In our next class, we will begin looking at Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
A quick overview of Carroll, or really, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He was known for being a mathematician at Oxford, his extensive friendships with young girls, and his creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This work was based off his relationship with the Liddell sisters, Lorina, Alice, and Edith and the numerous boating trips they took. Alice is credited with prompting Dodgson to write the Adventures of Alice, though there is speculation if Alice Liddell is the Alice we know in Wonderland.
The nature of Dodgson’s relationship with Liddell is highly controversial and many critics question his intents with the relationship. Described as a shy man he was also very interested in photography as this was a blossoming art form in this time. Dodgson preferred entertaining young girls, writing once that “I am fond of children (except boys),” which heavily influenced his artistic work. As questionable as a modern day reader may interpret this relationship, within the Victorian era, the idealization of beauty and virginal purity, was best exemplified in these same young girls that Dodgson acquainted himself with.
Portraiture of young girls, semi nude, or nude, apparently was not necessarily regarded as an inappropriate action as it is now. I found an article from the Smithsonian Magazine that defends and justifies this portraiture
Of the approximately 3,000 photographs Dodgson made in his life, just over half are of children—30 of whom are depicted nude or semi-nude. Some of his portraits—even those in which the model is clothed—might shock 2010 sensibilities, but by Victorian standards they were…well, rather conventional. Photographs of nude children sometimes appeared on postcards or birthday cards, and nude portraits—skillfully done—were praised as art studies, as they were in the work of Dodgson’s contemporary Julia Margaret Cameron. Victorians saw childhood as a state of grace; even nude photographs of children were considered pictures of innocence itself.”
This tendency to align young girls figures with a pure or virginal quality, relates to the heavy emphasis on religion during this time. Dodgson as a devout Anglican could then interpret his work to be a spiritual and devout display of figures. To his credit, Dodgson likewise took great care with these photographs, ensuring there was parental consent and if he “found she had a modest shrinking (however slight, and however easily overcome) from being taken nude, [he] should feel it was a solemn duty owed to God to drop the request altogether.”
This quote from Dodgson does indicate his level of care and respect for his subjects and does not lend itself to a deviant interpretation. Likewise, he made efforts to ensure the privacy of these photos in order to not embarrass the girls and only shared them with the families and after his death all were destroyed.
I find this relationship of the photographer and his subjects to be incredibly interesting especially in contrast to todays culture and the nature of photography in present day. The idea of the nude figure can be interpreted in many different ways, however the notion of a nude child instantly has connotations of sexual deviance and pedophilia.
I was left wondering how does Victorian child photography and the depiction of the female body, tie into todays culture of nude photography in regards to hacks of personal photos like most recently, Jennifer Lawrence. Additionally this can be contrasted with those who share their own images such as Kim Kardashian’s most recent photo shoot with Paper Magazine.
Carroll, Lewis, John Tenniel, Martin Gardner, and Lewis Carroll. “Introduction To The Annotated Alice.” The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-glass. New York: Norton, 2000. XV-XX. Print.
Wolf, Jenny. “Lewis Carroll’s Shifting Reputation.” Smithsonian. SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE, Apr. 2010. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
Images found here: http://babydraw.ru/2008/04/09/charles_dodgson.html