Although stereoscopic views--the first 3D images--were invented by English physicist Charles Wheatstone, they didn't catch on until their debut in Paris in the 1850s. The City of Light has been an inspiration ever since to amateur and professional photographers with a taste for hyperrealism. Paris in 3D
, which comes with a pair of red-and-green plastic lenses and a cardboard viewer, offers a grab bag of Parisian subjects from the past 150 years, ready to snap into eye-popping focus. This is a fantastic variety show, with everything from aerial perspectives, architectural monuments, and eye-witness views of famous historical events to advertising imagery, vintage nudes, and contemporary art projects.
The authors discuss technical aspects of the various 3D processes in enthusiastic detail. You're probably familiar with holography, but how about anaglyphs, line screen and lenticular systems, photo-sculpture and auto-stereograms? In recent years, computer-generated 3D imagery helped design the new Météor line on the Métro and made possible a Web site allowing subscribers to create figures who roam specific Parisian districts. But technology is just part of the story. The text also surveys public attitudes (largely disapproving in the early days, when pornography was rampant) and muses over the continuing allure of this form of trick photography.
Even if philosophical discussions and explanations of how things work make your eyes glaze over, the photographs themselves are, as the Michelin Guides say, "worth the trip." From glimpses of the Paris Commune barricades of 1871 to an advertisement for a massage school for the blind, this is a hugely inclusive portrait of Paris, at once lofty and banal, cultured and crass, steeped in history and living for the moment. --Cathy Curtis