Oregon photographer Rich Dubnow knew in his first year of college that he wouldn’t be a great writer.
“But I was an outstanding, thoroughly enthusiastic photographer,” he said.
That enthusiasm led to a job at the iconic stereoscope company View-Master.
From 1978 to 1997, Dubnow traveled the world photographing icons from Pope John Paul II to the Muppets — all in stereoscopic 3-D.
What Is Stereoscopic Photography?
Stereoscopy is a photography technique meant to create the illusion of depth in an image.
“We all see in 3-D all day, every day,” Dubnow said. “When you look at 3-D photography, it brings a remarkable clarity to the imagery that you’re looking at.”
The process involves a photographer shooting a scene with two cameras simultaneously and placed next to each other, with each camera representing the left and right eye.
When the photos are combined and viewed through a special viewer such as the View-Master, the result is a three-dimensional effect.
“You see a depth there that you don’t get in a flat plane,” Dubnow said. “So I think it just adds dramatically to any content that you can make.”
A History Of View-Master
The View-Master prototype camera rig was built in the late 1930s by William Gruber, an organ-maker living in Oregon.
“He got together with a postcard company named Sawyer’s and they started manufacturing the View-Master in Portland,” Dubnow said.
Since then, the View-Master’s 3-D stereoscopic photos have captured the imaginations of millions of children and adults, selling more than 1 billion reels worldwide.
The uses for the View-Master were endless. Anything and everything could be made into a stereoscopic reel, from television shows to animated movies.
In 1951 View-Master bought its main rival, Tru-Vue, along with licensing rights to the Walt Disney Company. As a result, View-Master was able to capitalize and create numerous reels from the newly opened Disneyland.
The View-Master was also a useful tool for educating adults.
In the 1940s, the U.S. military purchased nearly 100,000 viewers and commissioned nearly 6 million reels for training purposes until the end of WWII.
Dr. David Bassett, anatomy professor at both Stanford and the University of Washington, worked closely with Gruber for 17 years to create the 25-volume “Stereoscopic Atlas of Human Anatomy,” completed in 1962.
The atlas became an immediate success and proved to be a solid resource for medical students.
Stereoscopic Photos With A Modern Twist
The View-Master premiered at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. More than 75 years later, Dubnow is keeping the magic of the retro viewer alive.
“It just harkens you back to a time when you were a kid,” he said. “You were traveling with your family and you had one of these in the back seat and you’re kind of looking at the Grand Canyon.”
After leaving the company in 1997, Dubnow founded Image3D, where he creates his own version of the stereoscopic reel, but with a modern twist.
“Rather than the older style of View-Master that had a paper carrier with small chips of film … ours is one solid piece of film,” he said.
With advancements in digital technology and photography, Image3D has since grown from a small operation out of Dubnow’s home to a much larger, more efficient image printing company that continues to create stereoscopic reels for all occasions.
“It’s all come together over the last 20 years of Image3D from a hand punch operation doing maybe 100 reels in a day to being able to produce 10,000 reels in just a couple of days,” he said.
Combining old-school photography and new-school technology, Dubnow continues the legacy of View-Master, now for a new generation.
“You can’t pick up a viewer without having a great smile,” he said. “You just can’t do it.”