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American Collections blog

19 January 2011

Seeing Double: Impressions of America (1899)

Phil wrote some months back about stereoscopic photography, and I was struck by a current reprint of some U.S. Civil War '3D' photographs that I came across during the AHA, so I thought I would start to have a look at some of the photographically illustrated Americana in the collections.  First up is Porter's Impressions of America (1899), an account of a British scientist's journey from New York to Colorado Springs via Niagara, Yellowstone Park, San Francisco, Yosemite and Utah. There's a copy online, thanks to the University of California Library (and a .pdf available via the British Library's online catalogue).

You will, however, need a pair of stereoscopic glasses to get a full effect.  There are a pair in the back of the British Library copy at shelfmark K.T.C.103.b.3 (which is also signed by Porter); these are sadly lacking in the copy at at 10412.d.11.

Impressions of America 

Readers will find an account of the stereoscopic effect, a considerable amount of detail on the flora, fauna and geography Porter encountered along his way: in Manitou Grand Cavern, CO, for example, his guide plays the stalactites with a 'sort of drumstick', playing 'soft, bell-like notes, sometimes almost nasal... Thus we heard "Rousseau's Dream," and other airs, ending with "God Save the Queen"' - or, perhaps, 'God Save America'.  The effect knocks the show caves in Cheddar into touch.  Porter concludes with some speculations on the periodicity of the Gulf Stream, the American and Canadian Falls, Mirages, Photographic Methods and Geysers.  The final page includes a table of temperatures 'made with due care, on the summit of Pike's Peak, during the morning of September 7, 1897, by the author on five men' in the sleeping room at 8:15.  The author hoped that the observations 'may interest physiologists'. 

 

[M.S.]

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