“A miniature world, frozen in time”: Martha Naranjo Sandoval reanimates the medium of stereoscopic photography
In a four-year ongoing project, the artist has created a large collection of stereoscopic collages which explore the construction of memory and the illusion of 3D space.
- Elfie Thomas
- 14 March 2022
Martha Naranjo Sandoval tells It’s Nice That about the first time she looked through binocular lenses onto a stereoscopic image: “You don’t feel like you are in the middle of a scene, more like you are spying on a miniature world, frozen in time.” Among other projects, the artist has spent the last four years experimenting with her stereoscopic slide collection. This technology was developed between the 40s and 70s, providing a way for amateur photographers to create the illusion of three-dimensional space; the camera takes two images from a slightly different angle. When viewed through a backlit, binocular viewer, the images merge and the brain is “tricked” into seeing an illusion of 3D space.
While she’s now based in New York, Martha is Mexican and was born in Mexico city. Having very few photographs of her family history in Mexico, Martha has become fascinated by the construction of memory in the photographs of others. “Family pictures mean a lot when they are yours but become cryptic when they are others," she says.
Often incorporating elements of humour, Martha layers excerpts from different family collections in her collages. In one image, two women smoking in bed with a bottle of champagne unceremoniously crash a family fishing expedition. In another, someone's pet dog has been transported to the dolphin tank at the zoo. Sometimes subtle, sometimes utterly bizarre, the collision of imagery in the collages enhance the “evocative and mysterious” narratives that anonymous photographs tell us. “I never get to know them on a deeper level,” she says. “But they all have something in common: for some reason or the other, they have parted with their photographs, and I have them now.”
It took Martha a year of experimentation to perfect a method of retaining the illusion of 3D space, achieved by way of in a collage made up of multiple stereoscopic slides. “Your brain is a bit harder to trick than it may seem”, she explains. Without the binocular viewers, the illusion is not complete. But Martha has created a digital viewing experience by combining the multiple perspectives using gifs. While her first collages were simple, now she is confident she can create any illusion she dreams up in her head. In one image, it appears as if roses are falling from the sky in an arctic lake scene. “When seen through a viewer, you can see that every rose is in a different plane.”
The title of her series refers back to some advice she was given by a professor at film school. He would encourage students to depict space in a “rich” way and from multiple angles. He called this way of working “opening the accordion”. The accordion is an instrument which works by compressing and expanding air through brass reeds by pumping its folded bellows: “I was inspired by this idea and started thinking of each one of these pieces as closed bellows that would open up once you saw them through the viewer.”
Martha Naranjo Sandoval: Bellows (Copyright © Maria Naranjo Sandoval)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.