Queen rocker May revives 3D kind of magic

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Brian May, the Queen guitarist and expert astronomer, has ventured into another dimension, bringing the idyllic world of 1850s rural England back to life in vivid colour 3D.

The 62-year-old rock star's childhood fascination with three-dimensional pictures set him on a lifetime's quest to find an unknown village captured by the equally mysterious Victorian photographer T. R. Williams.

While penning global hits like "We Will Rock You", "The Show Must Go On" and "Flash", Freddie Mercury's band mate was also on a mission to rescue Williams' stereo images of joyful country life, which leap out at the viewer in 3D.

The guitar wizard tracked down the tiny Oxfordshire village of Hinton Waldrist, deep in the southern English countryside, and scoured the world for the 59 images which give a unique glimpse into rustic life 150 years ago.

"A Village Lost And Found", which May co-wrote with Spanish photo historian Elena Vidal, is an annotated book of Williams' series, "Scenes In Our Village".

"I got enraptured with stereo very early on," May told AFP as he launched his comprehensive work in Hinton Waldrist.

"To me, it was magic. I thought 'why doesn't everybody do this all the time, why do people take mono pictures?'

"I started collecting stereo cards, I realised you could get stereo cards right back to the dawn of photography."

Two pictures taken eye-width apart, when laid side by side and seen through a viewer, produce a 3D image.

Williams photographed the village where he spent treasured childhood days, capturing a disappearing way of life in 3D and in colour. However, he kept the name of Hinton Waldrist secret.

Hooked, rock god May determined to solve the riddle of the lost world of Williams.

"I kept driving around for 30 years wondering where this village was, looking for the church spire," he said. An Internet appeal and the promise of Queen goodies eventually identified Hinton Waldrist.

"It's really a labour of love.

"I've always been fascinated with people who could tread the line between art for its own sake and art for an audience.

"We feel these photographs speak to us just as strongly in the 21st century. It's a potent reminder that perhaps the essence of life can be found in simple things."

May's work is a timely reminder of how 3D magic was created long before today's high-tech wizardry.

Fujifilm's 3D cameras are fresh on the market, "Titanic" director James Cameron's three-dimensional science-fiction movie "Avatar" is due out in December and 3D television is on the horizon.

"It's a pure coincidence but this does seem to be the time of renaissance of 3D," May said.

However, he added: "You can get good stereo effects in the cinema, but there is nothing quite to equal the Victorian experience of a proper stereoscope."

Vidal, who first teamed up with May in 1997, said Williams' masterpiece stood the test of time in the new 3D age.

"People are still very, very surprised when they see what the effect is," the art conservator told AFP.

"You really feel as if you could just walk into the image and meet all these people.

"Williams was a pioneer photographer. His photographs are so beautiful and also technically so perfect," she said.

"It's a timeless message that in spite of the difference in time, we all have the same questions, worries and things that make us happy."

The multi-talented May designed the patent-pending OWL viewer, which comes with the 35-pound (60-dollar, 40-euro) book -- the latest string to his bow.

Not only did he build his unique Red Special guitar with his father, May is a doctor of astrophysics, co-author of "Bang! The Complete History of the Universe", a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, the co-creator of hit rock theatrical "We Will Rock You" and the chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University.

Accustomed to playing giant stadiums, May was equally at home in a country barn presenting his work to the villagers.

"This, for us, is the fulfilment of a dream: to bring what we think is a priceless work of art home to its birthplace and to a new audience in the 21st century," he said.

"This isn't the biggest gig I've ever done, but it's one of the more exciting ones."