Creator's Statement

[Please note that Stereotowns should automatically play in 3D on a 3D television or monitor. It can also be viewed with anaglyph (red and cyan glasses) by opening it in YouTube and choosing the 3D option in the settings cog]

Although there has been a long history of scholarship on stereoscopic photography and a significant expansion of investigations of 3D cinema in recent years, they are often seen as separate fields of study.[1] We are interested in the way that the stereoscopic view – a depth rich, unique phenomenological expression that generates but does not quite complete the reality effect of feeling present at a scene – repeats visual themes across stereoscopic photography and cinema.[2] The little work that has considered the recurrence of motifs across stereoscopic media has noted the ethnographic gaze prevalent in the depiction of rural landscapes (particularly the ezoticization and othering of distant lands and their peoples)[3] and the way twentieth century IMAX films were able to draw upon stereocards in their presentation of urban views.[4] Stereotowns updates this scholarship by dealing with the continuities between nineteenth century stereoscopic urban landscapes and more recent Hollywood blockbusters to make suggestions about how we are encouraged to engage with urban settings. While it might be argued that the nineteenth century stereocards documented a pre-existent reality and are thus at odds with the fantastical narratives and characters posed in many Hollywood blockbusters, both modes offer highly constructed and carefully framed views of the urban at the same time that they try to convince us we are viewing a reliable representation of streets, buildings and monuments in well-known cities. In this context, Stereotowns is particularly concerned with a point made by New Zealand film critic Dan Slevin in various reviews of contemporary action blockbusters: that Hollywood is obsessed with destroying landmarks and locations that are familiar to us in increasingly bombastic ways. We wanted to question what happens when stereoscopy uses its extra depth cues to bring us closer to and make us feel in touching distance of urban locations before destroying them in front of us. How do we feel this process differently compared to our experience of engaging with these urban settings in traditional 2D media? And equally importantly, is there precedence for this in the long history of stereoscopic works?[5]

In creating Stereotowns, we felt it was important to be able to show rather than describe the phenomenological qualities of stereoscopy that ask us to engage with, feel around and sense images in unique ways. This involved using digitised stereoscopic photographs from the nineteenth century and editing together clips from recent 3D films.[6] Although it means that audiences for this work will be limited to those with access to 3D TVs/monitors or anaglyph glasses (and we would suggest that the full stereoscopic experience on a 3D TV/monitor is preferable to the anaglyph viewing mode), it does ask viewers to interact with the stereoscopic subject through stereoscopic means so that the full perceptual experience is made available. Due to the quality of nineteenth century stereocards this often becomes an ‘imperfect’ experience in which the marks, stains, tears and degradation of the images create artefacts that confuse and muddle binocular perception but, rather than reducing the phenomenological impression, we see these as reminders of the optical illusion and the powerful hold it has on our eyes’ muscular workings. Similarly, the veracity of the audiovisual experience has been modified due to our decision to strip back the sound from the Hollywood movie clips so that we could add a score (generously created by Mike McGuill) that would unite the still and moving images. In order to maintain the intense impression of Hollywood’s destructive aesthetic, particularly the ostentatious hyperbole so common to Hollywood’s climatic action scenes, McGuill recreated the sound effects in each scene. Combined, these processes allowed us to sense and sensually work with the media to understand how they correspond with each other and how traces of their affective modes can flow from one form to the next.

To present the arguments of this videographic work, we chose to use titles rather than voice-over to guide viewers through the ideas that we wanted to impart. By doing so, we were able to make decisions about how our ideas could operate as depth-rich subjects in their own right. Not merely acting as subtitles beneath images or as intertitles between them, we gave our titles unique parallax placement and movement within the 3D field screen so that they could contribute to the spatial configurations of stereoscopy’s exclusive visual place.[7] In this way we have hoped to create spatialized arguments in order to analyse and understand a hyper- spatialized visual form and its connection with urban landscapes.


[1]See the bibliography at www.stereoscopicmedia.orgfor an extensive list.

[2]For a discussion of the perceived realism and mimetic representation in stereoscopic photography and cinema see Ross, Miriam. 3D Cinema: Optical Illusions and Tactile Experiences. Houndmills, Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. See also, Atkinson, Sarah. “Stereoscopic-3D Storytelling: Rethinking the Conventions, Grammar and Aesthetics of a New Medium.” Journal of Media Practice 12.2 (2011): 139–156; Frizot, Michel. “Surface Space: Instrumental Depth.” Paris in 3D: From Stereoscopy to Virtual Reality 1850-2000. Ed. Françoise Reynaud, Catherine Tambrun, and Kim Timby. London: Booth-Clibborn Editions; Paris-Musées, 2000. 31–35; Mizuta Lippit, Akira. “Three Phantasies of Cinema-Reproduction, Mimesis, Annihilation.” Paragraph 22.3 (1999): 213–227; Pietrobruno, Sheenagh. “The Stereoscope and the Miniature.” Early Popular Visual Culture 9.3 (2011): 171–190.

[3]Bennet, Bruce, ‘The Normativity of 3D: Cinematic Journeys, “imperial Visuality” and Unchained Cameras’, Jump Cut, 55 (2013), 1–23; Gurevitch, Leon, ‘The Birth of a Stereoscopic Nation: Hollywood, Digital Empire and the Cybernetic Attraction’, Animation, 7 (2012), 239–58

[4]Griffiths, Alison, Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums and the Immersive View (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008); Neumann, Mark, ‘Emigrating to New York in 3-D: Stereoscopic Vision in IMAX’s Cinematic City’, in Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context / Edited by Mark Shiel and Tony Fitzmaurice., ed. by Mark Shiel and Tony Fitzmaurice, Studies in Urban and Social Change (Oxford ; Malden, Mass: Blackwell, 2001), pp. 109–22

[5]The extent to which stereoscopic scenes of urban destruction were prevalent in nineteenth century photography is outlined in Darrah’s ‘Disaster’ section of his ‘Subject Guide to Stereographs.’ Darrah, William C. The World of Stereographs. Gettysburg, Pa: Darrah, 1977

[6]A description of the technical processes used to complete this work will soon be available on

[7]For a description of how the 3D field screen operates see Ross, Miriam, ‘The 3-D Aesthetic: Avatar and Hyperhaptic Visuality’, Screen, 53 (2012), 381–97


Dr. Miriam Ross is Senior Lecturer in the Film Programme at Victoria University of Wellington. She is the author of South American Cinematic Culture: Policy, Production, Distribution and Exhibition (2010) and 3D Cinema: Optical Illusions and Tactile Experiences (2015) as well as publications on film industries, new cinema technologies, stereoscopic media and film festivals. She is also co-founder and administrator of

Jonathan Mines is a research assistant in the Film Programme at Victoria University of Wellington. He completed his undergraduate study at Victoria University of Wellington and works as an editor and assistant director.

This is an expertly crafted, compelling video essay, supported by a lucid introduction to a nuanced, thought-provoking argument with links to phenomenological and media-archaeology perspectives. The text provides a succinct review of literature, references to relevant material, and a very useful discussion of the technical and aesthetic decisions that shaped the work.

The point about 3D visual effects being nothing new is, well, nothing new. This reflective video-essay, however, using widely-available digital image manipulation tools and YouTube’s 3D viewer to explore what goes between stereoscopic photography and contemporary blockbusters, is certainly a first. Not being an early adopter, it took me a while to find a way to watch Stereotowns in one of its 3D versions (failing to locate a 3D TV in the university or any of my friends’ homes, I watched the anaglyph version using red-and-blue glasses salvaged from a B-movie screening). But it is well worth the effort, as the short duration of the film rewards repeat viewing, especially in relation to the written statement. Like the incredibly sharp images from the turn of the 20th century that Ross and Mines have translated for modern devices, this video-essay builds depth through the superposition of layers.

Besides its contribution to the scholarship on visual cultures, phenomenology and affect, this work makes a significant intervention in videographic scholarship as well. The exploration and meticulous description of the techniques used, reflecting for instance on the placement of text and the reconstruction of the soundtrack, invites new work and is a generous, practical step towards establishing a new line of videographic research.

The argument put forward in the video and its accompanying essay goes beyond technical novelty to look at a less explored affective dimension of 3D images. With its own suspenseful plotline and precise soundtrack, Stereotowns explores the tension between the closeness to the action that 3D images can manufacture, and the emotional distance required to enjoy watching the spectacular annihilation of millions of people. The resonances between the old and the new images of destruction bring echoes of Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History, seeing the past as ‘one single catastrophe’, continuously hurling rubble at his feet. The skyscrapers and monuments that pierce the foreground as proud artefacts of human ingenuity are only there to be smashed in increasingly complicated CGI choreographies. As the authors acknowledge, this is a point already made by film critics; however, the editing and choice of scenes make a persuasive point about intimacy and affect, in a uniquely powerful way.

Miriam Ross’s and Jonathan Mines’s project demonstrates the videographic essay’s poetic potential. Their film explores how new (or forgotten) visual technologies repeatedly explore similar thematic territories across a broad historical period.  In particular, they are interested in how 19th century stereoscopic pictures and recent 3D Hollywood blockbusters represent urban space and their destruction (via natural disaster and/or other calamities).  Moreover, their short film uses stereoscopic technology (and YouTube’s ability to stream 3D anaglyph content) to directly explore and experiment with the subject matter.  Given that stereoscopic technologies are often promoted as immersive experiences this project presents a scholarly topic but in an immersive form.  Thus, the authors move past purely verbal or textual description and allow readers to directly engage stereoscopy—something otherwise impossible in traditional text-based scholarship.

While the film provides the audience with a more poetic experience and suggests links between two historical periods, the accompanying written essay offers a brief scholarly background on the subject and also points to fruitful areas for future research and investigation.  Indeed, the video’s suggestive nature encourages us to further examine the commonalities between the two historical periods.  Why do immersive technologies return to the theme of urban destruction?  Further, how and why do new technologies repeat earlier era’s form and content?  And how do they differ?  For instance, how might audience members engage stereoscopic photography—which encourages visual exploration and contemplation—versus the frenetic camera movement of modern 3D movies?  Ross and Mines’ project introduces these ideas and carves a provocative path to explore.