New York Public Library (NYPL) have brought vintage photos to life by using the power of GIFs to make pictures from the 1800s appear to be in 3D.
Using stereoscopic photography, our ancestors enjoyed 3D images long before they came to our cinema screens. To make it happen they would take two photos of a scene, both at slightly different angles to each other. One image was intended for the left eye and one for the right. When these photos were looked at through a stereoscope viewing device, the images were blended together and created the illusion of depth of field, making the photo leap out.
Photos like this were popular in the mid-1800s and early 1900s as a public attraction and in people’s homes. NYPL Labs, a team that work to reformat the Library’s knowledge for the Internet age, recreated this effect by alternating between the left and the right image in a GIF.
The project is the dreamchild of NYPL Labs’ Joshua Heineman, which he describes as “a 21st century raid of the New York Public Library’s archive of 19th century treasure”.
On the project’s site, Heineman describes how he discovered the effect: “One evening in my final year of college, I was downloading digital snapshots to my laptop when I got a fleeting sense of 3D as the preview screen flicked quickly between two similar shots.
“I located the individual photos & flipped back & forth between them continually. The parallax effect of minor changes between the two perspectives created a sustained sense of dimension that approximated the effect of stereo viewing.”
The NYPL have over 40,000 stereoscope photos in their archive, most of which are over 100-years-old. Some of the photos’ dates and captions have been lost in time. The library have even created a way for you to search their archive and create your own 3D GIFs on their site, called a Stereogranimator.
Some GIFs work better than others – here are a few of the best that we found:
Abraham Lincoln, date unknown.
A postcard from New York, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”, 1896.
Statue of Civilization, undated
Postcard, “Last in bed blows out the light”, 1896