Friday, 26 November 2010

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Lewis Carroll

Known primarily as the author of children's books, Lewis Carroll was also a lecturer in mathematics at Oxford University and an ordained deacon. He took his first photograph in 1856 and pursued photography obsessively for the next twenty-five years, exhibiting and selling his prints. He stopped taking pictures abruptly in 1880, leaving over three thousand negatives, for the most part portraits of friends, family, clergy, artists, and celebrities. Ill at ease among adults, Carroll preferred the company of children, especially young girls. He had the uncanny ability to inhabit the universe of children as a friendly accomplice, allowing for an extraordinarily trusting rapport with his young sitters and enabling him to charm them into immobility for as long as forty seconds, the minimum time he deemed necessary for a successful exposure. The intensity of the sitters' gazes brings to Carroll's photographs a sense of the inner life of children and the seriousness with which they view the world.
Carroll's famous literary works, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (1865) and "Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There" (1872), were both written for Alice Liddell, the daughter of the dean of Christ Church, Oxford. For Carroll, Alice was more than a favorite model; she was his "ideal child-friend," and a photograph of her, aged seven, adorned the last page of the manuscript he gave her of "Alice's Adventures Underground." The present image of Alice was most likely inspired by "The Beggar Maid," a poem written by Carroll's favorite living poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in 1842. If Carroll's images define childhood as a fragile state of innocent grace threatened by the experience of growing up and the demands of adults, they also reveal to the contemporary viewer the photographer's erotic imagination. In this provocative portrait of Alice at age seven or eight, posed as a beggar against a neglected garden wall, Carroll arranged the tattered dress to the limits of the permissible, showing as much as possible of her bare chest and limbs, and elicited from her a self-confident, even challenging stance. This outcast beggar will arouse in the passer-by as much lust as pity. Indeed, Alice looks at us with faint suspicion, as if aware that she is being used as an actor in an incomprehensible play. A few years later, a grown-up Alice would pose, with womanly assurance, for Julia Margaret Cameron.

Irene and Mary MacDonald were two of the five children of Scottish novelist and poet George MacDonald. Carroll was a friend of the family, and the children affectionately called him "Uncle." It was the MacDonalds to whom he read the manuscript of The Adventures of Alice and who urged him to publish the work. Carroll photographed the family on several occasions. This photograph, which includes the children's friend Flo Rankin standing in the middle, was produced during the photographer's stay at Elm Lodge in Hampstead the week of July 25, 1863.

When not disguising his sitters, Carroll preferred to photograph them posing naturally in everyday attire. Perhaps the elaborate dress Flo was wearing on her visit prompted Carroll to create this unusual set piece, which alludes to the figure of Flora in Botticelli's Spring and to the mythologizing work of his Pre-Raphaelite painter friends Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Arthur Hughes. Young girls arrayed in wildflowers signified the purity and innocence of childhood, a concept dear to the Victorians. The lens, however, has unwittingly denounced the conceit of such an unsullied universe. The figure of Flo Rankin may be adorned as a child, but it is a young woman sure of her appeal who locks gazes with the viewer, on her lips the ironic flutter of a smile.

In 1872, Carroll had a studio built above his rooms at Christ Church so that he could make photographs even in inclement weather. With trunks full of toys and costumes from the Drury Lane Theatre, the "glass house" was a paradise for children. Xie (Alexandra) Kitchin, a beautiful and photogenic child, was Carroll's muse in the 1870s. Born in 1864, she was the daughter of George William Kitchin, a colleague and an old friend from Carroll's student days at Oxford. Carroll photographed Xie more than any other of his models, often dressed in exotic costume.
In this tableau vivant, Xie plays the princess to her brother's St. George. Another knight-brother has fallen prey to the leopard-skin dragon. The princess, clearly the focus of the picture, is ready for sacrifice, though St. George's sword seems the only threat. The photographer here casts the children in the roles of adults, creating a seemingly innocent vignette; it is, however, one that the modern viewer will find fraught with double entendres.

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Friday, 12 November 2010

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Alvin Langdon Coburn : Writers and Artists



de Morgan


Henry James