Review of two books on Lewis Carroll, by Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti
Lewis Carroll, Photographer The Princeton University Library Albums by Roger Taylor and Edward Wakeling (Princeton University Press
Dreaming in Pictures: the Photography of Lewis Carroll By Douglas R. Nickel Yale University Press,
When his mother’s brother, Skeffington Lutwidge, first introduced Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (more popularly known as Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, originally Alice’s Adventures Underground to photography in 1856, it was considered no more than “a fashionable pastime that allowed gentlemen to demonstrate their interest in technology, chemistry, and optics, as well as to reveal their artistic tendencies.” (11, Princeton).
More than his uncle, it was Reginald Southey, Dodgson’s friend at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was a “master and tutor,” a mathematics don, who really got Dodgson started, showing him his own work (much admired by Dodgson), and mixing his first batch of developing chemicals. It was also Southey who accompanied Dodgson to the Deanery “to try to take a photograph” of the Liddell family, as the fledgling photographer noted in his diary on April 25, 1856. The following year, Dodgson went with his friend to London where he bought a very fine and expensive rosewood camera, beginning a pastime that would bring him some of the greatest joys and pains of Dodgson’s life.
Ever conscious of social standing and stature, Dodgson soon realized that the camera could be used in myriad ways, one of which was as an entrée to other Oxford dons, celebrities, admired poets (such as Tennyson, Arthur Hughes, and Rossetti), and royalty who often visited the esteemed Oxford campus. Born into a family that was considered of “good social standing,” Dodgson had aspirations toward society’s higher strata, and he “used photography to negotiate from one level to another.” (viii, Princeton). Still, if this had been all there was to it, Dodgson’s photographs would not have the resonance they have today. While he initially may have taken to photography as a fashionable pastime or social calling card, the photographs themselves give evidence of deeper desires.
Dodgson first used his new camera to gain introduction to the respected Oxford dean Harry Liddell, a progressive man who “would have taken an interest in an innovation like photography.” (15, Dreaming)
But his priorities soon changed, and before long his lens focused not on the dean but on his young daughters, particularly little Alice. Soon after, at the age of five, Alice became the subject of several photographic studies, one of which, Alice Liddell as “The Beggar-Maid”, is so widely known, that it is now etched into the collective consciousness. So began a relationship that would be forever memorialized – not only in pictures, of course, but also in words.