Posted by: akhtikian | November 23, 2010

Alice By Cameron

Lewis Carroll, "Alice Liddell as a Beggar-Child," 1858

Julia Margaret Cameron interestingly photographed Lewis Carroll’s favorite sitter, Alice Liddell as a young woman (versus child? the female without adolescence). Cameron mirrors Carroll’s comments about the conflicting ideals of Victorian women, “with its emphasis on the bourgeois family, the sacredness of motherhood, and the desired purity of women,” (Mavor, 51) by replicating and also reversing elements of their subject. Cameron captures Alice in mirror image to herself as she was fourteen years earlier, in Carroll’s portrait, reflecting the “time, aging, and developing,” (Mavor, 34) Carroll attempted to control through photography. Cameron’s portrait works against Carroll’s essentialist agenda however, together the portraits of Alice unfix her from any time.  Cameron takes Alice’s picture in a garden, the vegetation that wraps around her, embracing Alice as part of the natural world while simultaneously creating a fantastical world as it reaches out to the surface of the image, is imaginably the same plants that Carroll’s Alice trample. Alice has blossomed, emphasized by the flowers in her hair and echoed in the vines, into a woman however her sexuality is still conflicted, “neutre.” Alice’s hair has grown out, a sign of womanhood, yet she has kept her childish bangs but her hair also falls in front of her body, slightly untamed, which (re)enhances her sexuality in her animality. In both portraits she wears white, the color of innocence and purity. In Carroll’s photograph Alice’s shirt is torn, it falls  from her body revealing bare shoulders and nearly half her chest creating tension

Julia Margaret Cameron, Alice Liddell, 1872

between virginal child and sex. Cameron mimics this anxiety in her portrait of Alice; a female with fully developed reproductive organs and sex whose sex is repressed by the claims made by her more conservative, properly fitting, intact white dress. In both photographs Alice demands to be looked at, to be seen. She wears a penetrating gaze that is somehow accusative and demurely seductive. Both photographers allow their female subject the agency through her eyes which stare out of the photographs, alerting viewers to her consciousness of herself as a visual subject and trapping onlookers in the uncomfortable role of voyeur. Cameron has Alice perform the same pose as she did in her childhood portrait; Alice has one hand firmly on her hip, a defensive stand-offish pose, the other is conversely cupped and held out before her, as if offering her hand to another, inviting the viewers hand to slip into hers. Even Alice’s hands contradict themselves. One accentuates her hip, a universally admired part of a female’s physical body in an unapproachable and reserved way while the other highlights her sensuality, encouraging the viewers her eyes are aware of to imagine her touch, to experience her with multiple senses.

 

How must Julia Margaret Cameron have experienced Alice Liddell to understand the power of the way Lewis Carroll experienced Alice strongly enough to not only mirror the sexual gender and age contradictions but also to feel those contradictions would be best re-presented only by the Alice herself?

 


Responses

  1. I really liked this image and I was surprised when I was looking through Cameron’s photographs that this was Alice Liddell. I had seen it before but never made the connection to her. What I like about this image is that it’s challenging. You would expect the muse of Lewis Carroll to be forever child-like. Yet hear she looks very grown-up with a self-confidence and awareness. I think it emphasises the fact that for Carroll the real Alice only ever existed in his imagination. I also like the sense of reservedness in this image as to an extent Alice remained a mystery. She only ever owned up to her connection as the muse for Lewis Carroll when she was an elderly woman and this was mainly to raise money from the sale of her copy of an original manuscript of Alice. It’s obvious that she didn’t want to be known as Alice in Wonderland for the rest of her life and I think this image captures that as it’s showing a part of her personality but not all. There’s still something she’s keeping back which is what makes both of these images so fascinating


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