A 3D travelling history in Kodachrome


If you’re old enough, you’ll definitely remember being weaned on the View-Master:

photo ©© by Deiby on Flickr

My very first virtual reality handheld! [©© Deiby on Flickr]

I recently came across what I’m sure many grown-ups have remembered seeing when they were still, well, growing up: View-Master discs — in this case, of Toronto.

When I was younger, I definitely had a kid’s share of View-Master discs to pick through. I recall my siblings and I were all pretty abusive with the discs, which in hindsight just makes me cringe. There’s even a sense of synaesthesia I have of looking into the View-Master viewer, seeing one of the cartoon series, and associating it with Duran Duran’s “Union of the Snake.” I still think of the View-Master discs when I hear it to this day. But while some where photos from the 1950s — like redwood forest scenes — what I mostly remember were cartoon themes. Most of these were of old Universal cartoon characters like Woody Woodpecker and Chilly Willy the Penguin. We had a few other random ones, but memory of what they were now eludes me.

Cue to about two weeks ago when I stumbled upon a 3-disc set of the city of Toronto from 1976:

Toronto coming into its modern own . . . in 3D!

Why this was an exciting (re-)discovery wasn’t just for the media format itself, or even that I found a set of discs on Toronto (though that is always a big, big plus). It turns out that most View-Master discs, even dating back to the 1940s, were prepared with 16mm frames of Kodachrome emulsion. Toronto was documented in at least three periods: the late 1940s, the mid 1960s, and the mid 1970s. This set above, being that last one, is also the first when the characteristic morphology we (and most others) readily associate with the city today — CN Tower and First Canadian Place along with most of the Bay Street banking headquarters — had just been built. Anyone away from Toronto since 1966 would not have recognized this skyline.

When I began shooting Kodachrome a few years ago, I noticed “ridges” — where it’s possible to see the relief of the film’s dyes, especially when a dark colour runs up against a light colour — on the emulsion side, but I couldn’t place why they seemed so familiar to me. When this Toronto set arrived at my door, I saw these emulsion ridges on the disc images and it all came back to me. Those discs we used to abuse always had those ridges.

In the near future, I’ll scan these disc images and post them for all to see. Of particular mention will be the model of the then-proposed Eaton Centre. I’ll leave it at that for now. Let’s just say that it’s on an order of surreal going beyond the rest of there already-surreal images. Here’s a great, non-View-Master 3D example on Flickr of what you should expect. If you’re new to this, cross your eyes slightly to create the illusion of three images instead of two. Worry only about the “new” centre image. Then pretend you’re focussing on an object a few metres past your screen. You’re effectively looking into a virtual window — not your monitor’s surface, which becomes basically a window into another place.

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