Added on 16-Oct-2009
Brian May, Queen's lead guitarist, has published another book that will confound his rock fans: a collection of quaint 'Magic Eye' Victorian photographs.
Three years ago May surprised many by coauthoring a book on astrophysics with Sir Patrick Moore, called Bang! The Complete History of Universe.
Now May, who penned 22 Queen hits including Fat Bottomed Girls and Who Wants to Live Forever?, has turned his polymath's gaze on another unlikely subject – mid 19th century stereoscopic photography.
Interiors: White magic
He and Elena Vidal, a photo-historian, have published a book of pairs of images, each taken from a slightly different angle, that a Victorian pioneer took of vanishing rural life in the 1850s.
When viewed correctly, the photographs appear to merge into a single three-dimensional image, in much the same way as a hidden image is revealed by staring at a 'Magic Eye' poster.
A Village Lost and Found documents May and Vidal's decade-long crusade to track down scores of dual-image cards produced by one mystery Victorian photographer – who enigmatically stamped his cards 'TRW' – and find the unnamed village in the pictures.
While that might appear an idiosyncratic pastime for rock star Brian May CBE, he revealed in the preface to the book that he had been "fascinated" by 3D illusions since childhood.
Such an interests should perhaps not be too surprising, as May studied physics at Imperial College London, obtaining a 2:1, before co-founding Queen with Freddie Mercury, John Deacon and Roger Taylor in 1970.
His interest in stereoscopy was piqued as a 12-year-old by a 3D cards given away in Weetabix packets, and as a student May would visit Christie's South Kensington showroom to examine old cameras and photographs.
Only when his musical career took off could he afford to buy anything,quickly becoming an avid collector, particularly of the work of 'TRW'.
He wrote of 'TRW', whom he later identified as one Thomas Richard Williams: "I felt drawn to Williams as an artist, perceiving an uncanny parallel between his world, balanced on that fine line between 'art for art's sake' and art for the audience, and my own world, in rock music."
Such comparisons may seem odd, but May said of his "bug" for stereoscopy: "I get as big a kick out of this as I do from music."
He quickly became "hooked" on buying Williams' work, even inviting fellow collectors to Queen concerts to secure deals.
While stereoscopy was a brief craze in the mid 19th century, it quickly faded, leaving TRW's work languishing in attics and trunks for some 150 years.
Part of the fun, May said, was the detective work involved.
One major riddle was that Williams gave no clue as to where he had taken the pictures.
May didn't even know if they were taken in one place or across the country.
Searching in vain, he finally decided to put up one picture of a church on the internet, and offer a set of Queen CDs to those who could identify it.
"Within 36 hours I had six answers, all the same," he said.
"I couldn't contain myself. I jumped in my car and drove there and – wow! There it was."
May's mystery church was in fact St Margaret of Antioch in Hinton Waldrist, a village just off the A420 between Oxford and Swindon. o
Engaging the help of John Moland, the church warden, and a local historian, May set about identifying all the scenes in Williams' pictures and photographing how they look today.
The end result is a weighty 239 page book, that will be published on October 22.
In the measured language of a social historian, rather than a rock star, May explained why he admired his Victorian hero.
"It seems that he had a clear vision – that of painting a lasting picture of the idyll which he regarded as precious, and communicating it to his audience."
He remarked of Williams' vision: "It's amazing that he should be thinking of this in the 1850s – the last spinning-wheel in the village, the ploughing with horses.
"He is very aware that a whole way of life is about to be lost."