Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Alice Behind Wonderland

In this short book, Simon Winchester interweaves the history of photography with the early biography of Lewis Carroll. Early photography was a messy affair. The bulky equipment needed to be brought in place and the subject had to be still for an extended period of time for the proper light exposure. Then, a mix of chemicals needed to be applied to "freeze" the image in place. It was a far cry from the instant feedback of modern digital photography. The initial photographic processes involved patent protected technology and were outside the price range of all but the most wealthy. Gradually new innovations arose that allowed more people access to photography. Some non-patent innovations caught on due to the cost. The "negative" and development process also allowed for greater flexibility in the process. However, photography was still far from the "everyday" occurrence that it is today.

And where does Alice in Wonderland fit in here? Charles Dodgson was a student at Oxford and an avid photographer. He would spend time telling stories to the dean's children as well as photographing them. He later published under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Many of his photographs were collected by an American collector and donated to Princeton University. One of the more famous photos is of "Alice Liddell", the "Alice" for whom the wonderland stories were created. The book spends a little time exploring Carroll's life and other works. However, the focus remains on his photography.

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