I enter a gracious courtyard that has seen better days, and move out of a wind powerful enough to knock me sideways. I’m visiting Fotoplastikon, a museum that shows old photos in 3D. This miracle happens through the power of stereoscope.
I sit, tilting my stool forward so I am close to one of the eyepieces mounted in panelling, as fifty photos from the early 20th century jolt gently across the screen. My familiarity with Warsaw makes this riveting viewing as I recognise places I know well, and places that disappeared long before my first visit here. I’m actually looking at two images, and my brain combines them to give me an image with startling depth. I see markets with stalls piled with hats like my grandfather wore; crowds in Krakowskie Przedmiescie celebrating Corpus Christi; snowy prospects in the Saxon Gardens and the colonnades of the palace there that no longer exists; avenues, palace and waterways at Wilanów; a family lounging on the sand of a Wisła beach; a bridge destroyed in WW 1. Some of the photos are faded sepia, some brightly coloured. I watch twice, viewing a vanished Warsaw with vanished people and vanished fashion. The market no longer exists: neither does the clock tower of the Warsaw – Vienna railway, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, nor the domination of the Romanov empire of which Warsaw was a provincial outpost.
I’m viewing all this through technology that was a favourite piece of furniture in every bourgeois drawing room in the late nineteenth century, much as a television is today.