Those of us who have spent years writing academic books that we know few people will ever read would love to have the endorsement that this esteemed publication will have: Professor Roger Taylor, the world’s leading authority on 19th century photographer George Washington Wilson, will be in Aberdeen this August to launch his book, George Washington Wilson, Artist and Photographer, together with Dr Brian May—yes, THAT Brian May, former Queen guitarist, who wrote an introduction to the book.
While it is easy to be starstruck by the appearance of a member of Queen in our midst, we must not forget that Dr. May is also an astrophysicist, and photographer—perhaps best known as lead guitarist of Queen—but a man of many other talents. Among them, he is a photographic historian, with a lifelong interest in collecting stereoscopic photography—hence the connection with George Washington Wilson. Wilson, who was the photographer to Queen Victoria, created a number of 3-D images of the Scottish countryside using this unique and new technology at the time.
The advent of the stereoscope demonstrates a desire for imagery that imitates the “real world,” or the vision seen through one’s eyes. Rather than the flat two-dimensional image captured in a traditional photograph or painting, a stereoscopic image appears three-dimensional. This is because of the way that the image is arranged—it is actually two images, viewed through a special viewfinder. When the brain processes the two offset images, it processes them in a way that makes them appear three-dimensional to the viewer. For centuries, painters tried to create the illusion of depth through the use of shading and one point perspective, but this new technology enabled a different type of image. It is this fascination with creating the illusion of reality before one’s eyes that would continue throughout the centuries, with further advancements in technology: the moving image, and eventually virtual reality.
Among photographic historians, Professor Roger Taylor (NOT THAT Roger Taylor) needs no introduction. A former Senior Curator of photography at the National Museum of Photography, he is the UK’s leading photographic historian, leading expert on George Washington Wilson, and author of this most recent publication on the Aberdonian photographer. The two—Taylor and May—make a powerhouse duo, and we are delighted that both will be joining us at the University of Aberdeen to launch this special book.
The University of Aberdeen is the home to the archive of George Washington Wilson’s archive of glass plates, possessing around 38,000 of the 40,000 in existence. Researchers make use of this archive in a range of ways. Most recently, former GWW Director and Professor of French Ed Welch, together with Professor Pete Stollery, Dr Heather May-Morgan and Andrew Sage, developed an app—Mapping Aberdeen—with which you can retrace Wilson’s steps, revisit places in Aberdeen that he photographed, and compare then and now—noting not only what has changed, but what has remained the same. It is an interactive app, so you can also upload your own images and views on these scenes.
There is also ongoing research into the images and works by George Washington Wilson in the collection. One particular project is focused on images of women and what that can tell us about the time in which Wilson lived.
The launch of George Washington Wilson, Artist and Photographer takes place on Thursday, 16 August at 7PM in the Arts Lecture Theatre at the University of Aberdeen. Photographic historians Dr Brian May and Professor Roger Taylor will trace Wilson’s career, show key examples of his work using a stunning new 3D projection system and present their accompanying book published by the London Stereoscopic Company.
Over the coming weeks, the University of Aberdeen will be launching a series of live broadcasts about the life and work of George Washington Wilson and his connections to the city, University and shire. Check out the first episode here.