When Hamilton designer Jennifer Kaye visited the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology National Historic Site, she was struck by the beauty and craftsmanship of the 19th century steam-powered water pumping engines. It was something that couldn’t quite be captured in a 2D image. That is why her images of the 1859 Waterworks are in 3D.
From Jan. 19 to Sept. 8, the Museum of Steam and Technology National Historic Site will host an exhibit of Kaye’s photography entitled Doing It Justice: The Steam Museum. The free exhibit will be housed in the Woodshed that forms part of the Victorian industrial building complex.
Kaye recently did a graphic design program at Mohawk College, during which she took a photography course. In that class, she was assigned to use an advanced photography technique and chose 3D photography. She felt the museum lent itself perfectly to the medium.
“It’s interesting to stand in the woodshed space and experience the engine in three dimensions without actually being there and looking at them. It has sort of a retro feel to it actually because we are using the old school three dimensional glasses, with the red and blue panes and the red and blue offset images. So it feels a bit like all the old school movies or even three dimensional comics,” said museum curator Richard Barlas.
3D photography is created by mimicking the way each human eye perceives a slightly different view. For each photograph, Kaye had to take two shots from slightly different angles and bring them together. When she reached out to the museum for help with the assignment, they loved it so much that they asked her to expand it so it could be displayed at the museum.
On Jan. 19, the opening reception for Doing It Justice took place, coinciding with the birthday of James Watt. Watt was an 18th century Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer who made significant improvements to the steam engine and thus contributed to the Industrial Revolution. The exhibit opening honoured his contributions to the modern world with birthday cake.
Aside from showcasing the machinery, the exhibit will educate patrons on 3D photography and machine art. Kaye prepared an essay highlighting the history of the two forms and the museum staff have been given information on the topic in order to engage visitors. As well, movies from the 1920s and 1930s with machinery in them will be playing in the exhibit.
3D photography became popular around the same time as the steam museum was built, making the use of one to illustrate the other even more fitting. Kaye also wrote in her essay about the early 20th century history of machine art, tracing its usage as a metaphoric icon to the modern acknowledgement of machines as beautiful objects.
“[There’s] real beauty in that kind of machinery. You know it’s big and it’s almost like it was made to be looked at and admired, you know, beautiful materials and… a real pride in the craftsmanship that I find really inspiring… And the art that uses that uses that iconography, I just find it appealing,” Kaye said.
Kaye hopes that the appreciation for the museum will increase and the exhibit helps to bring new visitors to see the steam engines. Barlas hopes that the exhibition gives those who cannot see the steam engines due to the lack of accessibility a way to experience the historic machinery.
“[T]he industrial past of Hamilton is so tied to its present and maybe to its future… we’ll have to see. So I think places like the steam museum… honor a past about Hamilton that sometimes we prefer not to spend too much time thinking about, you know dirty industry and all of that, but that’s who we are here. So yeah, I find that inspiring,” Kaye said.
The main goal of the steam museum is to promote education about the industrial and scientific history of Hamilton. Kaye has found a way to take a symbol of that history, the steam engines, and do it justice through art.