Camera lens was Lewis Carroll's looking glass

Ruth Stevens

Princeton NJ -- The University library's treasure trove of photographs by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson -- better known as Lewis Carroll -- has been unearthed in a new book published by Princeton University Press.

"Lewis Carroll, Photographer: The Princeton University Library Albums" is the first comprehensive publication of the library's 407 photographs by Carroll, who pursued a love of taking pictures in addition to a career writing classics such as "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." In fact, Alice's real-life namesake, Alice Liddell, appears in many of Carroll's photographs.

The book's jacket design already has won an award from the Association of American University Presses.


Princeton's collection of Carroll's photographs is the largest in the world. However, until the recent publication of the book, it was nearly impossible for scholars and enthusiasts to study them all together. The authors of the book are Roger Taylor, an independent British photographic historian specializing in the mid-Victorian period, and Edward Wakeling, a collector who has compiled and edited several volumes of the writings of Carroll.

"I cannot begin to describe how thrilled I am about this new publication," said Ben Primer, associate University librarian and University archivist. "These albums are among the great treasures of the Princeton University Library, and we are so fortunate that the Princeton University Press has made them available to the world at large. Co-authors Roger Taylor and Edward Wakeling have been tremendous colleagues in this creative endeavor, and we could not have completed this volume without the enormous editorial skills of Nancy Grubb at the Press. This will be the definitive book on Carroll photography long after those who worked on it have passed from the scene."

The book features striking portraits of Liddell and other children presented alongside those of eminent Victorians such as Alfred Tennyson and William Holman Hunt. It also contains evocative landscapes, narrative tableaux and strange studies of anatomical skeletons.

Taylor contributed a discussion of Carroll not only as a photographic artist, but as a prominent member of Victorian society. Wakeling provided a fully illustrated and annotated catalog of the University library's entire Carroll collection. The collection includes loose prints as well as four albums made by Carroll to showcase his work to friends, family and potential sitters.

Experts estimate that Carroll took some 3,000 images between 1856 and 1880. The book also incorporates a chronological register of every known Carroll photograph.

Four-year effort

Primer noted that the book has been in the works for about four years. He said those involved were especially grateful to the Dodgson family for permitting the publication of the photographs, since nearly 70 percent of them have not previously appeared in print.

The University came into possession of a majority of the photographs by Carroll when it received a bequest from Morris Parrish. Parrish enrolled in Princeton in 1884, but left before he completed his freshman year. He became a stockbroker in Philadelphia as well as a collector of literary works. He obtained three of the four albums in Princeton's collection through Carroll's sister, Louisa Fletcher Dodgson, in the 1920s.

Despite his brief stay on campus, Parrish maintained his Princeton connections and left his entire collection to Princeton when he died in 1944.

"In 1946 the Parrish Library (at Princeton) came under the curatorship of Alexander Wainwright, who over the years added thousands of imprints, manuscripts and other materials to the collection, including most of the loose Dodgson photographs in it," wrote Peter Bunnell, the McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art at Princeton, in the book's introduction. "The care of this collection became a labor of love for Wainwright over the next 54 years. He worked until the day before his death on Jan. 5, 2000, on a 700-page catalog of the collection, which has since been posted on the library's Web site." The new book is dedicated to Wainwright.

Bunnell also wrote that to appreciate Carroll's photographs, viewers must look beyond "the who, where and when. Dodgson purposefully chose notable men, women and children to be his subjects, but the historical content of their depictions is not the reason to value his work," he wrote. "Nor should these photographs invite consideration only because of who made them. If this were all there was to it, Dodgson's work in photography would be no more than a curiosity.

"What has to be seen is the triumphant way he absorbed the medium into his larger conception of being and made its qualities manifest in terms of his own knowledge and deep emotional interpretation."


March 11, 2002
Vol. 91, No. 19
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Editor: Ruth Stevens
Calendar editor: Carolyn Geller
Staff writers: Jennifer Greenstein Altmann, Steven Schultz
Contributing writers: Marilyn Marks, Evelyn Tu
Photographer: Denise Applewhite
Design: Mahlon Lovett, Laurel Masten Cantor
Web edition: Mahlon Lovett