At its 1948 Snow Ball fund-raiser, the Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired presented a show of stereophotography "as an aside to keep people from wandering off during intermission." In time, says Don Smith, the former president and current treasurer of the Chicago Stereo Camera Club, "the show became more popular than the dance."
Those were the salad days of stereophotography. The process, which involves snapping two or more pictures of the same subject from slightly different angles, usually with a special double-lensed camera, first became popular around the turn of the century, when sepia-toned stereo cards were sold door-to-door and viewed through a handheld stereoscope. After World War II, the availability of color slide film and mass-produced cameras like the David White Stereo Realist and the Kodak Stereo led to a resurgence of interest in the craft. Color stereo images could then be projected onto a silver screen and viewed through polarized lenses for a startlingly rich three-dimensional effect. By the 1950s, stereo camera clubs were popping up all over the world.
Smith, whose grandfather collected Victorian-era stereo cards, wasn't impressed until he saw some color slide projections at a photography convention about 30 years ago. "It's just so much more real than regular photography," he says. He and his wife, Marion--he shoots outdoor scenes while she's partial to still lifes--have been members of the club ever since.
These days membership hovers around 30; enthusiasts range in age from their 20s to their 70s. Chris Zombory, one of the youngsters, was introduced to the form a few years ago, when a friend of a friend inherited her grandfather's stereo camera and slides. "It's such a spectacular way of viewing images," she says. "They're so much more amazing than anything you've ever seen before."
The 53rd Chicago Lighthouse International Exhibition of Stereo Photography includes a show of over 150 slides from around the world, with recorded narration and music, and a display of 63 contemporary stereo cards. The club will host presentations on Saturday, May 19, at 2:30 at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox, and on Sunday, May 20, at 4 in the auditorium at Resurrection High School, 7500 W. Talcott. A donation of $6 is requested for each event; lightweight polarized viewing glasses will be provided. Call 630-665-7157 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.