New York Public Library Turns its 19th Century Photo Collection Into 3D Animated GIFs

Stereograms, invented all the way back in 1861, are made up of a pair of still photographs of the same subject that have been shot from slightly different angles, mimicking the vantage points of our left and right eyes, individually. When viewed through a stereoscope, the final image pops out in 3D. The New York Public Library has taken its collection of 19th century stereograms and given viewers the opportunity to turn them into a more contemporary — and easily accessible — form: the animated GIF.

The NYPL’s new Stereogranimator (stereogram plus animate) Web site provides access to a wide selection of the library’s archive of stereogram images, including shots of city architecture, outdoor landscapes, and even a few photos taken inside museums. Users select composition and speed, creating an animated GIF that flickers between the two stereogram frames, giving the impression of 3D.

The project mixes the traditional and the contemporary in a slightly surreal way, but maybe the NYPL is actually continuing in the original spirit of the stereogram — after all, in its heyday, the format was as revolutionary for the still image as GIFs are today. The Stereogranimator is even reminiscent of some recent Internet art projects, chief among them 3Frames, a site created by artist Aaron Meyers that allows users to easily create three-frame-long animated GIFs.

For more on the Stereogranimator, check out this Huffington Post article from the artist who inspired the library to create the project.

— Kyle Chayka