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Brian May is one of the world’s foremost collectors of Victorian stereo cards. He published his first book about these cards in 2009. A Village Lost and Found contained a complete series of stereo cards taken in a small Oxfordshire village, and was a huge success and the subject of a great deal of media attention.

In this second book, the subject is of broader interest and is more controversial. Diableries (which translates roughly as ‘Devilments’) presents an extraordinary set of French stereo cards, which were published beginning in the 1860s, and continuing on until around 1900. They depict a whole imaginary underworld, populated by devils, satyrs and skeletons which are very much alive and, for the most part, having fun. The cards are works of art in themselves, and are known as French tissues, constructed in a special way to enable them to be viewed (in a stereoscope – which is supplied with the book) illuminated from the front, for a normal ‘day’ appearance in monochrome, or illuminated from the back, the view becomes a ‘night’ scene, in which hidden colours magically appear.

The scenes depicted in these Diableries were made in clay, on a table-top, with amazing skill, by a small bunch of gifted sculptors, and then photographed with a stereo camera. The resulting stereo pair of prints was made on thin albumen paper, and water-colours were applied to the back of the prints. The eyes of each skeleton were then pricked out with a sharp instrument, and small pieces of red gel, or blobs of reddened varnish, were applied to the back of the pricked holes. Behind this pair of prints was added a layer of tissue paper, which hid the ‘works’ to the rear surface of the view. The print and the backing tissue were then mounted together, sandwiched between two cardboard frames – each with twin cut-out ‘windows’ for the prints, and the whole was glued together to make a French Tissue stereo card and the eyes of the skeletons leap out in red, in a most macabre way! Collectors prize these cards, which are quite delicate, and must be handled with care, in order not to damage them.

In addition to the beautiful images of the complete set of over 70 stereo cards which can be seen in 3D using the viewer provided, Brian and his fellow authors and researchers Denis Pellerin and Paula Fleming provide an explanatory text for every card to unravel its meaning – the satirical nature of the cards is hidden to modern eyes.


Last Gasp Publishing.com

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