Technology met mythology in the 1860s and they produced a diabolical vision. Charles Wheatstone invented the stereogram in 1838, which allowed people to see three-dimensional images compiled from two flat images. Paris in the 1860s produced stereoscopic photographs of devils and demons in Hell known as diableries (“devilries”).
The stereogram used our binocular (two-eyed) vision to composite slightly different images into one three-dimensional whole. It played upon our depth perception. The principle was used for View-Master toys and adapted for the Magic Eye autosterograms that used one 2D picture to generate a 3D illusion.
Adolph Block published 72 diableries in a series called “A Trip to the Underworld” in 1868. The photographs were hand-colored; eyes were pierced and backed with gelatin cells. When backlit, the images would reveal lurid colors and the demonic eyes would glow. Louis Alfred Habert and Pierre Adolph Hennetier sculpted most of the infernal tableaus in clay. Scenes ranged from “The Seven Deadly Sins” to “Satan’s Wives Bathing” to “Satan’s Christmas Party.”
Diableries: A Trip to the Underworld (19th Century Images of Satan and Hell) edited by Candice Black was published this year by Sun Vision Press. It collected the 72 Block photographs in black and white. After a brief forward, it featured the images compressed down to 8 pages, then as full pages highlighting the macabre details.
Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell, also published this year, reproduced the images in full color and included an OWL stereo viewer to present them as they were originally intended. Stereogram enthusiast and astronomer Brian May designed the OWL viewer. Yes, the same Brian May from Queen. A special edition of 250 was pressed in red vegan faux leather and gilt-edged pages, signed the authors Paula Fleming, Denis Pellerin and Brian May.
Diableries: A Trip to the Underworld is available at Quimby’s (1854 W North Ave, Chicago, IL).