Stereo-Photography, Stereoscopy, Stereopsis

Exploring the principles of binocular (two-eyed) vision, David Burrows’ installation transplants the dramatic beauty of an antarctic glacier to Melbourne’s federation square

31 Aug 2012

“The principle is that humans are binocular beings”, states Burrows, “because each eye is in a different position it will see a slightly different view of the world”. This in turn allows for the perception of depth, an important factor in understanding the size of what is being viewed.

Which in this case was important – as the artistic subject was an iceberg, and Burrows’ goal was to “create a tangible sense of the scale and dimension of a real iceberg”. 

In oder to replicate the way human eyes capture images Burrows built a specially designed rig consisting of 2 Nikon D700 cameras mounted on a parallel bar with shiftable base plates allowing them to slide closer together or further apart. This ensured that the 2 key factors for the success of the photography were satisfied; that the cameras remain parallel and horizontally consistent and that the distance between them be adjustable depending on the distance from the subject. Lastly the rig included a custom built trigger to fire the cameras simultaneously, which also sent GPS data to the cameras. 

With this equipment Burrows travelled to Antarctica, where he selected hi subject and photographed it extensively. Then, back in Melbourne, the images were loaded into sterescopes, binocular viewers that encase the slides and only allow each eye to see the appropriate left or right image, thus recreating the depth of field and three-dimensionality of the iceberg. Burrows explains that “I like this format for viewing because it is intimate – you have to peep into a little box and only one person at a time can see the image… it is also somewhat strange. I think that this is due to the fact that the stereoscope isolates our visual perception of depth down to stereopsis and other visual perspective based depth cues.”

The power of the installation lies not only in the verisimilitude of the images but also in the spatial arrangement of the viewing boxes – as the viewer moves from station to station they can figuratively ‘circle’ the glacier and observe it from many different angles. Juxtaposed to the quintessentially urban backdrop of Federation Square, this illusion is both incongruous and striking. 

David Burrows

Federation Square