I went to an evening lecture tonight that was organised by one of the universities in town.

When I showed my ticket, I was handed a pair of what looked like 3D glasses. It was so confusing. Btw, they weren’t the usual 3D glasses…

I knew the talk was going to be on Victorian photography, but I didn’t read the full description or watch the promotional video that the University library and archives put together, because … let’s face it … this thing was going to be with Brian May, or rather Dr. May, and I could go on to say that I’ve always been intrigued by the non-musical stuff he’s doing (he might be one of the five people in the history of the world that could make me interested in astrophysics…) but I’m not even going to try and convince you of any high-mindedness on my part … he’s the guitar god from Queen for crying out loud.

So, of course I was going to try and be there. It could have been a talk on regional cheese-making in inner Mongolia…or … astrophysics … and I still would have gone. The fact that the lecture turned out to be about pioneering Victorian photography was just the cherry on the icing on the frigging cake.

As it turned out, the talk was about George Washington Wilson, a local, who happened to be a pioneering photographer who produced on of the the first, if not the first, work of photomontage in Britain and who gave us this pretty well-known image:

Queen Vic and John Brown in the only photo showing the two of them alone together. The photo stirred many rumours about their relationship (mostly by people who forget that the photographer was there also…). What can’t be seen in this picture is that the other game-keeper is standing at to the right of the horse. So, it’s not such a private shot after all. 

Anyway, what is more, Wilson was also one of the first to produce stereoscopic images of popular tourist attractions which became all the rage in the late 19th century. And this is where Brian May comes in… One of his special interests is in stereoscopic photography, and he’s so fond of it that he even revived the London Stereoscopic Company to help preserve the information about stereo-photography. And the publication of books such as Prof. Roger Taylor’s (not the drummer…) new book on George Washington Wilson is one of the efforts of the newly revived London Stereoscopic Company.

Both May and Taylor gave an excellent introduction to the history and challenges of Victorian stereoscopy using an array of images by Wilson … none of which I can include in this post because they would all show up blurry.

Hence the weird goggles at the lecture.

Mystery solved.

It was a fun evening. I really want to go back to the uni library and look up some of the images and materials, but I am also glad to hear that most of them are also available online (It’s not an intuitive search, tho. I recommend putting “wilson” in the search field.).


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