A quarter-century ago, holography threatened to become the next big thing in image-making: the cutting-edge medium that at last could give us a photographically credible illusion of three-dimensionality. Holograms, made under carefully controlled studio conditions by bouncing laser light off objects and displayed by a reversal of that process, emanated their images in an almost magical way. Things appeared to hover somewhere just out of reach, seemingly so real that you could walk around them.
They weren’t exactly like most other kinds of photographs (no lenses involved, for one thing), yet photographs-perhaps especially the one-of-a-kind images on sensitized metal plates named after Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre-were their most obvious analogs and precedents. In any case, they were utterly marvelous. And this medium seemed to be the logical culmination of a powerful impulse to capture the world in all its dimensions.
Stereoscopic vision has interested both artists and scientists since the Renaissance, and detailed realistic representation traces back at least to the trompe-l’oeil paintings of the 16th century. With the advent of photography, 3-D imaging took a leap forward. The hand-held or table-model stereoscope and photographic stereo cards of the late 1800s remained commonplace household edutainment items through the early decades of this century. Subsequent inventions, periodically introduced, have kept such lens-based 3-D images before us recurrently as tantalizing options-the 3-D movies and comic books of the post-World War II era, the Nimslo camera of the 1980s, even the Viewmaster with its little discs of paired images.
Yet none of these technologies ever became more than a fad or toy.Why? Photography, after all, has evolved consistently to encode an ever greater amount of information -and dimensionality is information of a crucial kind. But versatility, technical and economic accessibility, and reproducibility have been necessary
accompaniments to each evolutionary step, and no photographic 3-D imaging system has ever combined all those qualities. Whichever lens-derived 3-D system possesses all those desirable qualities has a fair chance of catching on.And, if it does, just as color supplanted black and white, and print on paper supplanted the daguerreotype, eventually 3-D imaging will supplant 2-D imaging.