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DESCRIPTIONText approaching stereoscopy as a primitive form of spatial montage and as a precedent to understand the interface effect.
Stereoscopic OverowGerard Ortn
Table of contents:
1. Interface eect, new media and its antecedents.
2. Stereoscopy: a primitive form of spatial montage.
3. A philosophical grid.
4. Strabismic Avatars
5. Image Glossary
1. Interface eect, new media and its antecedents.
Hearing the sound of the keyboard keys being pressed by my ngers, unfolding a complex chain
reaction that goes from my brain into the laptop and back into me through the computer screen, as if
it was a neurological chain, I can't think of any other way to start writing about such eect. Of
course: We are not aware about that fact while performing that gesture. We are not aware about the act
of writing while writing but about what we are writing (which is, if you consider it, a dubious
statement)1. But still I'm aware of my ngers hitting the plastic keys. They are digitus, they are part of
this feedback looping process in which the computer becomes an interface of graphics, of light, of
data transformed into information. Such eect has been described as it follows:
Interfaces are not simply objects or boundary points. They are autonomous zones of activity.
Interfaces are not things, but rather processes that eect a result of whatever kind. For this
reason I will be speaking not so much about particular interface objects (screens, keyboards),
but interface eects.2
Let us forget about the keyboard and screen through which I'm writing this text and focus on the
eect itself. It implies some sort of mediation, some kind of lter that negates itself, that becomes
invisible. One that is unworkable, one that is not really there we are not aware of it. Its
imperceptibility is what makes it natural, perfectly embedded. Any appearance would be a glitch, a
bug, a crash.
Therefore, an interface eect would regulate and eect our perception in many dierent ways. In
the same manner as we are not aware about the act of writing while writing, we are not able to
distinguish many other processes happening. Through and with interface eects we apprehend what
But, how to avoid the assumption of an original referent in this process of apprehension? How to
avoid thinking on what exists beyond the lter? How to avoid the mirage of a more real level?
Here the question of representation and its regimes seems to be unavoidable. But in order to
1 FLUSSER, V. The gesture of writing, 1991. p. 1.URL: http://www.flusserstudies.net/sites/www.flusserstudies.net/files/media/attachments/the-gesture-of-writing.pdf 2 GALLOWAY, A.R. The interface effect. Polity Press. Cambridge : 2012, p. vii.
understand such regimes and their relation with the observer, we should look at its antecedents and
Cinema is the rst medium to bring together techniques like compositing, recombination,
digital sampling (the discrete capture of photographic images at a xed rate through time),
and machine automation, techniques that, of course, are present in other media, but never as
eectively as the singular synthesis oered by the cinema.3
There is, indeed, a precedent of new media in photography and therefore in cinema. In the way it
radically changed the subjectivity through the machine along the XIX and XX century and in the
way it embodies a multiplicity of previous apparatuses and devices (from the guillotine to the train,
the magnetism sances, the prestidigitation shows, the morgue, the wax museum or the tableaux
vivant)4. But both in cinema as much as in photography the antecedent of one of the most essential
qualities of new media is
missing: the spatial montage.
This spatial montage5 implies
simultaneity and allows real
time analogy. It creates a
dierent relation with the
viewer who is no longer
following a timeline because
he himself is integrated in a space, he is embedded in the interface. The point of view is eradicated.
In this case the eect would be more than a technique, it would be a pre-existant way of seeing, a
sense that takes shape through a technology. Therefore, among the techniques that precede
photography and that have had more repercussion after the XX century I'm going to focus on one
that embraced a big perceptual and subjective turn but that had been frequently dismissed: the
3 Ibidem, p. 4.4 BELLOUR, R. Le corps du cinma: hypnoses, motions, animalits, P.O.L. Paris : 2009. pp. 42-43
Among other kinds of dispositives explained by Bellour (fantasmagoria, kinetoscope, panorama, kaiserpanorama, praxinoscope, zootrope, etc.)
5 As we perceive it from Godard when he talks about filming with two joined cameras two different aspects or when he suggests that cinemas should project two films in the same movie theater room.GODARD, J.L.Pensar entre imgenes (Thinking between images), Ed: Nria Aidelman and Gonzalo de Lucas. Intermedio, Barcelona : 2010
2. Stereoscopy: a primitive form of spatial montage.
Let us take the case of the stereoscopy to speculate about possible relations with dierent
contemporary interface eects and see which are the connections that can be stablished with its
proliferation in recent technologies (from 3D cinema to the wearable devices, touch screens or
virtual reality modules).
Helmholtz could write, in the 1850s:
These stereoscopic photographs are so true to nature and so lifelike in their portrayal of
material things, that after viewing such a picture and recognizing in it some object like a
house, for instance, we get the impression, when we actually do see the object, that we have
already seen it before and are more or less familiar with it. In cases of this kind, the actual
view of the thing itself does not add anything new or more accurate to the previous
apperception we got from the picture, so far at least as mere form relations are concerned.6
The stereoscopic apparatuses, such as the Wheatstone stereoscope, function the same way as we
perceive. They recreate the dierences, the divergences, between the two images that the eyes receive
one each. The technique is based on keeping a specic idiosyncrasy for each image in order to,
through this disjunction, allow some sort of spatial montage in our brain. This is how the two images
generate a virtual tridimensional space resembling the one we perceive through our binocular vision.
6 CRARY, J. Techniques of the Observer. October, vol. 45 (Summer 1988), p. 28. quoting: Hermann von Helmholtz, Handbook of Physiological Optics, vol. 3, trans. George T. Ladd, New York, Dover, 1962, p. 303.
According to the rst witnessed reaction we can infer a change in the way the object is perceived.
The object no longer appears in a at surface but in a surface that has depth, a virtual profundity that
we imagine due to the disjunction between the two images. Moreover, it is a depth that resembles the
one of the original referent, of the thing itself, of a supposed real house. The house that we
know that it's there without having to touch it.
Thus, we could say that there was a sense shift and that vision acquired qualities that were previously
attributed to touch. It seemed that through stereoscopy one could fully perceive the object in space,
its tridimensional shape, its location, etc. Stereoscopy seemed to be more like a haptic7 technology,
one that stands up for an expanded way of seeing and that could eventually replace touch.
But observing the description of the rst reactions after nding the real object it is dicult not to
infer a certain feeling of disappointment: It does not add anything new, we are more or less familiar
with it, so there is no surprise at all. There is rather a dj vu. Having already experienced the thing
we don't need to conrm its real presence anymore, the haptic device does it for us.
A similar feeling of disappointment lead, in 2011, to the development of the 2D glasses by the
vlogger Hank Green. The 2D glasses were created to avoid the headache, nausea and disorientation
produced by 3D movies in more than 55% of the audience8. The glasses simply cancelled the 3D
7 As it is described by Alois Riegl and later by Gilles Deleuzes.8 Statitistics from Plos One, quoted from 3D Film Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
16 June 2014.
eect. There are several reasons why these physical symptoms happen, but usually is due to an
unnatural way of seeing: crosstalk between the eyes, caused by imperfect image separation, and the
mismatch between convergence and accommodation, caused by the dierence between an object's
perceived position in front of or behind the screen and the real origin of that light on the screen.9
Paradoxically, the same eect that produces these symptoms could produce a certain sensation of hyper-
reality, hyper-denition, leading to that disappointment when encountering the real objects. In a
stereoscopic projection all the light that the objects
reect is coming from the same source, the screen
ultimately the beamer. That creates an over-
illuminated space, more vivid and intense.
As we mentioned before, frequently stereoscopy
is historically dismissed, and there are dierent
possible reasons why this could happen the
same reasons could probably explain the recent
proliferation of technologies that derive from it. Crary refers to the extent of pornography imagery
that was produced with stereoscopy, probably due to its tactile qualities. Therefore, and due to its
particularities its haptic properties, it became an improper and indecent technology. This
tactility could be one of its virtues nowadays, shortcutting relations between the body and the
interface whereas at that time it contributed to a progressive loss of stereoscopy.
The other main reason why the stereoscopic image didn't go further besides the twists and turns of
the 3D cinema industry after its golden era in the 1950's is because it always required a prosthesis, a
physical device through which it could be possible to see. There were dierent attempts along the XIX
and XX century until nowadays (the anaglyph glasses, the Teleview, the polarized glasses, the LCD
shutter glasses, google cardboard10, etc.) but all of them required a certain performativity in the act of
viewing. Nonetheless, stereoscopy still required the mental image formed in each person's brain. An
image that is the relationship of me myself looking at it and dreaming of a relation with something else,
thinking an association11. We could say that the abolishment of the point of view came with the
necessity of a specic position of the body, a position in space and a position towards the machine.
URL: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.00561609 Ibdem.10 Interesting recent open source module for VR. Date: June 2014.URL: https://developers.google.com/cardboard/11 As Godard explains the notion of montage.
3. A philosophical grid.
J: Sit there. Relax and talk; tell me.
Y: Somehow, I have the feeling that the rocks were... I was much more closer to the water.
J: Exactly. Where Mandie is now.
J: Mandie is splashing in the water, almost reaching a rock and replacing you.
Y: Great! great Mandie!
J: Well, Mandie is taking your place now, she is splashing into the water and getting close to a sloping
I: Like this? That looks a little bit like this?
J: It is... Look, give me your hand... your palm. It is like this. The widest part is... This part of the wide
J: That is the part facing the water.
Y: Then quite possibly is that rock.
This is an excerpt of a dialogue from the last movie by the lmmaker Joaquim Jord (Ms enll del
mirall Beyond the mirror, 2006). The lm was shot when he was suering from dierent
neurological and perceptive disorders due to a tumour. In it he explores dierent cases of visual
alexia and agnosia both diseases
aecting perception in dierent ways.
Along the movie, the position of the
viewer is always suspicious: we are
watching through the eyes of the one who
is unwell, who is also directing the
movie. The characters employ dierent strategies in order to deal with their twisted perception.
Thus, the viewer also experiences a dierent relation towards the depicted places, objects and
persons. The impossibility to access a common reality through senses becomes a habit for the
characters, but also for the viewer. Their recognition and apprehension of the world is constantly
happening by other means. Characters and viewer experience the sensible as something that could
be injected into things like some sort of perpetual hallucination12: Is there really a world out there?
can we perceive through our senses?
Or, to use an old philosophical paradox: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does
it make a sound? How can we apprehend the world outside us, outside human correlation.
Interestingly enough, some of the latest debates around this subject seem to come back to the
technologies we've been exploring along this text:
The contemporary philosopher is confronted by two competing images of man in the world:
on the one hand, the manifest image of man as he has conceived of himself up until now with
the aid of philosophical reection; on the other, the relatively recent but continually
expanding scientic image of man as a complex physical system (Sellars 1963a: 25) one
which is conspicuously unlike the manifest image, but which can be distilled from various
scientic discourses, including physics, neurophysiology, evolutionary biology, and, more
recently, cognitive science. 
 the genuine philosophical task, according to Sellars, would consist in achieving a
properly stereoscopic integration of the manifest and scientic images, such that the language
of rational intention would come to enrich scientic theory so as to allow the latter to be
directly wedded to human purposes.13
Why is it that such a media, stereoscopy, is used to construct this diagnosis of philosophy? Is it
simply an analogy, a schema to organise a theory on epistemological systems? What is the relation
between this theory and its terminology?
Let us suppose that there is no randomness in such decision; that, indeed, there is a clear reason to
use stereoscopy as the ultimate way to reconcile the parts of an old debate one that confronts
subjective idealism with scientic materialism. The rst question that is raised would be about the
12 Here Locke ressonates in Meillassoux when the latter writes: Yet one cannot maintain that the sensible is injected by me into things like some sort of perpetual and arbitrary hallucination. For there is indeed a constant link between real things and their sensations: if there were no thing capable of giving rise to the sensation of redness, there would be no perception of a red thing; if there were no real fire, there would be no sensation of burning. But it makes no sense to say that the redness or the heat can exist as qualities just as well without me as with me: without the perception of redness, there is no red thing; without the sensation of heat, there is no heat. Whether it be affective or perceptual, the sensible only exists as a relation: a relation between the world and the living creature I am.MEILLASSOUX, Q. After Finitude: An essay on the necessity of contingency. Bloomsbury academic, 2009. p.
13 BRASSIER, R. Nihil Unbound. Enlightement and extinction. Palgrave macmillan. 2007. p.3, 6.
choice of a technology that is supposed to embody a new vision of philosophy. Why is it, then, that
we are talking about stereoscopy and not, for instance, about binocular human vision? Why is it that
we are alluding to a technology, a machinery that is actually reproducing the logics of a sense? Is
there an intention in revealing in making explicit the media?
Sellars talks about two images,
one constructed through our
subjective experience of the
world, the other one constructed
through science. There are two
images that need to be joined
together in order to get the
proper view, one that implies
depth and space and in which
the subject becomes ful ly
embedded. At this point it seems that the manifest image is already devouring the scientic image. It
seems that the latter has been bastardized by the former, although still the intention is to wed them.
If the fundamental functioning of stereoscopy is based on disjunction on divergence then
bringing together this two images implies constructing from that dierence. To achieve the
stereoscopic integration would mean to build a view out of the asymmetry and idiosyncrasy of each
image. That building through disjunction is probably the reason why such a technology is used to
schematise Sellar's thought.
Going back to the question: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a
sound? We could now unfold a stereoscopic answer:
1. Yes, sound is a vibration propagated through a medium.
2. No, sound is the reception of any vibration propagated through a medium.
And yet, not answer the question but rather avoid its original purpose which seems to be of an
ontological nature. Maybe we can only postpone the answer raising another question: If a tree felt in
a forest 13'5 billion years ago before human existence would have made a sound?14
14 That leads us to the notion of Ancestrality and Diachronicity coined by Meillassoux in After Finitude.
4. Strabismic Avatars
In 2009 the biggest platform for video broadcasting in the Internet launches a new feature which
allows the users to view and upload stereoscopic content. It was not surprising that such a feature
was incorporated in Youtube, actually it was a logical development coinciding with the proliferation
of 3D in the market (beamers, screens, players, etc.) taking advantage of James Cameron's Avatar
Regarding avatar, it is interesting to observe how a lm could allow the industry to move one
step forward in acquiring new tools for screening, in a big investment for new equipments.
How to make a movie that would have
the commercial power to interfere in
the industry and oblige a change in
the consumption of cinema? How
would that change aect the industry
in a bigger scale? Until which extend
does the strategy rely upon certain
qualities of the movie its scenario,
its thematics, etc.? The case of Avatar raises a lot of interesting questions regarding the
mise en scne of the stereoscopic image. Stereoscopy seemed to provide the necessary staging
for the digital image; no longer depending on its originality, being shared through copies
along the Internet, digital cinema like music, software industry, etc. required an
encouragement to claim the public attendance. Nevertheless, it is not the intention of this
essay to focus on the economic impact of stereoscopy, although it could be a good case of
study for further researches.
Going back to Youtube, in this case it seems that the company took a rather dierent strategy. For
Youtube, a platform that creates such a complex relationship between the private and the public
sphere, the rst obstacle was, again, the issue of the prosthesis we mentioned before, of the device
required to perform the stereoscopic view. How could it be possible to spread out a feature that
required hardware? Taking in consideration all the dierent possibilities, the platform decided which
would be the better way to broadcast 3D content around the world; the most comfortable and
ecient way, the way that better followed the logics of all the improvements until the date, a way that
could even avoid the prosthetic-dispositive: the eye-crossing. That literally implied that the viewer
would have to cross her or his eyes in order to overlap the two images and be able to watch the
stereoscopic video. The spatial montage, again, as a mental montage. So from then on, there is an
Internet user crossing his eyes, watching videos somewhere in Youtube.15
The body adopts a gesture that allows the viewer to perceive the 3D image. If a digital image, to be
seen, should not be merely exhibited but staged, performed16 as Groys suggests, then the eye-crossed
feature is the ultimate way to adjust the body in order to stage this image. But it is an intimate
staging, one that happens in the private dimension of the Internet, in a room in front of the screen.
The interface is embedded in the subject as a gesture, as a strabismic tic. The software is utilizing the
body as hardware. If in the rst cases of the 1850's we could see a certain disappointment a
deception when the viewer step out of the virtual level to look into the real one, in this case the
disappointment would also require a full readjustment of the body. The case of eye-crossing is just a
case of analysis but it illustrates the agency of the digital image towards the body, both progressively
being unbound into a shared space.
The idea is -- every driver is matched to his own avatar -- STEREOCAM VIDEO SHOT OF JAKE -- facing the camera, talking directly to the lens. JAKE'S VOICE-OVER up until now has been part of this VIDEOLOG. JAKE -- so their nervous systems are in tune. Or something. Which is why they offered me this gig, because I can link with Tommy's avatar, which was insanely expensive. (looking off camera)
15 Afterwards the company incorpored a number of other features such as anaglyph or polarized stereoscopy views.16 GROYS, B. From Image to image file and back: Art in the age of digitalization. Art Power, 2008.
I. Multi screen display set-up for PC.
II. Diagram of the Wheatstone Stereoscope, 1840. From CRARY, J. Techniques of the Observer.
October, vol. 45 (Summer 1988), p. 30.
III. Anonymous stereoscopic photographs from personal collection of the author. Date: between
Note: Notice that along the years and despite the eort on preserving equally both images, the right
image presents some spots which make visible the dierences of each image. In the stereoscopic view
of the photograph, the spot breaks the eect of depth.
IV. Occulus Rift Virtual Reality user. URL: http://www.oculusvr.com/
V. Still from Joaquim Jord's Ms enll del mirall Beyond the mirror, 2006.
VI. Image of the virtual engine developed by l'ICMIT. This application allows to build a 3D model
out of two images through algorithms.
VII. Still from James Cameron's Avatar.