12 quai Victor Huho
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Born far too long ago in
Manchester, England, Bill started work at the age of seventeen designing
clerical procedures for some of the very earliest commercial computer
systems. He went on to spend thirty years designing, developing, and
managing data communications systems around the world – UK, Hong Kong,
France, Australia etc – and in 1987 started an IT consultancy with a
group of friends. In less than a decade this became a multi-million
pound business specialising in IT project management and management
support. He left in 1999 and has since redeveloped two houses, amassed a
collection of photographs and books, produced Hidden Depths, taken a
great many of his own photographs and generally had, and continues to
have, a very satisfying time.
Hidden Depths :
Jacques Henri Lartigue en stéréoscopie
Une interview de Bill Hibbert
Bill, you're offering a sort of Jacques Henri Lartigue stereoscopic box
– an unusual and delightful object... Who are you ? An editor ? A
designer ? Where did you get the idea for such
a thing ?
Bill Hibbert : My career was
in information technology so really I had no photographic background
other than a general amateur interest. However after taking early
retirement I began collecting photographs, acquiring a fairly haphazard
collection of photographs I liked. As time passed I found the price of
collectable photographs escalating beyond all reason (at least that was
what I thought at the time – by comparison with current prices they seem
positively cheap!), and so I switched to collecting books, almost
exclusively photographic monographs.
One of my favourite
photographers was Lartigue, and I accumulated perhaps 30 of his
monographs. In one of them, Les autochromes de Jacques-Henri Lartigue,
in an introductory interview Jacques commented that many of his early
photographs had been taken in stereo and how sad he was that because of
the reproduction difficulty it was impossible to show them in 3D. This
chimed with me because a few months earlier I had bought a few WW I
glass stereo slides and a viewer from a flea market in Brussels and been
really astounded by the impact of these desolate visions of the fields
of Flanders. I think it's very hard for people to understand quite how
powerful a stereo transparency can be, particularly when the physical
medium – in this case a tired, scratched black and white shard of glass
– coincides so exactly with the bleak muddy trenches and burnt trees of
the WW I killing fields.
So I resolved that the next
time I was in Paris I'd go to the Association des amis de Jacques- Henri
Lartigue (as it then was) and see his stereos in their original form. Of
course, it was hopeless. The Association was producing its annual
accounts ; everybody was feverishly busy ; and nobody had time to show
an ignorant Englishman around their archives, a purpose for which they
were not set up anyway. However Martine d'Astier, the directrice, kindly
took the time to tell me a little about the archives, show me some
prints, and arrange a time at which I could come back to talk in more
detail. I returned, as I remember, a few weeks later, and was shown some
of the slides, still in their original boxes, and given more information
about the archives – 100,000 images, several thousand glass stereos
(nobody was sure of the exact number!) in a variety of formats, 300,000
items in total.
loved the stereos, was anxious to see them published, but the technical
difficulties and small probable market meant that no editor had
expressed any interest in the project. A box of 12 stereos had been
printed and issued in tiny quantities by the Association (Le
troisième oeil), but was so expensive to produce they'd lost money
on every one. As I left I remember saying that I might just possibly be
interested in producing a book of the stereos... Note that at this point
I knew nothing about stereo, nothing about book design, or production,
or publishing or marketing, in fact of anything that might conceivably
be useful in such a project. The only viewers I'd ever seen were
Viewmasters as a child and the little box viewer I'd bought in Brussels,
and the only 3D photographs those that went with them. Anyway, I started
thinking about the design of the various components, presented some
maquettes to Martine d'Astier to prove that I was at least a little bit
serious, and eventually obtained permission to scan all the stereos.
This I did over a period of several weeks, scanning some 5,000 glass
negatives in a quasiindustrial process.
One of the 100 stereo photographs shown in Hidden Depths: on the front
side, just above the image, there's a quotation by Lartigue taken from
his journals ; on the back side some information about the
photographer's life at the time he took the photo... an excellent work
of iconography and very practical in use !
Let's talk about the contents of the box: it contains 100 stereo cards,
a book of 32 pages, and a stereoscope...
In producing Hidden Depths
I was anxious that it should be a complete package – beautiful and
interesting images, a great viewer, some information about Lartigue and
his life, and just a little information about stereo and how it works.
The biography and stereo information are in the book, and the images
each have some text taken from Lartigue's memoirs, which are now out of
print and not easy to find. I have tried to add some background to the
story of each image on the reverse of the card, so they can be read like
a book or browsed at random, as preferred. The biggest problem by far
was the viewer. Originally I tried to design a collapsible viewer
similar to a Holmes stereoscope, building a variety of prototypes, but
the many constraints – cheap to build in large quantities, small enough
to post cheaply, easy to assemble, and producing high quality images –
were overwhelming, and I was on the verge of giving up when I had the
brainwave of using folded polypropylene for the carcase and then the
immense good fortune to find a job lot of excellent lenses on ebay at a
reasonable price. Hence the current novel design, which not only meets
all the requirements above but is also robust and offers a luminous
shadow free image.
Did Jacques Lartigue work a
great deal in 3D ?
As I mentioned above there
are about 5,000 glass stereo negatives in the Lartigue archives, the
vast majority in 6 x 13 format, taken between about 1905 and 1928.
Many of his most famous
images were originally taken in stereo, including for example the shots
of Bichonnade jumping down the stairs, Gabriel Voisin taking the first
flight over French soil, and Jacques' brother Zissou posing as a ghost
on the verandah of their house. This is about 5% of all the photographs
Lartigue took in his lifetime, but probably nearer 25% of his published
photographs, since the early ones are recycled time and time again to
the almost complete exclusion of his later work.
It is clear that Lartigue held the stereos in particular affection, and
I think the key to this was their ability to transport him back to the
original event in a way that a flat print never could.
What criteria did you apply
when you were choosing the images ? How did you make the selection ?
From the 5,000 negatives
(plus a few positives whose negatives had disappeared) I scanned, I
produced a long list of around 800 of the very best images and printed
them off. This is a wonderful book to browse and gives a real indication
of the high quality of Lartigue's photographs, but even so it could
easily have been twice as long.
I have made the comment to
several people that Lartigue was arguably the greatest stereo
photographer ever. This claim is invariably met with a moue of
scepticism, but no-one has so far managed to name another who produced
so many stereos of anything like the same quality. I'm still waiting...
In fact, Lartigue's work of this period is intrinsically effective in
stereo. One views a stereo photograph differently from a plane image –
the latter is further removed from the actual experience, so it is
inevitably viewed more intellectually, while a good stereo tends to draw
you into the frame – it is more immersive, more involving, more
emotional, so Lartigue's relaxed, intimate style works very well in the
In making the final
selection, I tried to cover all of his interests – family, friends and
lovers, the fashionable ladies, his sports, trips to the seaside and ski
resorts, the cars and aeroplanes – and as far as possible the whole
period during which he worked in stereo. I also wanted to have some
famous images, for comparison with the published versions (which are
often very different), and a range of new images that had never been
published before. Finally I thought it was important to select images
which had good depth and showed well in stereo – it would have been a
wasted opportunity to show 'flat' photographs, no matter how beautiful
The booklet of 30 pages : it has an introduction to the oeuvre of
Jacques Henri Lartigue and its place in the history of stereo
as well as a technical introduction to the latter.
It's very nicely finished, and all the boxes are numbered – they could
easily be of interest to collectors. Did you have them in mind ?
Thank you ! I anticipated
from the beginning that the edition was more for collectors than for the
general public, and this has proven to be the case.
Of course it's difficult to sell in a bookshop because it needs good
light and quite a lot of shelf space, and also requires me to donate a
viewer and some spare cards, which is not always easy to justify
financially, so sadly the man in the street whom it might interest is
unlikely ever to see it.
I think it's a good buy for
collectors. There is a limited quantity and copies are numbered to prove
that ; there will not be a reprint so it's now or never ; both the
photographer and the technique of stereo are of great historical
interest, although in the latter case sadly neglected by modern
photographic historians ; and I think it fills quite a substantial gap
in the literature.
It's also (I think!) great
fun to read, and a real eye-opener for anybody interested in photography
who has no experience of stereo.
You are English and your
site is in English. But if a galerie-photo reader wants to buy Hidden
Depths and goes to the shop on your website, in the 'Commercial'
page he's going to find a French telephone number and an address in
Narbonne. Are you living in France ?
Yes – we're almost
neighbours! I've been installed here for over a year now, although I
retain a base in the UK, and am greatly enjoying it. I've spent a great
deal of my life living abroad, much of it in francophone countries, so
you can imagine that I'm a francophile who adores the climate, culture,
language (although I still fail to do it justice) and people of France,
but I also find that simply living outside one's natural environment
enriches everyday experiences wherever you are.
Of course I really wanted
Hidden Depths to be at least bilingual English and French, but sadly
I couldn't do the English to French translation myself and couldn't
afford to pay a professional (the whole project was self-financed).
However, all the original French text is available in a pdf file on my
website which is at least a tiny concession to francophone
The stereoscope: a real little marvel of invention! The transparent
walls of the self-assembled viewer allow the maximum light to fall on
the view card.
You've chosen the publisher's name 'Design
for Life' for your site and for the book. The viewer is superb, the
presentation of the images is of great intelligence and sobriety. The
whole thing is really easy to use and all for an incredibly reasonable
price. This is an extremely successful and refined design. The name of
the site implies there will be more items of this kind – is this
Thanks for the kind comments - developing
Hidden Depths took a large part of my time over several years,
and most of that was spent not on the original design, but on continual
refinement. I had endless cardboard (easier to work with than
polypropylene !) versions of the viewer, each a tiny bit better than the
previous one, and I discovered to my cost that minuscule changes to the
typography have a huge subliminal effect on the appearance and
readability of text. It is a great pleasure to know that the effort was
Curiously I originally chose the name
'Design for Life' for one of my other ventures - a furniture design
company ! I ran this part-time for a year or two with a friend of mine,
but although everybody loved the furniture, very few people bought it,
so to my great regret the business had to be closed ; at least I was
left with a very well-furnished house. However I still owned the
company, Design for Life Ltd, and as it was such a generally applicable
name it seemed sensible to continue to use it for the next project.
I am currently working on several further
projects, two of which are associated with stereo photography. I'd
rather not say too much about them at the moment, but I do think that
when published they will be welcomed by the photographic community at
large, and stereographers in particular. Anybody who's bought a copy of
Hidden Depths from my site will get an email when anything new is
released, and of course I'll keep the site updated with developments so
dernière modification de cet article : 2007