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Stereoscopic image of Stonehenge in the 1860s from Brian May's archive

Who wants to live forever? Early Stonehenge photo found in Queen guitarist’s archive

The earliest known family photo taken at Stonehenge – dating back to the 1860s – has been uncovered in the archive of Queen guitarist Brian May. The discovery came after English Heritage launched a campaign to collect photos of the famous British megaliths from the general public.

Beyond being a rock guitar legend, Brian May is also an avid collector of stereoscopic images,* having become fascinated with them as a child when he got one in a cereal packet. These are images where two photos are taken of the same scene from slightly different perspectives, and when viewed through a sterescope viewer (or more roughly, just by crossing your eyes), are seen as a single, 3D image.

So when English Heritage launched “Your Stonehenge: 150 Years of Personal Photos”, and challenged the public to find early images of the megaliths, May instigated a search of his own stereoscope image collection – the largest in the world with over 100,000 in his archive.

The image that was uncovered was taken by photographer Henry Brooks of his family enjoying a day out at the ancient monument in the 1860s.

Stereoscopic image of Stonehenge in the 1860s from Brian May's archive
From the Brian May Archive of Stereoscopy. Full-size version available at the English Heritage website.

The image shows Stonehenge in a state of disrepair that many would be unfamiliar with. For reference, May has taken an image of himself from a similar vantage point that shows the ‘corrected’ megaliths (see our article “Visions of the Past: How far should we go in ‘restoring’ ancient monuments” for more on this).

Rock god Brian May at Stonehenge
A rock god in his natural environment? Stereoscopic image of Brian May at Stonehenge.

If you have a stereoscopic viewer, be sure to use it to look at the images – or otherwise, do your best crossing your eyes – because it’s a real thrill to bring a scene from more than 150 years ago to life in 3D.

And May is adding even another dimension for the upcoming exhibition of images by English Heritage: he’s providing a piano soundtrack of him playing the Queen hit “Who Wants To Live Forever?” (from the Highlander movie). “It feels even more evocative when set to music,” May noted. “A bit like a silent movie.”

More historical photos and stereoscopic images of Stonehenge can be viewed at the English Heritage website.

* Maybe there’s some connection, seeing as another guitar legend – Tool’s Adam Jones – is also a lifelong fan of stereoscopic images…as evidenced by the packaging of the 10,000 Days album, which won the Grammy for Best Recording Package. He also occasionally posts stereoscopic images to his Instagram feed.

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