering 800-858-7787 fax-ordering. Chronicle Books, 275 5th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

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