As the Sun rose last Nov. 9 over a remote beach just south of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED photographers Heinz Kluetmeier and David E. Klutho perched Heidi Klum atop a craggy rock formation and started snapping pictures. This shoot was different from any done for SI's 36 previous swimsuit issues, not only because the surnames of all three principles begin with the letters K-L-U, but also because the shooters were capturing Klum's image using the long-neglected technology of three-dimensional photography. After snapping more than 200 pictures, Kluetmeier and Klutho sensed that their rocky backdrop wouldn't be as dynamic in 3-D as they'd hoped. With the brief window of ideal light rapidly closing, swimsuit editor Diane Smith took off her straw hat and handed it to Klum, who wore it for a few photos. Kluetmeier then told Klum to throw the hat, and—bingo!—Klutho had his picture, which appears on page 93. "That picture was no accident," Klutho says. "I'd had models throw lots of stuff at me in test shots—but of the 25,000 frames we shot in Mexico, that one was the best in terms of 3-D effect."
The three-dimensional photos featured in this issue are the culmination of Klutho's recent fascination with the technique. In 1997 he began experimenting with 3-D at a variety of sporting events, from baseball to rodeo, and discovered that recent stereoscopic camera innovations yielded a quality of 3-D action photo never before possible.
Three-dimensional photography dates back to 1832, when British scientist Charles Wheatstone conceived a device for creating images that appeared to be three-dimensional. In 1849 another British inventor, David Brewster, combined Wheatstone's brainchild with the pioneering principles of photography developed by Louis Daguerre to create the stereoscope, which gave photographs added dimension by making the viewer see one image from two points of view, mimicking what the human eyes do in the real world. Two photos of an object were taken from points approximately 2� inches apart, or about the distance between a human's pupils; the two photos were then positioned side-by-side on a card and viewed with a stereoscope whose lenses directed each eye to its corresponding photo, which caused the brain to perceive the two photos as a single image with depth. Brewster demonstrated his stereoscope for Queen Victoria at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, and a craze was born.
Historians say stereoscopic photography was "the television of the Victorian Age." On both sides of the Atlantic people spent evenings viewing stereographic cards of Civil War battles, exotic landscapes from around the globe or just family portraits. Nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote, "Thousands of eyes were bent avidly over the holes in the stereoscope, which were skylights unto infinity." Later in the century stereoscopic technology was used in medicine and astronomy. Not surprisingly, it was also used to great effect with pornography. In fact the French government passed a law stating that artist Louis Camille d'Olivier's pornographic 3-D photos could be sold but not exhibited or viewed through a stereoscope.
At the dawn of the 20th century, 3-D photographs were so commonplace that Quaker Oats gave away stereograph cards free with its cereal. However, by the advent of World War I stereoscopy had given way to immediacy, as newspapers incorporated new technology that allowed them to print regular 2-D pictures of breaking stories in a more timely fashion. Three-dimensional photography has been relegated to the novelty bin ever since. In 1939 the first View-Masters gave adults a new 3-D device to explore the Grand Canyon and other wonders of nature from the comfort of their easy chairs, but as television conquered American culture, the View-Master's audience became progressively younger, and today it is dismissed as a children's toy.
The 3-D concept was also used sporadically to boost sales of everything from pinup posters to comic books. In the early '50s Hollywood's desperate attempt to lure Americans away from their TVs led to a brief boom in 3-D cinema, beginning with the kitschy 1952 film Bwana Devil and other cult classics like House of Wax, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder. Movie patrons paid an extra dime for polarized cardboard 3-D spectacles that caused a spectacle and often a splitting headache. The fad lasted only three years.
While 3-D films are making another comeback, this time at IMAX theaters, stereoscopic photography equipment is so rare that for the SI shoot Klutho had to have his 3-D cameras custom-built in Germany. While Klutho's equipment is the finest ever made, the scientific principles employed are basically the same as those used by Wheatstone in 1832. With 3-D glasses technology, the glasses do the work of a stereoscope, focusing each eye on its appointed image. Instead of two distinct images side-by-side, the two images are interlaced using color coding, which is why the 3-D pictures in this issue look like double exposures when viewed without the glasses. "Three-dimensional technology hasn't changed much in 150 years," says Ron Labbe, a technical consultant for the swimsuit issue who provided the vintage photos for this story, "but the result is as fascinating to us today as it was to Queen Victoria. The challenge for SI will be figuring out some way to top this."
The next logical step: virtual reality. If SI ever figures out how to produce a virtually real Heidi Klum, copies of that issue would leap off the newsstand—and into your lap.