Syracuse artist travels through time in 3-D

New public art project on East Genesee Street puts history into 3-D perspective.

When artist Colleen Woolpert stands in front of the fountain at Forman Park, she’s transported to the year 1878. She doesn’t see the fountain in front of her; she sees the one that was there at the turn of the century — and she sees it in 3-D. Thanks to Woolpert's latest installation, so can we.

Earlier this month, with help from many people and organizations, including Connective Corridor, Onondaga Historical Association and the Public Art Commission, Woolpert installed SyraViews, a stereoscope that overlooks the fountain at Forman Park on East Genesee Street.

Photo: Drew Roberts
Artist Colleen Woolpert stands near the fountain at Forman Park on East Genesee Street where her SyraViews stereoscope recently was installed.

The world of 3-D

Video: Closer look at Woolpert's 3-D camera
Video: Stereoscopes explained
Interactive: History of 3-D in pop culture

A stereoscope is a viewfinder with two peepholes, and two small images (usually photographs) in front of each hole. The photographs are almost identical; they are as different as the views of one’s left and right eye.

When looking through a stereoscope, the left eye sees one perspective of the image, the right eye sees the other, and the result is a unified 3-D image. In SyraViews, the image is a historic photograph of the Forman Park fountain.

“It’s like time travel. The machine looks like one of those tourist telescopes you see in cities," Woolpert said. "People will go up to one expecting it to be a normal telescope, and then they’ll see the view before them — only they’ll see how it looked in the past.”

Woolpert, a Syracuse University graduate, has been a stereographer for 12 years. One of her most recent projects involved a stereoview of her and her twin sister Rani. When viewed through a stereoscope, the sisters’ heads merge into one image — blurry in the spots where their appearances differ.

Unfortunately for Rani, she has an eye condition called strabismus that hinders her depth perception and ability to see 3-D. The sisters discovered this as children while watching "Creature from the Black Lagoon" through 3-D glasses. Colleen marveled at the monster popping out of the screen; for Rani, it was just a regular movie night, plus dorky eyewear.

Rani grew up painting and drawing, transcribing her 2-D world to a 2-D canvas. For Colleen, part of what drew her to stereoscopy was the idea of helping Rani see in 3-D.

Woolpert splits her time between Seattle and Syracuse, where she lives in a house in Hawley-Green designed by Horatio Nelson White, the 19th-century architect who also designed the Hall of Languages at SU. Woolpert said living here got her thinking about the past, and interested in the idea of using stereoscopes as a portal to another time.

“There are relics in this house; it’s sort of a historical museum in itself,” she said. “There are historic photos all over the walls. You open drawers and find books and all these things. It’s like having access to your grandparents’ attic.”

In addition to SyraViews, Woolpert is also curating an exhibition about the history of stereo photography. The exhibition features 19th-century stereoviews of Syracuse, and will be on display at the Onondaga Historic Association Museum on Sept. 22. through April 1, 2013.

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