Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Estereoskopiko Opens a Door Into Basque Country


Sliding on paper glasses with red and blue lenses to see things in a third dimension has become commonplace in movie theaters—but in downtown Boise’s Basque Museum and Cultural Center, the experience feels brand new. Even better, the glasses are necessary to view an exhibit of photographs taken roughly 100 years ago, long before 3D movies were within reach.

The collection is called Estereoskopiko, and includes 30 snapshots from photographer Jesus de Echebarria chronicling the Basque country and its people circa 1915. Echebarria experimented with a technique called stereoscopic photography, which used a special dual-lense camera to take two photographs from slightly different positions, mimicking the view from human eyes. A device called a stereoscope, which looks like antique virtual reality goggles, would then be used to view the photos, tricking the brain into thinking the two side-by-side images were a single 3D landscape. For Estereoskopiko, the two original shots—one tinted red, one cyan—were combined into a single image. Thanks to 3D glasses provided by the museum, modern visitors can see exactly what Echebarria’s contemporaries once saw: Photographs that open a door into the Basque country as convincing as the one in the back of C.S. Lewis’s famous wardrobe.

The action-packed street markets, factory floors and soccer matches captured in Estereoskopiko are all black-and-white, but they have the vitality of technicolor. The cattle blurring by in the foreground of a busy street seem just inches away, and the old women balancing heavy baskets on their shoulders look out with knowing eyes, as though ready to step forward and dispense advice in Basque. One elderly man in particular, wearing a flat cap with a pipe clamped between his teeth in “Garagorri, Enkarterri, 1918” is framed tightly by the camera, and the soft knit sweater covering his protruding elbow looks close enough to touch.

Esteroskopiko has long been planned for Boise. Kondrado Mugertza, Echebarria’s grandson-in-law, brought the collection to the attention of museum Curator of Collections and Exhibitions Amanda Bielmann in 2017, and she viewed it in person when the museum's staff traveled to the Basque Country this January. After a long process of back-and-forth with Mugertza, his wife Izaskun Echebarria, Bilbao Maritime Museum, and Estudios Durero, digital versions of the images made their way to Boise, where they will be on display through April 30, 2019.

“The images, while taken almost a century ago, not only reflect the history of the Basque Country, but also show how the Basque Country remains,” said Bielmann. “...The countryside still looks like that, and going to the Basque Country made me see how important these photos are, how they have captured a place completely. These images reflect the Basque Country that many immigrants to America will remember.”