Stereoscopic Sing Sing Gallery in VR


Figure 1. A traditional stereoscope.

The following gallery is composed of stereoscopic images from the New York Public Library Digital Collections, updated for use with modern virtual reality equipment. The stereoscope, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is a device that consists of a pair of lenses and a protruding wooden stand that holds a stereo card, a printed paper with two images taken a slight distance adjacent from one another but facing the same subject. The user of the stereoscope brings it to their eyes, and the lenses make the two side by side images appear as one 3-dimensional image to the brain. Modern virtual reality equipment works much the same way, with a screen showing separate images to each eye.

Stereoscopic images are, somewhat bizarrely, some of the best records available of how the early 20th century looked. Devices like the View-Master marketed “virtual tourism” as a function since at least the 1930s, indicating a clear profit motive. By creating a variety of packs of stereo cards that depicted a wide range of human experiences that the average middle class consumer would frequently read about but rarely get to see, stereophoto creators simultaneously crafted entertaining experiences and valuable historical documentations.


Figure 2. A traditional stereo card. I worked with these to create the VR-ready files.

In this gallery, I took all the stereographic images of Sing Sing prison (all now in the public domain based on U.S. law) and re-edited them to be viewable with modern VR technology like Google Cardboard. To do this, I downloaded the high resolution scans of the stereo cards from the New York Public Library and cut each of them into two separate images (one for each eye) with photo editing software. Then I aligned these photo pairs using a program called StereoPhoto Maker and rendered them as single stereo images. These stereophotos are presented below. I additionally rendered the stereo images in the .jps file, which can be viewed natively by some apps used by modern VR units. You can download a zip of those .jps files here.

On this site, you can use the images below in two ways. If you have a Cardboard or similar device, you can open this page on your smartphone, then click to enter the slideshow on your phone and place it in the viewer so that the middle of the images line up with the viewer appropriately. A click advances the slideshow, so the Cardboard button is functional. Alternatively, the human brain can train itself to view these images as 3D by crossing the eyes while looking at them. This takes practice!

-Dan Nasta

Works Cited

Brewster, David. The Stereoscope: Its History, Theory, and Construction: With Its Application to the Fine and Useful Arts and to Education. London: J. Murray, 1856.
Figure 1- Davepape. “A Reproduction Holmes Stereoscope.” Wikimedia Commons. July 18, 2006.

Figure 2- The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “Sing Sing Prison.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 30, 2016.