Alice in Wonderland and Photography
On the 4th of July 1865, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in London. Written by Victorian author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898) under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, author, mathematician and Oxford don, this fantasy novel has since made him famous all over the world. Less known is the fact that Dodgson was also an avid and early practitioner of photography. He took it up in 1856, first under the influence of his uncle Skeffington Lutwidge, and later, his Oxford friend Reginald Southey.
In that first year, he made about 2,700 photographs, the last of which he finished in 1880. Half of these are photographic portraits of children, predominantly girls, while 30 percent are of adults and families. Overall, Dogson produced a selection of self-portraits, group photographs, still lifes, landscapes, pictures of works of art, as well as featuring literary narratives and skeletons (including that of an anteater) and other props for anatomical studies. He even made a portrait of the Dodgson family doll, Tim. The majority of his surviving photos are in American collections, and 407 of those are at the Princeton University Library, which published a comprehensive album of them in 2002.
The incipient stage of photographic tools and techniques in the late 19th century gave Dogson the inspiration for the imaginative visual projection of scenes and characters in his later writing, including his iconic Alice series. “In the 1860s and ’70s Carroll captured the attention of the literary world with the extraordinary writing of the Alice books. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), among other conspicuously disruptive factors, the presence of the body itself and the peculiarly volatile apparitions of Wonderland creatures, as framed by an exclusively subjective vision, are particularly marked. These are factors that undoubtedly recall the photographic eye: in the new art, the sitter’s body, as shot by the eye/I of the artist, is the precondition for image reproduction. In the 1850s, daguerreotypes and photographs were still largely viewed as apparitions rather than as images, which, spectral as they might be, referred back to a body, absent but real and historically recorded. For this reason, the daguerreotype was called “the mirror with memory.”
Also, early photographs, because of the apparatus limits and the long exposure time, uncovered the inner disposition of the sitter’s real body to metamorphosis, deconstruction, and deformity, a condition that highlighted the body’s immersion in time to such a degree that was unique among previous art forms. In this context, Carroll’s relationship with his child friends/models, which for the first time was being cultivated in the gloomy and mysterious atmosphere of a photographic atelier, now acquired an unprecedented significance in that it nurtured a childhood vision that distanced itself from the idealized, metaphysical, ethical, and didactic approach of Romanticism and at the same time decidedly rejected the image of the “little adult” popularized by Victorian iconography.” (Rosella Mallardi, ‘The Photographic Eye and the Vision of Childhood in Lewis Carroll’, Studies in Philology, Vol. 107, No. 4, Fall, 2010).
Some of Dogson/Carroll’s photographs can be viewed here.
Fascinating. I never knew he was a photographer. Thank you for sharing this article.
Some of Carroll’s photographs of young girls are very provocative and shocking, for nowadays standards. They reveal a mistery in the life of this great man. Carrol’s wife is thought to have burnt a lot of photographs of nude girls, after the writer’s death.There was a place in the net once, whose name was “English pedophiles” or something like that, but it suddenly dissapeared. It contained a lot of wonderful photographies. ¿Is there a kind of censorship about those expressions o good photography?
Carroll (or rather, Mr. Dodgson) never had a wife, good sir.
Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were two of my favourite books when I was a child – even as an adult during surreal experiences I will use the term ‘I feel like Alice at the Mad Hatter’s teaparty!’ I can still see the illustrations 50 years on – a powerful use of imagery.
I thought it was 4th of May?…. There was a documentary about it last April, it started nice but then they escalated to Carrol being a pedofile and they found Alice Liddel’s (the original Alice) older siser’s provocative photograph in France.
Dodgson was not a pedophile. There is no evidence to prove such (or against, I will admit, but evidence is evidence, my dear.)
@C.W North I know he wasn’t but the documentary that I watched kept saying all this with weird “evidence” I was sitting there thinking “Whoa…. what??” Apologies for not sounding as clear and replying rather late. The photo thing I still stand was just odd and startling.
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No worries! I hope I didn’t sound rude or defensive! Just a subject I am mildly passionate about 😉 thanks for being a kind voice to discuss with! ❤
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It’s alright, I’m rather surprised to find somebody replying to a comment from almost two years ago but that’s the wonder of the world wide web- finding random people who share the same interests.
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