News Story

Echoes of Depth showcases the diverse and innovative works of Emma Brown, Drucilla Burrell, Lauren Thompson, and Rebecca Sharpe. Each artist has responded to the Victorian Virtual Reality exhibition, and brings a unique perspective through their works. Artist Rebecca Sharpe details the work she has produced during her residency.

Rebecca Sharpe is a Surrey and Lincolnshire-based photographic historian and researcher, and an analogue and digital stereoscopic (3-D) photographer. She has been co-curator of The Brian May Archive of Stereoscopy (BMAS) for over five years and is currently studying to become an archivist. She is one of the curators of the Victorian Virtual Reality (VVR) exhibition and the founder of the Stereoscopy Blog, which aims to make stereoscopy accessible to everyone.

Stereoscopic photograph of a woman holding Charles Wheatstones 1838 mirror stereoscope

Rebecca holding Charles Wheatstone's 1838 mirror stereoscope, Kings College London Archives. Stereoscopic photograph by Denis Pellerin.

My passions for studying, respecting, and incorporating Victorian photographic techniques and styles pervade my work, in which I combine old and new technology to bring stereoscopic photography to modern audiences. I try to stay true to the Victorian mantra that stereoscopy should be ‘entertaining and educational’ and am very fortunate to work with such incredible images in BMAS, other archives, and my own collections, which inspire my multiple projects as a curator and as a photographer.

Stereoscopy, or stereoscopic 3-D, creates the illusion of depth from two flat images which are photographed, or drawn, from two slightly different perspectives, roughly correlating to the human eyes. As each perspective is presented to each eye separately, the brain interprets the subtle differences between the two, fuses them, and one three-dimensional image is formed. Stereoscopy mimics what the human eyes and brain are doing during every waking moment in binocular vision.

Stereoscopy was announced a year before photography by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838, but when the two were combined, it became an incredibly powerful instrument. It allowed people to experience parts of the world where they had never set foot before, as if they were standing in the moment the shutter(s) captured. They could see all the beautiful details, depth, and textures of architecture, which they often only knew through ‘flat’ engravings. They felt as if they could reach out and touch royalty, celebrities, strangers, or friends and family alike. They could virtually attend events and exhibitions which they weren’t able to travel to or had long since closed their doors. It was used as a teaching aid, showing 3-D anatomy to countless students. It brought theatricals and famous paintings to life in people’s own homes. Later, it also documented the many tragedies of war, giving an intense experience of the realities, whilst also allowing aerial identification of structures in the topography. We are still able to step into all these moments today and feel as if we are in a time machine, thanks to stereoscopic images being the first commercial mass-production of photography. We are also still able to harness this technology, using even basic equipment such as a phone, to continue to capture the world around us in 3-D, which my images highlight.

The three works I am contributing to the Echoes of Depth exhibition allow viewers to be immersed in some of my personal highlights, inspirations and behind the scenes moments during my time as an Artist in Residence and as one of the curators of the VVR exhibition at Watts Gallery, and are a tribute to the staff, volunteers, visitors, the exhibition, and the wonderful location I’ve had the pleasure to work with.

The Watts Gallery Stereo Series

The Watts Gallery Stereo Series are stereoscopic photographs, from my personal viewpoint, capturing glimpses of the Victorian Virtual Reality exhibition, from the inception of the concept with Watts Gallery’s staff and being inspired by the Artists’ Village in 2022, to the preparation and preview of the exhibition, and the events which occurred in connection with it.

The 3-D photographs are based on the Victorian aesthetic for boxed series of stereocards and their way of viewing them. They enable viewers to virtually step into moments which are now inaccessible, due to the passage of time, and offer a unique in-depth insight. The selection of images and connections between them allow different interpretations, perspectives, and narratives of contemporary and future viewers, much like the 19th Century counterparts they are based upon.

The photographs were taken with different stereoscopic techniques, including digital and analogue, sequentially and simultaneously, and the reverse of each card describes the ones used each time.

Product image of a box of stereoscopic images taken by Rebecca Sharpe, with a stereo viewer beside the box

Rebecca Sharpe, Watts Gallery Stereo Series.

Stereoscopic Cyanotypes

Stereoscopic Cyanotypes unusually combine the Victorian techniques and styles of stereoscopic photography and cyanotype (or sun) printing. In September 2023, I was ‘Artist is Residence’ for the day at Watts Gallery and offered the world’s first (known) stereoscopic cyanotype workshop, based on a method which I have developed over the last few years. I enjoy how the cyanotype process brings its own textures and atmosphere into the images, in addition to the 3-D depth.

In one frame are three stereocard-format stereoscopic cyanotypes, to be viewed with a lenticular stereoscope:

Photo of a picture frame with three stereoscopic cyanotypes displayed inside.

Rebecca Sharpe, Stereoscopic Cyanotypes. From top to bottom: Beautiful in Death; Whisker's Mother; Cat with View-Master.

Beautiful in Death was printed using a negative made from an original Victorian stereocard depicting skeleton leaves. Quite surprisingly, considering its morbid context, it was the most popular cyanotype for visitors to make during my 3-D cyanotype workshop. When viewed in the stereoscope, however, its depth is stunning, and the shape of each individual leaf pops out.

Whisker's Mother was printed using a negative made from multiple exposures taken with two synchronised DSLR cameras. The style is based on the Victorian crazes for stereoscopic ghosts and restaging paintings for the stereoscope, with a tongue-in cheek twist.

Cat with View-Master was printed using a negative made from sequential photographs taken with a smartphone. The image references how Victorians often incorporated pets into stereoscopic photographs, initially by using stuffed or sleeping animals, and later, with quicker exposure times and binocular cameras allowing for instantaneous 3-D photographs, using alive and awake pets. I have also found, during my time offering stereoscopy workshops to the public, that View-Masters are often a wonderful in-road to open conversations about 3-D across generations.

In two separate frames is Aurora by G. F. Watts in the Historic Gallery, a large-format stereoscopic cyanotype printed from negatives made from sequential smartphone photographs, to be viewed with a mirror stereoscope. It references how Victorians captured statuary and events in 3-D, preserving important historical and spatial information, which allows contemporary and future generations to virtually visit and understand the forms and textures.

Stereoscpic Cyanotype of the sculpture Aurora by G F Watts in the Watts Gallery

Rebecca Sharpe, Stereoscopic Cyanotype: Aurora by G F Watts in the Historic Gallery.