Lewis Carroll: between controversy and acclaimed works – #100GameChangers

100GameChangers is a very diverse column, featuring photographers of all social backgrounds, with varied personalities and best known for the controversy surrounding their names.

The topic of this article, first of all, is THE controversy that still today makes scholars, enthusiasts and gossip lovers talk about the world of photography, who, in front of a beer in the evening, try to solve enigmas and disputes related to characters from ancient history or at least dead for more than a hundred years.

Unfortunately, this problem always leads to the creation of a veil of Maya that covers the work and the reality linked to the subject in question, in most cases distorting the figure and the work done in good faith.

That said, I would like to point out that I am not going to use this space to analyse the dark side of the photographer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, best known as Lewis Carroll, but I am going to talk (as much as I can) about what he wanted to tell with his view camera, and that even today due to lack of material (about 60% of his portfolio has been lost) is subject to continuous investigation.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, best known as Lewis Carroll

Mr. Carroll is and was in the second half of the 19th century an enigmatic gentleman. His alleged abilities in various fields: from literature, through illustration and culminating in mathematics, also led Lewis Carroll to engage in the noble art of photography.

After starting out, like almost everyone else at the time, out of curiosity or for fun thanks to his uncle Skeffington Luwidge, the noble young englishman soon decided, somewhat impulsively, to make it his profession, using a space he owned on the roof of Tom Quad, the Great Quadrangle in Oxford. It was there that Carroll took more than 3,000 pictures, which, although unknown to the eye, are recorded in documents attesting to the experimental nature of the photographer’s approach, hopping from one genre to another like his White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.In fact, it seems that the nobleman was able to expand his range of photographic genres fairly quickly, shooting almost every single object or subject that came into his head, including skeletons, dogs, statues and various items commonly found in every home.

1. Alice Liddell / 2. Two unknown children photographed by Dodgson/Carroll

Dodgson was in constant exercise with his eye, which was also due to the fact that during his most productive period he managed to secure a place for himself within the circle of great intellectuals who offered themselves for a portrait. Among the poets and writers, Julia Margaret Cameron was also able to have her picture taken.

However, what made Carroll famous were his pictures of very young boys and girls, which included the more famous Alice Liddell. The photographs in question are all very similar, taken using a wet collodion process and with centred subjects. This leads us to think that many of the portraits were commissioned by the parents of these children, who paid the English photographer to keep a memory of them. Other prints, however, seem to be quite anonymous or “personal” in a way. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is not my job here to judge his private life, especially as there is no evidence of Carroll’s sexual orientation either from Liddell or from other acquaintances.

The speculations that have been made about him have been very lucrative for the newspapers and some writers who, by promoting his alleged paedophilia, have created an aura of terror around an uncertain figure, not to mention the photomontages showing Carroll and Liddell together.

As you can see in this before/after the picture was heavily retouched.

We cannot know the truth, and perhaps we are not even meant to know it.
Nevertheless, his photography will remain a contribution of unprecedented historical, psycho-sociological and psycho-pedagogical value, and that, despite the controversy, we can still observe with curiosity and interest, as a subject of study, an honour reserved for a few great minds who have wanted for better or for worse to leave an indelible mark on themselves.

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