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Brian May and Elena Vidal / A Village Lost and FoundAt the international launch yesterday, Brian May and Elena Vidal presented their book A Village Lost and Found, which brings together the complete annotated collection of the original 1850s stereoscopic photograph series Scenes in Our Village by T. R. Williams. A full report and review of the book will appear here shortly. The launch was held at Hinton Waldrist, the village where T. R. Williams originally made the series of photographs.

For the young Brian May, a fascination with 3-D picture cards given away in Weetabix packets led to a lifelong passion for ‘stereoscopic’ images. Soon May was taking sequential pictures with his Woolworth’s 2/6d camera and making pairs of sketches that transformed into 3-D scenes when he ‘relaxed [his] eyes and let the images float together’. Later, he scoured antique shops and auctions for stereoscopic photographs and the ‘viewers’ that enabled him to see the images in all their glory. It was in this way that May discovered the work of Thomas Richard Williams (1824-1871), who, in the 1850s, had created a series of 59 stereo cards depicting life in a small English village – Scenes in Our Village.

In A Village Lost and Found, the product of more than 30 years’ research, May and his co-author, photographic historian Elena Vidal, present an exhaustive study of Scenes in Our Village. The village, whose identity was lost for 150 years, was only recently rediscovered by May, in 2003, still in existence in Oxfordshire. The complete series of images is collected here for the first time in living memory, along with extensive related material, including many corresponding photographs of the village as it is today.

The OWL Stereoscope Viewer
Their research is amazingly in-depth, but the book is utterly readable, and the pictures leap into glorious 3-D, when viewed in the new focusing stereoscope viewer, named the OWL, which May has designed and produced, to bring the stereos to life, and also folds neatly into the slip-case of the book.

"A Village Lost and Found is a significant contribution to our understanding of photographic history and the Victorian period. These three dimensional studies of rural village life are so evocative that one can almost smell the new-mown hay, and feel the warmth of the very sun that illuminated these scenes 150 years ago. To quote the 1850s London Stereoscopic Company's maxim, "No home should be without one!" - Roger Taylor, Professor of Photographic History, De Montfort University, Leicester.

The book gives an exceptional insight into everyday village life at the time - with a woman at her spinning wheel, the blacksmith outside his smithy, three men at the grindstone sharpening a tool, the villagers in the fields, bringing in the harvest as well as often taking time to enjoy a good gossip.

In every case the original verse which accom-panied the view is reproduced, enriching the picture by revealing the inner thoughts of the subjects, or transforming it into a comment on Life, Nature, or the Spiritual World. In addition, May and Vidal have researched and annotated all the views, revealing another layer of meaning, by exploring the history of these real characters, this idyllic village and its links with the present day. The result is a powerfully atmospheric and touching set of photographs.

A Village Lost and Found provides an extraordinary insight into English society in the mid-Victorian era, explains historic photographic techniques and explores the life of the enigmatic T. R. Williams, who appears, from time to time, Hitchcock-like, in his own photographs.

"This is a picture book: an annotated book of photographs which tells a unique story – a story that has fascinated me for more than half a lifetime." - Brian May

Biographical information:
Thomas Richard Williams (1824-1871) began his photographic career in the early 1840s as an apprentice to the renowned photographer and inventor, Antoine Claudet, where it is said he excelled in the art of tinting photographic images. Shortly after the Great Exhibition he opened his first photographic studio in Lambeth, London where he specialised in making stereoscopic daguerreotype portraits. He also started to produce stereo still lifes and artistic compositions, and in 1856 he published, with the London Stereoscopic Company, the First Series which included the launching of HMS Marlborough in 1855 - a forerunner of press photography as we know it today. His second series published by the LSC was the Crystal Palace set which included the inauguration of Crystal Palace at Sydenham in 1854.

His third series was Scenes in Our Village, perhaps his most defining work, and completely original in concept. T. R. Williams’s stereo portraits where so popular that his fame reached the ears of the Royal Household, and on 21 November 1856 he was commissioned to photograph Princess Victoria on her 16th birthday. Over the coming years, he took more Royal portraits including one for Princess Victoria’s wedding. At the end of the 1850s, the stereoscopic craze reached huge proportions. Views were produced, printed and published at an almost alarming rate, sometimes at the cost of quality. True to his standards and disenchanted by the turn of events, Williams decided to cease producing stereo cards; he felt they had become vulgarised by imitation. He still continued photographing highly covetable stereoscopic portraits for a select clientele, but also produced the ‘cartes de visite’ and whole-plate vignetted heads and busts, which earned him accolades at photographic exhibitions. Through his work, Williams is now widely recognised as pivotal in the history of stereoscopic photography.

Brian May, CBE, PhD, FRAS, is a founding member of Queen, a world-renowned guitarist, songwriter, producer and performer. Brian had to postpone a career in astronomy when Queen's popularity first exploded, but, after an incendiary 30 years as a rock musician, was able to return to astrophysics in 2006, when he completed his PhD, and co-authored his first book, Bang! The Complete History of the Universe, with Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott. Stereography has been a life-long passion for Brian.

Elena Vidal has worked as a conservator of paintings in Florence, Spain and the UK. She graduated as an MA in Photographic Conservation at the Camberwell School of Arts, and has subsequently specialised in the history of stereoscopic photography. Since meeting Brian May in 1997, Elena has collaborated with him on a long-term study of Thomas Richard Williams, and has published a number of articles.

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