At the beginning of the semester I sat down with my buddy the LoC to find some images for the class. Of the many intriguing and beautiful images I found this one:
The image is entitled “A-listnin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about” and was taken by Elizabeth B. Brownell, ca. 1900.
(I also want to point out that this is a platinum print, platinum! I can only imagine what the physical copy of it looks like.)
We discussed Cameron’s and Carroll’s work with children and photography and I wanted to learn more about Brownell. Turns out there’s not much out there. A number of her images can be found in the LoC and the text of one of her books is available online, but besides that she’s rather difficult to find.
From my investigation I found she wrote/illustrated/photographed three books-
Dream Children, 1901, a collection of poems, stories, and prose about children with Brownell’s illustrations and photographs, including the image above that went along with “Little Orphant [sic] Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley.
Vision Children Posters, 1903, (full title: Elizabeth Brownell’s posters of the vision children of childhood : a small bunch of the most fragrant blossoms gathered from the ever-blooming gardens of childhood’s dreamland.)
and Really Babies, 1908, her final book with untitled verses that list no author, but written presumably by Brownell. *
Dream Children is available in the public domain via google books/archives, but only contains the text, not the images. Talk about frustrating. However, from her introduction we learn that Brownell is heavily influenced by religion and that “the aim of this little book has been to picture, with the newest aid to pictorial effect, the camera, a few Dream Children of literature.”
The table of contents is just wonderful in itself, containing the work of Hans Christian Anderson, Henry Longfellow, Lewis Carroll, Elizabeth Berrett Browning, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, George Eliot… and two of my favorite additions Edgar Allen Poe (“Annabel Lee” of course, since that’s totally for children) and our pal Thomas Carlyle (Remember him?).
I’m desperate to see the other photographs and illustrations in the books, so I requested both Dream Children and Vision Children through the interlibrary loan system and I hope I get them (many seem to be for display only).
I have to say that I am continually drawn to the “Orphan Annie” photograph. The girl’s eyes pull my own gaze and I feel like I cannot look away, yet at the same time, neither can she. (This also reminds me of Cameron’s “Echo” in a way). The title of the photograph causes me to apply the idea that the girl is listening to a story (told by Annie and thus must be rather exciting and a little scary). For me, the photograph captures the perfect moment of anxiety and anticipation. The moment of wanting, no needing, to know what will happen, while also being terrified for the tale to continue. In all honesty I feel that I can barely explain how the girl’s expression makes me feel. Those stunning wide eyes, so open and telling… it makes me think of our conversation in the last class about the soul in photographs.
Anyway, I wanted to leave off with this image:
For me it recalls Cameron’s “Double Star.” I’m still contemplating the connection; how does Brownell’s image of two young boys differ from Cameron’s girls? Brownell’s pose is different, yet there still seems to be an intimacy / connection between the figures, how different is it?
Is anyone else as fascinated as I am with the “Annie” photograph?
*Most of the information I found came from one article by Gillian Greenhill Hannum, which can be found in pdf form here.