February's Salon: LISA in 3D

“After we don the curious spectacles… we sail away into one strange scene after another, like disembodied spirits”. –Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph”

Josh Spodek

After completing his PhD in astrophysics, Josh Spodek found himself chatting with some friends who were hoping to start a new company. Short of ideas, they invited him to brainstorm with them, and over a round of beers, the idea for Submedia was hatched.

During college, Spodek had been fascinated by the zoetrope, a nineteenth-century invention that created moving images from a rotating strip of pictures and a series of slits. He made an interesting discovery: the slits through which the images are viewed are necessary to the zoetrope’s function, but the traditional drum shape is not. After a long period of R&D, Spodek successfully re-engineered the zoetrope so it worked as a flat strip. Rather than rotating a drum, a viewer provides the motion that animates the imagery by moving.

With his partners in Submedia, Spodek installed a number of these linear zoetropes in subway tunnels. New Yorkers may be familiar with the piece in the 14th St/6th Ave PATH station tunnel. (More can be seen here.) Spodek has also shown his work in galleries and museums, and installed pieces in the Union Square subway station. A dream project would be a zoetrope running the length of the Guggenheim staircase – perhaps one day…


Claudia Kunin recounted how a health crisis in her 50s prompted her to leave behind a career in commercial photography and pursue art-making full-time. Through her photography and digital imaging, she strives to recreate the psychic state of childhood. She recalled that “between the ages of 3 and 5, the slippage between my conscious and unconscious mind was uninhibited.”

“Although I have taken 1000s and 1000s of photographs, I have only photographed real ghosts three or four times,” she enigmatically told us. Re-enactors were more reliable, so she spent many months traveling across the United States, photographing living history museums and war re-enactmentors. In 3D Ghost Stories, she used Photoshop to recreate these images in stereoscopic 3d, as if they had been shot with a stereo camera.

Kunin retained a massive library of imagery from her commercial career, and used this imagery as a backdrop for her next series. Like an eighteenth-century painter, she used her library as a backdrop, and brought models into her studio to recreate Greek myths in the foreground. But a harsh critique with a curator was another turning point, so she chose to “plumb the depths of what I already had” and turn to her archive of family photographs. After her father’s death in 2007 she inherited the family’s collection of stereo photographs, and she reshaped them to become 3d Family Ghost Stories.

Lastly, she shared some clips of her “latest passion”, animating her images. In ‘Curious’, a little girl (Kunin herself, as a child) watches as Masonic and other arcane symbols float through the air. ‘Thaumaturg’ shows a strange vessel moves slowly and majestically through space. Appropriately, the title means “a vessel for creating magic.”

We kept our 3D glasses on to see Gerald Marks’  presentation. Marks kindly hosted the salon for the evening, and he shared highlights from a long career working with stereoscopic imagery. Marks may be best known for his 3D film of the Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels tour. Another of his projects, a “quasi-lenticular 3d image”, can be seen in the 28th St 6 station. He has installed work at the New York Hall of Science, the Public Theater, and Cooper Union, to name a few, but for this evening he focused on Dead Horse Bay, a project funded by the iLAND foundation and created with choreographer Sarah White and architect Angel Ayón. Working at the intersection of dance, imaging and the site’s history, the team created a series of events scheduled during the season’s full moons. Marks used the project as a lens to focus on his collection of stunning historical 3d imagery, including photographs from the 1909-1914 Belgian Congo expedition, close-up imagery of barnacles and coral, nineteenth-century glass and a convex image of the moon which through a neat trick became concave when we reversed our glasses.

He also shared his collection of personal 3d photographs: birds, splashes of water, an exuberant dog and the Central Park bubble man all take on a new dimension when viewed through his 3d camera.

Mark Kessel, Unmet Friend No. 1561, Serial No. 1561, 2006

Mark Kessel, Unmet Friend No. 1561, Serial No. 1561, 2006

Mark Kessel presented last. A former MD, he continues to investigate life, death and the nature of humanity in his photographic work. He shared images from a series of daguerrotypes that has proved too controversial to exhibit: Perfect Specimens, which pairs images of fetal specimens with photographs of people in the moments before their deaths. He then described his latest installation, Specimen Box, which opens at Kim Foster Gallery on 3/2. The gallery will be filled with prints of thousands of preserved animals, hung salon-style in a proliferation recalling scientific taxonomy. But the twist is that the human audience is also on display. The human viewers will be filmed while viewing the exhibition, and their images projected outside. “You become the specimen”, Kessel said.

Kessell rejects anthropocentrism, seeing little  distinction between “us and them”. “We think we’re somehow special”, he continued. “Yes, we have certain skills, but we can’t fly backwards or eat insects with projectile tongues”. The last body of work he presented, “Unmet Friends”, focused on the facial expressions of animals. The quizzical expression on the face of a chimpanzee or the wide-eyed look of an owl appear no more or less readable than the faces of our fellow commuters on the subway. “Is it possible to understand another person? Or ourselves?” writes Kessel. “My art offers no conclusions…”