I click the lever on my view-master and a 3-D image lights up in front of me. It’s a picture of tiny vehicles covered in fake moss, and the narration on an accompanying CD begins intoning a fictional story.
This artistic experiment uses a retro toy from my childhood – the classic toy binocular View-Master – and customizes its circular picture cards with images of dioramas or action figures or 1-inch dolls. These are paired with narration or a soundtrack on a CD, giving these refurbished View-Masters an impressively tech’d-out makeover.
Inventive artists are reclaiming obsolete gadgets from our not-too-distant past. The artist reintroducing View-Masters goes by the name Vladimir, and she has participated in indie film festivals where hundreds of participants use the devices and hear her soundtrack at the same time.
Imagine all those people simultaneously clicking their View-Masters, revelling in the low-?tech storytelling and refreshing imagery, and you get an idea of what Vladimir wants to do.
Working in Portland, Oregon, as a projectionist, Vladimir came up with her View-Master idea as a way to chop a short film into separate frames.
There’s a unique intimacy to the Vladmaster experience, as Vladimir calls her invention, or rather, reinvention. The stories or music are simple and direct, reminiscent of bedtime stories paired with illustrations. They aren’t always her own; she also adapts work by Calvino and Kafka.
“The two important things about the View-Master are that it creates stories that people hold in their hands and that it’s a lovely method of storytelling that falls between storybook and film,” she tells NOW on the phone. “I’ve sometimes said that it’s like film running at 2.8 frames per minute rather than 24 frames per second.”
Here’s another obsolete technology making a resurgence. In New York last March, three photographers were allowed two hours to snap 150 Polaroid photos of 300 people dressed as grandmothers. They were then asked to arrange the pictures in a mosaic or grid to tell a story. Polaroids, which will be discontinued by the end of this year, became the star of the day as photographers ignored their digicams in favour of an instant device that was once the tech du jour.
What did photographer Jonathan Harris get from the event? “Instant gratification. The inability to undo,” he told NOW. “It was a single moment snatched from time, allowing no touch-?ups, no do-?overs.”
Then there’s Andrew Macrae, an old-school artist who creates text art on acid-?free paper using 1960s-?era typewriters.
No PhotoShop for this guy.
He prefers to play with coloured ribbons to style realistic portraits of, say, Colonel Sanders or a cat or a typewriter. Macrae’s blog (acidheadwar.blogspot.com) displays work that blends the unadorned gibberish of type into unique shapes and personas.
Like Vladimir and Harris, Macrae isn’t content to take advantage of the latest gadgetry to create CGI-like art. Opting for retro devices counters the 21st-century artistic philosophy that says the latest is the greatest.
These artists want to turn back time and complement today’s cultural conversation with a booster shot of nostalgia.