Here in New York, Coney Island recently held its Congress of Curious Peoples – possibly the most delightfully esoteric and fascinating week of entertainment I’ve ever seen lined up. Among other topics (sideshows!), it was a thrill to learn about “Les Diableries” and stereoscopic photography.
To be honest, I’m likely just going to be paraphrasing this wonderful article at thatsanegative.com, which talks about how a Parisian optician introduced the viewer, a device that renders specially modified photographs in 3D in 1850, and how the most wonderful body of work that resulted is a series of 72 creepy and ornate images with scenes of ghouls and demons and skeletons and Satan – sometimes in sepia, sometimes in saturated blobs of colors only possible back then. Generally speaking, it’s also interesting to remember how dark people were during the Victorian period (gothy goths), and the public’s general fascination with the macabre (no hot topic).
“Les Diableries” were published in 1861 under Napoleon III’s rule, their dark images of satanic worship and torture exposing their creator to the risk of imprisonment… AND WORSE.
While the artist behind these wonderful images remains technically anonymous, a number of the sculptures present in the photographs are signed, leading us to believe that Pierre Adolphe Hennetier created the pieces. A satire on “Napoleon the Small” and his empire, it is not particularly surprising that the person behind these politically charged pieces would have rather remained unknown – at this point in the 19th century, some socialist ideologies are beginning to gain exposure and momentum, but their criticisms are not being met favorably by the Second Empire (apparently Karl Marx even mocked Napoleon III).
But as always, disdain resulted in brilliance. These images are so fantastic, and the more I look into them the more delightful they become. The political lens and historical relevance are fascinating, sure, but the antiquarian aesthetic and creepy content are what continue to feed my new appreciation.