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Research Projects

AHRC, RSA, The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland £25101, 01.2007 – 06.2010

Work by Calum Colvin
Work by Calum Colvin
Work by Calum Colvin
Work by Calum Colvin
Natural Magic

Main project collaborators

Prof Calum Colvin, DJCAD, University of Dundee (Principal Investigator)
Prof Nicholas Wade, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)


Prof Calum Colvin (Principal Investigator)

Context and background

Work by Calum Colvin Stereoscopic imagery refers to a technique for creating or enhancing the illusion of depth by presenting two offset images separately to the left and right eye of the viewer. These two-dimensional images are transmitted to the eye through the mechanism of a stereoscope and are combined in the brain to give the perception of three-dimensional depth.

Natural Magic explores an analogy between the invention of the stereoscopic viewer in 1838 by Charles Wheatstone, and the development of the digital camera, and the digital image, in the contemporary period. Both of these technologies have presented difficulties in terms of the way the image is configured. The stereoscope presented an image ‘without a surface’ in the late 1830s, and the digital image offered a ‘virtual’ world in the late twentieth century. This project explores the problematic use of technological innovation that profoundly disrupts our sense of the concrete image through a creative exploration of these parallel, if historically distanced, developments.

The title of the project comes from the book Letters on Natural Magic addressed to Sir Walter Scott 1832 by Sir David Brewster and the work explores the unique role photography plays as a mediator between art, science, truth, and fiction.

Aims and objectives

Natural Magic is an interdisciplinary investigation into two-dimensional and three-dimensional awareness. The project aims to explore areas of common interest between visual science and visual art in order to present a series of stereoscopic photographic images which reflect on visual and psychological phenomena, whilst referring to themes relating to art, science, photography and optics. It aims to relate the science of photography to its construction as art and explores the ways in which optical and photographic technologies reconfigure our sense of the world. The project re-investigates an area which was once hugely popular in the development of photography, but has since receded. It will make accessible images with complex narratives, which can be viewed in a unique manner, and final works will be made in such a way as to be both scientific instrument and aesthetic object.


Work by Calum Colvin The research has been disseminated through a solo exhibition, Natural Magic, at The Royal Scottish Academy from March to April 2009. The exhibition comprised a series of ten stereoscopically arranged large-scale photographic installations and wall based works; it was a multi-media event incorporating images, historical artefacts, and interactive encounters with the materials. During the exhibition, two public lectures were given and the research was further presented at a number of conferences, including The Real Thing?: Staging, Manipulation and Photographic Truth, as part of the Royal Photographic Society Visual Literacy Programme (National Media Museum, July 2009).

A tour of the exhibition was undertaken by the RSA in collaboration with the National Galleries of Scotland and Highland Region. The research and the artefacts were further disseminated in an associated publication, Natural Magic, (RSA 2009) and this contains essays by Dr Tom Normand and Prof Nicholas Wade. Work from the exhibition was purchased for the collection of St Andrews University and the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Natural Magic - click here to download PDF description