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Brian May explains the magic of stereoscopic photography

Queen legend Brian May on how his new photography project really is a kind of magic

Brian May

Brian May says stereoscopy is good for you. Photo: London News Pictures/Shutterstock

As well as being a legendary guitarist, Brian May is an evangelist for stereoscopic photography. He’s publishing a new book and holding an exhibition of pictures that capture the world in incredible and immersive detail.

How Brian May’s interest in stereoscopic photography developed 

It was when I was eating my Weetabix. In the old days you used to get a toy in a cereal packet and for a long time in Weetabix you would get a little card with two pictures that looked the same. I thought, what’s all this about? You had to send away one and sixpence and a packet top to get a viewer. 

I’ll never forget… the first one I had was a couple of hippos in the water with their mouths open. It was OK as two flat pictures, but when I got the viewer in the post I was truly gobsmacked. Suddenly I was looking into the mouth of this creature, and you could almost smell its breath. It was so real. I remember thinking, why don’t people do this all the time?  

A stereoscopic picture is 100 times more evocative than a flat picture. When you look with your stereo viewer it’s as if you’re seeing through the eyes of the person who took the picture. You are in that situation. You’re surrounded by what they were surrounded by. 

It’s a kind of magic 

We live in a stereoscopic universe. We’re just not aware of it. You look around and see everything solid in an amazing picture which your brain has generated. And it’s produced from these two slightly different images, which your eyes are capturing every second. We take still pictures to capture what’s around us but it’s a very poor capture. If you take a stereoscopic picture, it’s something which you can walk into at any time in the future and experience echoes of what you felt at that moment. Very strong echoes. 

You can call it a trick but actually what you’re doing is using your full senses. Your eyes are doing what they should do. They have two slightly different pictures to focus on and can build that picture in your mind just as they do in everyday life. 

Brian May book images
I want to 3-D: stereoscopic images that come alive in Brian May’s book and exhibition from Andrew Lauren, New York

It’s really easy to do. There’s a nice app called i3DSteroid. If I want to take a portrait, I go click, click. That gives you two pictures side by side, which you can put in your OWL, your stereoscopic viewer. Every time I do it with someone, they always go wow. People find it hard to believe how easy it is and how stunning the result is.

Analogue vs digital 

I think without a doubt the fact that we have these cameras [on our phones] with us day in and day out changes the nature of photography. I think we have a yearning for the old ways. 

We are analogue creatures. We’ve gone into this digital world, but there’s always a bit of discomfort about it. You’re looking at approximations to analogue waveforms in sound and also in vision. We have a yearning to hear things from a vinyl record, because there’s something in your head which just loves that smoothness of a real analogue signal. 

And there must be something in us which makes us yearn for the old kind of photography. Digital can
imitate it, but it never quite gives us the same feeling. My dad enjoyed developing and printing black and white films in his spare bedroom. He taught me how to do it. It’s one of my greatest memories. 

Legacy of lockdown 

I made the best of lockdown by going onto Instagram. I encouraged people to capture in a 3-D photograph what hope they felt, what beauty they could find in that tough situation. I didn’t know what the response would be. But it was amazing. We collected all this stuff and put it in a book, which will be a testament to the way people coped. 

We’re so lucky that Proud Galleries in London has taken us on. The exhibition will show you stuff in flat but also in 3-D so you can compare the two. We have one section for stereoscopic images. Another section is the history of 3-D, all these wonderful people who began this in the 1850s. You’ll step into a mysterious room like a Victorian Emporium and see how the Victorians gasped at the invention of stereoscopic pictures. 

Then downstairs is Queen in 3-D, encompassing not just being with Queen on and off the road, but my history with 3-D. I can’t wait to see how people react to this.  

Stereoscopy Is Good For You: Life in 3-D, edited by Brian May, is out now (The London Stereoscopic Company,  £30). The exhibition runs from November 3 to March 25, 2023 at Proud Galleries. Tickets are £7 (£1 of every ticket sale goes to charity – the Save Me Trust). 

Brian May was speaking to Steven Mackenzie

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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