What is a Stereoscopic Photograph?

Stereoscopic photography is based on the principle that if two photographs are taken of a subject from viewpoints approximately equal in separation to the distance between the human eye, then the two photographs will merge into a single three-dimensional image if they are viewed in such a way that each eye sees only the appropriate left or right side photograph.

The principle of stereoscopic vision was discovered by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1832. This was before the invention of photography, so he used pairs of drawings. Later, in 1841, the first stereoscopic photograph was produced. The viewers that were used to view these early stereoscopic images (which are also called stereographs) were constructed of bulky mirrors and prisms, but in 1849 Sir David Brewster invented a viewer that used lenses.

After a lens-based stereoscope viewer was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, a craze for stereoscopic photography quickly developed, with over 100,000 viewers being sold in that year alone. Stereoscope viewers ranged from large and highly ornate viewers that were mounted into wooden cabinets or placed
on stands, to simple and inexpensive hand-held
viewers like the one pictured opposite. This type of viewer, designed to be used with stereo photographs mounted onto rigid cards, was sold from the mid 1860s until the 1940s. The stereograph cards were slotted into the crossbar at A, which could be slid up and down the central bar for focusing. The card was then viewed through the pair of lenses at B and the viewer held by the handle at C.

Special stereoscopic cameras were also produced. Although stereoscopic photographs can be made using an ordinary camera (moving it sideways by several inches between taking the two photographs) the pictures must be very accurately aligned, and capturing movement is impossible. The process is much easier using a proper stereoscopic camera. These either had a single lens fitted on a panel that slid sideways, or were fitted with twin lenses. Since some of Kurkdjian's stereoscopic photographs show people - difficult to take with a normal camera because of the risk of movement - he probably used a stereoscopic camera.

Kurkdjian's Stereoscopic Photographs of Ani

Onnes (or Ohannes) Kurkdjian, born in 1851, was an Armenian photographer who was based in Yerevan for part of the 19th century. Kurkdjian later emigrated from Armenia. He lived in Singapore for a short period - spending just over two months there in 1885 and working for another Armenian photographer. He then moved to the port town of Surabaya on the island of Java, Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), where he continued his profession as a photographer. He eventually owned a photographic "atelier" studio in Surabaya, with more than thirty photographers and darkroom assistants, producing photographs that are now highly prized for their topographical and anthropological content. The studio's photographs were also reproduced on picture postcards. He died in Surabaya in 1903 (some accounts say 1901, or 1904). After his death the company was taken over by the pharmaceutical import company "Helmig".

While living in Yerevan, Kurkdjian produced a set of stereoscopic photographs (stereographs) depicting Ani. It is not known exactly when the photographs were taken: it was sometime between 1875 and 1880, and was probably after the Kars district, including Ani, had been incorporated into the Russian Empire (i.e. after 1877). They were sold as a collection of forty cards, contained in a cloth-covered cardboard box decorated with embossed tooling. The collection came with an booklet that informed the viewer what the subject of each photograph was.

The pairs of photographs are mounted onto printed cards manufactured in Vienna, and are the standard 90x180mm size. All the cards have the title "Ruines d'Arménie, Ani" and a facsimile of Kurkdjian's signature. They do not have individual captions, but each card is hand numbered according to the listing in the accompanying booklet. The numbers seem to be arranged so that the photographs illustrate an anti-clockwise journey around the city. However, two of the photographs are out of this sequence: the two pictures of the mosque (n°21 and n°41) are separated, and n°42 is separated from the rest of the cathedral pictures. The booklet says that the photographs for cards n°11 and n°12 do not exist any more, and they have been replaced by two new cards: n°41 and n°42. This suggests that there may have been at least two editions of the set of cards - an edition with cards n°11 and n°12, and a later edition without them, but with cards n°41 and n°42 added. I have not been able to locate images of n°11 and n°12.

It is said that the Russian authorities suspected that Kurkdjian's photographs documenting Armenian culture were intended to promote sedition, and that this was one of the reasons why he left Armenia. It is perhaps significant that the cards are inscribed in Armenian and French, rather than in Russian and French. Also perhaps significant are the poses of some of the people in the cards. They seem to match the pose of the female figure in the well known engraving from 1861 by Chanik Aramian, titled "Armenia in Mourning" or "Ruins of Armenia", in which a woman is depicted sitting in a ruin-filled landscape, contemplating Armenia's past glory. By the 1870s this "Mother Armenia" figure had become an important patriotic image and an emblem for the liberation of the Armenian nation.

Engravings based on Kurkdjian's stereo photographs also exist: in 1885 several were reproduced in "The Graphic", an illustrated weekly newspaper published in London. As well the set by Kurkdjian, other sets of stereocards depicting Ani exist. See the following page for more details about them.

Below are images of the cards in Kurkdjian's collection. (Thank you Wolfgang Wiggers for providing VirtualAni with many of these images). The larger versions of card n°21 and card n°22 have been scanned at 300dpi. If printed at that resolution, or at a width of 180mm, they can be used in a stereoscope viewer.

N°1: View along the walls to the "Lion Gate"

N°3: Arch and flanking towers of the "Lion Gate"

N°5: The western end of the city's walls

N°7: View of the city walls and the Igadzor valley

N°9: Stone inlays on the Baron's Palace doorway

N°11: Interior of the Baron's Palace

N°13: Tsaghkotsadzor valley and Baron's Palace

N°15: Facade of the hall of the Apostles church

N°17: Church of St. Gregory of the Abughamir's

N°19: The river and Kizkale, seen from the citadel

N°21: Mosque of Minuchihr, interior seen from
the southwest corner - click here for a larger photo

N°23: The cathedral, seen from the southeast

N°25: A detail of two windows in the cathedral

N°27: The cathedral, the south entrance

N°29: The interior of the cathedral, looking SE

N°31: The church of the Redeemer, south facade

N°33: The ruined bridge over the Akhourian river

N°35: A view of the gorge and Virgins' convent

N°37: Church of St. Gregory of Tigran Honents

N°39: Mausoleum of Vache, Horomos monastery

N°41: The mosque, interior seen from NW corner

N°2: The lion relief next to the "Lion Gate"

N°4: Rear of the "Lion Gate" and its towers

N°6: The western end of the city's walls

N°8: The entrance facade of the Baron's Palace

N°10: Baron's Palace seen from Igadzor valley

N°12: Tsaghkotsadzor valley and Baron's Palace

N°14: Tsaghkotsadzor valley and citadel wall

N°16: Ceiling of the hall of the Apostles church

N°18: Kizkale peninsula seen from the citadel

N°20: Door of "Mausoleum of the Child Princes"

N°22: The cathedral, an exterior view seen from
the southwest - click here for a larger photo

N°24: The northwest corner of the cathedral

N°26: A detail of a window in the cathedral

N°28: The cathedral, the north entrance

N°30: Inside the cathedral: a view of the apse

N°32: Doorway of the church of the Redeemer

N°34: The convent of the Virgins

N°36: A view of the Akhurian river and gorge

N°38: The drum of the Tigran Honents church

N°40: Zhamatun of Aruits, Horomos monastery

N°42: Detail of a niche in the cathedral's facade