Sapphire Goss explores the filmmaking potentials of stereoscopy, from early cinema and photography to the digital age.
A little later a thousand hungry eyes are bending over the peepholes of the stereoscope as though they were the attic windows of the infinite…
– Baudelaire, ‘On Photography’, from the Salon of 1859*
Attic Windows of the Infinite is a completely unique film shot on analogue 35mm using different stereoscopic, lenticular and toy action capture cameras animated together to make a world that layers and freezes time, dancing back and forth in space. The viewer is invited to slip through the screen between the flickering pixels into a realm of shifting dimensions, tracing the triangulated narratives of surface, depth and time. Much like Koyanasquaasti (1982) depicted life through a hyperlapse sense of acceleration, Attic Windows of the Infinite seeks to build a world suspended in stasis, trapped in a perpetual present, hanging on a moment in time.
My work explores those spaces in between the real, the remembered and the imagined, the surface tension that separates these worlds, and the ghostly traces they imprint on each other. I work with moving image, photography and other lens-based methods, using unexpected materials, obsolete technologies and experimental techniques such as feedback loops to create what I call an ‘analogue uncanny’: scratchy, grainy, shimmering, otherworldly, moving and mysterious. I’m interested in how physical properties shape our understanding of the world, whether that’s place, dimension, time: the interplay between the virtual and the tangible.
I first came across stereographs as curios of popular culture – the Viewmaster, 3D anaglyph red and green glasses in cereal packets, holographs, lenticular postcards, the polarising glasses of modern 3D cinema, and google cardboard viewers. The latter uses the same technology as the early Holmes viewers, merging images together in the way that the eye works to perceive depth. Stereoscopy predates photography and is an untold story that links the virtual and the physical. It recreates lifelike 3D using mechanical processes to shape light into something solid, tactile and tangible. There have been a number of moving image artists who have used stereoscopic techniques, from Oskar Fischinger’s animation experiments to Norman MacLaren’s Around and Around and Now is the Time commissioned for the Festival of Britain in 1952, and more recently, Cyprien Gaillard’s work Nightlife (2015). These pieces require 3D glasses or viewers to observe the depth effect.
What really drew me into stereoscopy was the mesmerising ‘wiggle gifs’ – moving photographs on tumblr and instagram that I couldn’t figure out, they were like magic. It is the same technique used as ‘bullet time’ in the Matrix films, using multiple lenses or cameras. I began by animating and collaging vintage stereographs, particularly Henry Draper’s lunar images, which were taken over a period of months to get the correct triangulation. The film used this animation technique throughout. I was interested more in these strange hypnotic dances through space than creating a traditional 3D film that you would need a viewer or special glasses to watch. There’s something about the sort of simultaneous depth and surface and time that really draws me to them. They are portals into their own worlds, self-contained but immersive and unlike anything else. And there’s something very strange about them.
Stereoscope literally means seeing solid or solid vision – it mimics our eyes and the reality of our perception: not linear and flat but an ever-changing spatial upside-down composite smoothed out by our brains. Two eyes darting around in stereo, piecing together the world. This is how we remember – not in neat lines but an undulating spatial mosaic, pieces perpetually added and breaking away. The Renaissance organised an orderly world converging onto a single eye, the gaze of the individual at the centre of the world. In the industrial age of mechanical reproduction, immersive stereoscopic devices were created – a harbinger of VR/smartphones of the digital revolution, using the same technology. I want to rupture and flip the idea of the linear objective gaze, and to make it “meta-visual”: polyphonic, multisensory and inclusive.
At the beginning of the 20th century stereo cards were used in education to show students views from around the world. Images of this could almost be modern children in VR headsets, and contemporary accounts mirror the same concerns about their immersive nature and the corruption of technology: another loop of time. History is not linear. Baudelaire’s vivid reactionary response to photography and stereoscopy is detailed in the piece ‘On Photography’*, a line from which gave the title to the piece. He criticises the photograph as a mere mirror image of nature – inferior and even a “mortal enemy” to art, for people too “lazy” to be painters. Attic Windows of the Infinite uses photographic materiality pushed to its limit, painting with light, or as Tarkovsy describes it, “sculpting in time”, in layers and cycles. The title also nods to the first ever photo: View from the Window at le Gras by Nicéphore Niépce (1826 or 1827), presumably not an accidental reference on Baudelaire’s part. This situates the work in a historical lineage of photography, stereography, short loops and other early cinematic forms.
Attic Windows of the Infinite, its companion filmic studies Seeing Solid # 1 & # 2 and the shorter looping images that comprise the films, break out of linear time and planar space into multidimensional narratives. The footage is made from still images, hand-animated frame by frame. The film uses rhythm and repetition – through stereographic suspended movement or short zoetrope-style motion sequences – to play with time in different ways. They were then animated into short loops that exist independently as a collection of moving paintings, cycling eternally. These were assembled together for the final film.
The footage was taken on different toy cameras and adapters, some of which work like a stereograph, freezing a fraction of a moment and dancing around it in 3D space. These images can be made by either using stereo/lenticular cameras that take multiple images at the same moment from slightly different angles, by using one camera and moving the lens (this doesn’t work on moving subjects), having two or more cameras triggered at the same time, or via beamsplitters made from mirrors or prisms – one of the tools I used was an old passport attachment that splits the image four ways. Other cameras I used capture action in different ways to make Muybridge-style sequences – short sequential moving images over a few seconds, a kind of beggar’s or micro cinema on 35mm. Some have multiple lenses and timed shutters, others are more like a traditional cine camera.
Vintage cameras from the 1950s to the 2000s were used along with different stocks of expired film to create a mosaic of unique textures, times, chemicals, and lens renderings. I really wanted to push this format so I made a lot of images using light painting, double exposure, used prisms and custom filters and other different techniques. What Baudelaire dismisses as the mere “results of a material science” is part of the attraction of analogue – light leaks, chromatic aberrations, accidental slipped frames – images faded and temporary through their unstable chemical alchemy. The film emerges from a transient and serendipitous set of material processes that cannot be replicated. The final piece is square format to create a sense of continuity with the myriad camera frames (half frame, 6×6, square stereo, multi image).
I wanted to find new ways of looking at the world outside of linear time, making multiple narratives through many dimensions, stopping and starting, lagging and looping. An experience of time and space unlike any other. There’s something really interesting in this idea of frozen motion and animated stasis, bending and folding time and space into a strange world, perpetually shifting through planes and dimensions. Barthes talks about cameras as “clocks for seeing” (Camera Lucida, 1980) and I like the idea of these ephemeral moments being rendered into something tactile and tangible. A ray of light becomes a sculptural form, raindrops are suspended in mid-air or waves are frozen mid-crash. Physical processes come together to create an interior, immersive world. Likewise the audio by Rob Shields takes field recordings and samples from 78rpm records looping back and forth and mixed in stereo to create a haunting spatial soundtrack.
The structure is formed of a series of revolving temporal and spatial narratives. It begins as it ends, with the chemical strips at the end of film reels seeming to form minimal landscapes and horizon lines. Throughout, scenes emerge from the grain and submerge back into it. The spaces are urban, edgelands, coastal, generic. They are everywhere and nowhere, landscapes of half forgotten memories, the places spliced together in dreams. The images are grainy and layered like a faded memory, shifting and hovering in perpetuity. Depending on the camera, we circle round the object, pan back and forth on a horizontal plane, or observe faltering loops of movement in 3D. It is an experience of time that seems to fit the current mood, both post-lockdowns but also in the digital sphere: stasis, repetition, feedback loops and cycles.
This project makes uncanny worlds beyond the edge of the frames, beyond the sprockets, through the surface layers into the depths below. These nebulous landscapes oscillate between flat planes and solid forms, the rules of physics upended and made absurd and psychedelic. Stereographs and multi-lens cameras demand that we look and look again, the almost imperceptible differences creating a dissonance when observing these intersecting images from slightly different angles. Can we expand our atomised world view – where the points of focus come to the individual at the centre – by playing with and subverting dimensions and perspectives?
Attic Windows of the Infinite depicts a place that could be everywhere and nowhere. It loops through space and time, cycling through seasons, day and night, growth and decay, the familiar and the abstract to create an uncanny, hypnotic work: a completely new form of filmmaking and a unique way of experiencing the world.
Trailer for Attic Windows of the Infinite, 2022, Sapphire Goss
Baudelaire’s Salon of 1859 was first published in the Révue Française, Paris, June 10-July 20, 1859. This selection is from Charles Baudelaire, The Mirror of Art. Jonathan Mayne editor and translator. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1955.
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