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The eye-opening history of stereoscopic photography

Think back to the Viewmaster 3-D photo toy you surely clicked through as a kid; then look at the item below, one of the earliest iterations of a 3-D viewer, more than a century old. Now, imagine the narrative of technological advancement that connects the two. That’s one compelling facet of the exhibit Personal Space: Stereoscopic Nevada at the Nevada Humanities office in ArtSquare (April 4-May 29; reception and talk April 4, 7p). Perhaps more surprising, according to photographer Bryan McCormick, who spent two years assembling the instruments and images on display, is the local historical story entwined with the physical one. “Each distinct period of technological change in devices has corresponded with changes in how Nevada was seen by the world; from Western wilderness, mining-boom state, the engineering marvel of the Hoover Dam, tourist destinations, and the spectacle of Las Vegas.” Although the title Personal Space alludes to the intimacy of the 3-D viewing experience — “It’s like your own private theater,” McCormick says — it’s the complexities of historical depiction that he finds most fascinating. However purely documentary 19th-century stereoscopic photos may seem in retrospect, they were largely promotional, commissioned by railroads, and sometimes fraudulent (local indigenous people photographed wearing the dress of plains Indians to make the images more popular). Fortunately, McCormick intends to spend a lot of time in the gallery, explaining these intricacies and demonstrating the equipment to visitors. For more, see nevadahumanities.org

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