My old friend ‘le Diable D’Argent‘, the Money Devil, has cropped up again, this time in a series of French stereoscopic plates from the 1860s. They are part of a collection held in London by the London Stereoscopic Company, an organization that itself dates from the 1850s at the height of a craze for these images. Paired photographic images would be seen through a special viewer, producing a convincing (and quite eerie) 3D effect, sometimes coloured and backlit too. Who needs 3D TV?
The range of subject matter for these images was huge – as the LSC’s collection reveals. But there were certain subjects that recurred and were produced in many different sets. One of these, produced exclusively in France, was the ‘Diableries‘, long series of images of an inverted world populated by devils, demons and skeletons. In the seven series held by the LSC, the Devil and his minions are depicted doing ordinary human things in a diabolical way (astronomy, cooking, dancing, getting married, being ill, hunting, etc.) and as emblems of aspects of human folly (charlatanism, evil, greed, etc.). Perhaps surprisingly given his prevalence elsewhere in French popular culture, le Diable d’Argent only seems to appear in one of these images – Image 3 in the ‘B-Series: Baroque‘. Unfortunately this is not one of the images the LSC has (yet) made clickable, so it is hard to make out the precise nature of the scene, but from squinting at the thumbnail, it seems closer to the slightly daft theatrical version of the Diable d’Argent from the 1890s, than the earlier print versions. Although the Money Devil seems to have lost some of his particular resonance by the time these images were produced, the devil himself, in all his inverted, xenotopic glory was clearly having something of a moment.
I am hoping to find out more soon because the Diableries are the subject of a newly published book co-authored by Denis Pellerin, Brian May (yes, that one) and Paula Fleming, which is being launched at an event at the Royal Photographic Society on November 1st 2013. Apparently the book comes with special stereoscopic viewers designed by May himself. How very exciting.