Michael Lesy: Looking Backward

New exhibition to open at the UCR ARTSblock

San Francisco Earthquake, 1906, Keystone-Mast Collection UCR, California Museum of Photography

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) – The California Museum of Photography (CMP) at the University of California, Riverside ARTSblock presents “Michael Lesy: Looking Backward,” a new exhibition of stereographic photographs and technology that presents a portrait of the world at the beginning of the 20th century. The exhibition opens March 11 and continues through July 15.

“We are drawing on an enormous, rarely seen collection of some 300,000 stereographic views from the museum’s collection, spanning the first decade of the 20th century,” said Leigh Gleason, the curator of collections at the CMP. “Lesy has selected nearly 250 images for a book that has inspired the exhibition.”

Stereoscopic photographs are images that appear three-dimensional when seen through a special viewer called a stereoscope. At the dawn of the 20th century, Gleason said millions of Americans, especially schoolchildren, absorbed ideas about race, class, and gender from such three-dimensional images, the embodiment of the notion that “seeing is believing.”

The imagery in the stereographs in the exhibition comes from all over the world – the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Egypt, India, China, and Japan. Gleason said the images depict a cross-section of people and cultures.

“In the images, we see stark class divisions and unsettling glimpses of daily life a century ago. Yet, somehow it feels fresh too, as if they were warnings of a future that is now the present. This sense of time travel through photography is enhanced by the stereographs that were a progenitor to current virtual reality technology, such as today’s, consumer virtual reality goggles,” Gleason said.

Lesy is a professor of literary journalism at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. He received his B.A. in theoretical sociology from Columbia University, an M.A. in American social history from the University of Wisconsin, and a Ph.D. in American cultural history from Rutgers University.

The exhibition is drawn from Lesy’s 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, which he spent researching in the CMP’s Keystone-Mast Collection, the largest surviving archive of stereoscopic photographs. This exhibition is presented in tandem with the release of Lesy’s book, “Looking Backward: Images of the World at the Beginning of the 20th Century,” published by W.W. Norton in conjunction with the CMP.

Photographs that will be present in the exhibition utilize various stereoscopic devices. These viewing methods include stereoscopes like one might have found in a Victorian parlor, including several historic devices drawn from CMP’s extensive photographic technology collections; 3-D projection, like one might encounter in a 3-D movie today, and the View-Master, a stereoscopic viewer ubiquitous in the second half of the 20th century.

Lesy will present a lecture at the UCR ARTSblock on Saturday, March 11, at 4:30 p.m. The event will be followed by a book signing at 5:30 p.m., and a reception, 6-8 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. His book, “Looking Backward,” will be sold exclusively at UCR ARTSblock until its official release in bookstores worldwide in mid-April. The exhibition will be available from Saturday, March 11 to Saturday, July 15.

Visitor Information and Press Inquiries

UCR ARTSblock is located at 3824 and 3834 Main St., Riverside, Calif., and includes three venues: California Museum of Photography, Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts, and the Jack and Marilyn Sweeney Art Gallery, which are open Tuesday through Saturday, Noon to 5 p.m., and  6-9 p.m. for First Thursday ArtWalks. Admission is $3, which includes entry to all three venues, and is free during First Thursday ArtWalks. For film screenings, the Culver Center opens 30 minutes prior to the start time. www.artsblock.ucr.edu.

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