Forget about electricity, running water, modern sanitation and food preservation; what did people do before GIFs? Well, it turns out that some were busy entertaining themselves with stereoscopes, instruments that allowed people to view 3D images from two slightly different photographs superimposed on top of one another. The New York Public Library has a collection of more than 40,000 of these images, but it took an accidental discovery by NYPL patron Joshua Heineman to find that these stereographs could be made into a modern, internet-friendly form of entertainment—ah yes, the GIF.
Heineman discovered the 19th century GIF in his final year of college. He writes for the Huffington Post, “I was downloading digital snapshots to my laptop when I got a fleeting sense of 3D as the preview screen flicked quickly between two similar shots. I located the individual photos and flipped back and forth between them continually.” He then decided to try and apply the effect to the NYPL’s stereograph collection, which culminated in an art project for Heineman’s blog. The New York Public Library then enthusiastically picked up the idea, and with Heineman created something called the stereogranimator, a stereograph GIF-maker.
Now, you can make your own 19th century GIF using the stereogranimator. Just head over to the NYPL stereogranimator site to choose from the library’s image pairs, adjust them, and voilà, you’ve got something that, with captions, could end up more satisfying than a Married to the Sea comic. Meme-makers, this is your moment.
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