Developed in the early nineteenth century, the stereoscope was a mesmerizing innovation that captivated the hearts and minds of early Victorians. At first glance, its accompanying photographic component—a stereo card—appears as a set of duplicates. In reality, it is the same scene depicted from slightly different angles. When placed in the holder of a stereoscope and peered at through its spectacle-like viewfinder, the image springs out at the viewer—a surprise three-dimensional event. While stereoscopes and stereo cards can still be found today in antique shops, signaling a technology of the past, their magic still summons an eager audience, prompting yelps of surprise, the old materials feeling miraculously ahead of their time.
As an artist interested in the history of the photographic medium, Ian Jackson was reminded of stereo cards while working with a set of stills from a video he made in northern France. He was working with a cheap camera and found the way its poor resolution mixed with the area’s morning light intriguing. After playing with certain stills in various sequences side by side, he eventually found himself looking at two nearly identical images. “I set them adjacent to each other to reinforce the filmic nature of the sequence,” he explains. “At this point, I was just interested in the disjunction of time and space. I also like the quality of the non-image. It reminded me of the paintings of Luc Tuymans, whose work I admire.” Sitting with this set of poetically banal photos in front of him, Jackson was reminded of the magic of stereoscopy.
This realization sparked the photographer’s exploration of what became the aptly titled In Parallel. “I played with the idea of a stereoscopic image that had small degrees of difference—changing the tint of one image, for example—leaving the viewer to imagine a world created by a disparate pair. A few months after working with the video stills, I found myself working with another image, this time an original photograph. For this pairing, the difference between the images was quite extreme—a serious transformation. I then realized that two images, while having the appearance of a stereoscopic pair, could actually evoke ideas of a parallel event.”
This retrospective meditation, as well as the idea that two parallel moments in time not only coexist, but might be represented photographically, stands in stark contrast to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment.” When prompted by this comparison, Jackson interprets the decisive moment as tongue-in-cheek: “In Cartier-Bresson’s work, a layer of surrealism suggests the simultaneity of many times and places, coalesced or held in suspension in one image.” And there’s a surreal feeling in Jackson’s work, too. The banality of accidents and forgotten images are given center stage, beckoning the viewer to give these hiccups a second chance.
While Jackson asserts that theoretical texts play an important role in his work, he also uses text and drawing so as not to silo the photographic process. “The thing that gives coherence to the diversity in my practice is its basis on certain conceptual ideas, which have influenced In Parallel—the idea of the fluidity of perception is fundamental to this work. The idea that reality could in fact be a non-linear process has also been important when thinking about the events that make up this series.”
Chance and fluidity courses throughout Jackson’s entire practice, appearing in many forms throughout his projects: as found objects, printing accidents and manipulation, or even in the subversion of the algorithms of programming to produce unpredictable results. In many ways, In Parallel best embodies the artist’s fixation on chance. “None of the images in this series were intentionally made to belong to In Parallel. Two found images arrived by chance, bizarrely included with other eBay purchases. Others came from my past, such as Polaroids I took in the ‘80s, and some are the result of experimentation and studies. What they have in common is their marginal character—they function in the series because they do not have an obvious home anywhere else. Perhaps the series is an archive for the peripheral and displaced, which makes the material sympathetic to the treatment of parallel realities.”