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In-Depth Kalamazoo: Our City

A collaboration between artist Colleen Woolpert and long-deceased photographer Wallace White. Immerse yourself in downtown Kalamazoo between the 1870s–1890s. Ten contemporary stereographs (3D photos) by Colleen Woolpert created from original 19th-century glass plate stereo negatives from the Wallace White Collection, viewable with Woolpert’s TwinScope Viewers.


Displayed beneath the show title is the opening image, an original stereograph by Wallace White which depicts his photography studio in Kalamazoo. All other stereographs are by Colleen Woolpert utilizing White’s original glass plate stereo negatives, shown in the case below.

Stereographs by Colleen Woolpert from glass plate negatives by Wallace White
Inkjet prints on Hahnemühle FineArt Baryta Paper mounted to archival mat board 3.5 x 7 inches, 4.5 x 7 inches

The case of the accidental stereograph (below): This 3D portrait wasn’t the photographer’s intent. Rather, Wallace White used a sliding-back camera to capture two images on the same glass plate, from which to choose a single portrait. The 3D illusion happens because the man evidently moved between exposures, creating two different perspectives similar to a stereo capture. Interestingly, the favored image (right side) was touched up directly on the negative to remove the man’s freckles, wrinkles, and stubble (left side).

How to “free view” these 3D images without a stereoscope: Look at a distant view (e.g. out the window) then bring the stereograph in front of you while continuing to look “through” it. At this point, you may notice that the two images become three. Pay attention to the middle image and it should pop out. It takes practice, and not everyone can see in 3D. Tips: Choose a stereograph with one centrally-located subject (like the man above). Relax your eyes by blinking them. It’s easier on a small screen like a smart phone, or adjust your monitor size so the stereograph is less than 7″ wide (on a mac: hold down the command key and click – or +).

Note: If you own a TwinScope Viewer, or SLIM TwinScope Viewer you can use it to view stereographs online if their width is anywhere from about 6″–7″ wide (although screen images won’t be as sharp due to magnified pixels).


Artist Statement

Stereographs are among the first documentary photos of a town and its people; in the late 19th century, many photographers offered these fascinating 3D images in addition to their standard formats.

Between the mid 1870s–1890s, local photographer Wallace White made and sold stereographs which depict early Kalamazoo. The Kalamazoo Public Library is home to his glass plate stereo negatives (so rare to find!) but only a couple of his stereographs. For this project I was granted the privilege of working with White’s negatives to make new stereographs. Although many of these images had been published as standard photos—cropping the pair to a single image—I wanted to show them in immersive 3D as intended. For this site-specific installation, I selected downtown views taken near the library. Read how I made stereographs from the original glass plate negs.

Working with the raw negatives meant I could express the images in any number of ways, and my choices both honor Wallace White’s vision and depart from it. Printing the images in brownish tones with orange borders mimics White’s commercial stereographs, albumen prints on orange card mounts. Yet I considered each negative independently and cropped the pairs according to my aesthetic inkling. Thus the images variously abut each other or are separated, take a vertical or square shape, gain a black outline or not, etc.

Although stereographs were a mass-produced craze for eighty years (roughly 1850–1930), they are little known today due to the problem of displaying this hand-held pastime. I’ll never forget my first encounter at the Kalamazoo Antiques Market twenty years ago. That jaw-dropping moment led to me collecting, curating, and creating stereographs, as well as inventing an exhibition stereoscope, the TwinScope Viewer to facilitate stereograph display.

Since moving back to Kalamazoo in 2016, I’ve wanted to share my passion for stereographs with the city that fostered it. Thanks to a grant from the Kalamazoo Artistic Development Initiative, I was able to produce In-Depth Kalamazoo, a site-specific exhibition series at local archives that gave these 19th century stereographs of Kalamazoo their first-ever display and simultaneously introduced more people to our important collection centers.

In-Depth Kalamazoo: Our City is on permanent display at the Kalamazoo Public Library, Local History Room.

Exhibit description by Colleen Woolpert, May 2022

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