My review of Lewis Carroll Photography on the Move by Lindsay Smith

Though he is now known primarily as the author of the Alice books, in his lifetime Lewis Carroll was interested at least as much in photography as in writing. Though he remains one of Victorian culture’s most prominent and compelling figures, few readers have had the chance to explore the extent of his passion for photography, a new technology that was gaining popularity during his lifetime. Lewis Carroll: Photography on the Move follows the journey of Carroll’s photography in tandem with his writing. Beginning in the glass studio Carroll had built above his college rooms at Christ Church, Oxford, this book traces his fascination for photographs through his visits to London theatres, his annual trips to the seaside town of Eastbourne and his extraordinary excursion to Russia in 1867. Many of the preoccupations that make Carroll’s writing so remarkable are also present in his photography, particularly his interest in the boundless imaginations of children. Carroll was also an avid collector of photographs and, on occasion, commissioned professional photographers to set up studio sittings. 

This engaging and beautifully illustrated book uncovers in depth a lesser-known side of the renowned writer. It gives a valuable and cogent account of Carroll’s visual and literary career.
288 pages
Publisher: Reaktion Books
90 illustrations, 55 in colour

Author, Lindsay Smith is Professor of English at the University of Sussex and co-director of its Centre for the Visual. Her books include Pre-Raphaelitism: Poetry and Painting (2013), The Politics of Focus: Women, Children and Nineteenth-century Photography (1998) and Victorian Photography, Painting and Poetry (1995).

 Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), [Self-portrait], 1875.
Albumen print, 7.5 x 6 inches.
Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Center.
Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.
(This image is found on the back of the book cover)

In this age of social media and technology we can take digital photographs instantly with a touch of our fingertip on our phones no less! Think back to the nineteenth-century when cameras were made of wooden boxes balanced on stands. When taking one photographic image included deadly chemicals, glass slides, and hours to pose and photograph.  The photographer needed a dark room to develop the photographs and now our expectations are immediate and instantaneous. We control every aspect of digital photography. I wonder what our nineteenth-century photographers would think of us now?  

With the title Photography on the Move, Lindsay Smith takes an academic, psycho-social perspective when it comes to the subject of Lewis Carroll, his child sitters, and photography.  She explains how her term photography on the move is twofold. Firstly, in a literal sense of people having to write handwritten letters containing individual albumen prints, carte-de-visites within the letter and envelope itself. Just imagine if mailing letters and old fashioned correspondence was your only mode of communication?  Lewis Carroll would photograph his female child sitters, develop their photographs then mail them to the children's parents and even the girls themselves. For instance, in the introduction we meet a young girl named Dolly Draper who was photographed by Edmund Draper in 1875. She mailed Lewis Carroll a photograph of herself. He loved it so much that he not only wrote a letter in reply, he wrote another letter to her father Edward Draper  including a photograph he took.  Photographs were indeed on the move!  Secondly, photography on the move refers to different times in Carroll's life when, as  a photographer, he travelled with his camera to take photographs. The focus on the subject of photography becomes a literal geographical connection to its location and origin in terms of setting, place, and time. 

Some of my favorite chapters of, Lewis Carroll Photography on the Move deal with the life of Carroll as a photographer instead of author of children's stories. Explained in great researched detail you will gain a better understanding of the man behind the camera; from his first purchased camera on 18 March 1856 to his circle of friends i.e. Reginald Southey, Julia Margaret Cameron and how he followed the photographic method of Frederick Scott Archer in 1851.  
 Alice Liddell by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
albumen carte-de-visite, 25 June 1870

Alice Liddell is discussed in this book from a chronological and photographic perspective: ‘the beggar maid’ to Alice in Wonderland.  When Lewis Carroll photographed Alice Liddell on 25 June 1870 I wonder if he knew that it would be for the last time? She was then eighteen years old looking rather angry finally immortalized as a woman. The little girl gone forever as her expression and discomfort shows on her face.   My understanding was the correspondence between Alice and Carroll after 1870 was sparse to say the least; especially,after a falling out with her parents. The details are in the book but I will leave that subject up to the reader. It is not the primary focus of the author's book nor is it mine. 

The author does something rather special. She shares mentions of the grown Alice Liddell as subject of photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. Now, it is 1872  and a twenty year old Alice Liddell is in Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight posing for photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. Her first subject was to portray goddess Alethea and in a second Cameron photograph Alice Liddell portrays goddess Pomona. When Lewis Carroll goes to the Deanery of Christ Church, Oxford, to visit Alice Liddell's father, Henry George Liddell the then current Dean it lifts the veil of mystery surrounding Lewis Carroll. This visit was on 24 April 1873 when Carroll found himself sitting in the Liddell Family drawing room with their mother, Lorina Liddell Senior and  Alice Liddell. Alice was twenty one years old and excitedly began showing him Cameron's large sized albumen prints. I can just picture the scene. The three of them squished together on the sofa, Alice handing him Cameron's prints smiling while she exchanges glances with her parents.  One thing is clear to me now, Lewis Carroll definitely not only kept up his correspondence with the Liddell Family he physically visited them and spent time with them. He shared such important aspects of Alice Liddell's life as a grown woman as well as her family. The only thing not mentioned further was Carroll's reaction or opinion upon seeing Cameron's photographs of a goddess like Alice Liddell...

Alice Liddell forever captured by 

Julia Margaret Cameron as 

Althea on the left and Pomona on

the right. 

 Lewis Carroll (C.L. Dodgson). The Tennysons and the Marshalls, 1857
Another fascinating chapter covers photographer, Lewis Carroll on the move in the Lake District during 1857 at a house called Monk Coniston while new friends Alfred Tennyson was honeymooning with his wife, Emily Tennyson and their two sons Hallam and Lionel.I mention this because this chapter of the book directly correlates to one of my earlier articles I wrote about Tennyson's honeymoon trip, 1857 Tennyson mystery solved  

One interesting note about this Tennyson chapter is the fact that the author mentions how Lionel Tennyson, youngest son of Alfred Tennyson had a stammer. She concludes that one of the possible reasons for the falling out between Tennyson and Carroll was the fact that Carroll wrote to Tennyson mentioning how he should bring Lionel to see a doctor to help him with his sons stammer. Lewis Carroll grew up also having a bad stammer, so obviously could sympathize and I'm sure empathize with poor little Lionel's plight. Not mentioned in the book but I just wanted to explain further how The Tennyson's provided the best doctors and speech therapists for Lionel over the years as he grew up as evidenced in family letters. Lionel himself later explained how he had  a stammer well into his young adulthood.  

Lewis Carroll Photography on the Move is a wonderfully fascinating read.  I am so glad that Lindsay Smith has shared her research. I learned a lot about the man behind the camera. It was so refreshing to read about different aspects of his life and not just focus again on his nonsense writings, his Alice in Wonderland years, etc.

Lewis Carroll Photography on the Move by Lindsay Smith is published in hardcover now, Amazon UK

 Lewis Carroll Photography on the Move by Lindsay Smith is published in two weeks, Amazon US


Pamela Britley said…
I love Lewis Carroll and can't wait to read this book!
Just ordered it. I can always count on your reviews.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Pamela,
I hope you really enjoy the book!
Thanks for commenting.
I loved this review and I am going to adore reading the book!
Kimberly Eve said…
Thank you so much Stephanie for your kind words and for commenting.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for this. There are photos taken on Alice Liddell by Lewis Carroll in an exhibtion in the National Portrait Gallery entitled "The Face of Britain" as well as in the British Library celebrating 150 years of "Alice in Wonderland"
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Enough of this Tomfoolery,
So great to have you here. I didn't know about the British Library exhibit. So many 150 Alice celebrations going on, I can't keep up!

I love your blog, thanks for the link!