Lewis Carroll: Photographer
Carroll had taken up photography in 1856, around the time he met the Liddell family. A lifelong gadget geek, Carroll was fascinated by the technical demands of photography, then a much more arduous and difficult hobby than it is today. Subjects were required to sit still for long periods while the photographer wrestled with heavy equipment. In Carroll's 24 years as an amateur photographer, he virtually mastered the art form. His photographs are considered among the best examples of Victorian photography. "His ability to establish rapport with the sitter, the way he held their attention, his composition - there is no other photographer working in that way with that consistency in the whole history of photography,"2 said Roger Taylor, who co-wrote a book about Carroll's photography.
Carroll's success as a photographer and writer brought him into contact with other artists of the pre-Raphaelite period. He counted among his friends the poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter John Everett Millais and fantasy writer George MacDonald. His friends and their families served as subjects for his photography, along with other well-known sitters like Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Carroll's favorite subjects were young girls. And here we get into the quandary of Lewis Carroll's biography. Carroll was adamant in his preference for young girl subjects, always under the age of eleven, whom he preferred to photograph without their mothers present so they would appear more natural. He also disliked the Victorian practice of dressing children up like small adults, arguing that the natural form of a child was beautiful and did not need to be covered up. He frequently photographed his girls nude, though he made a point of never taking frontal portraits.
There are schools of thought on Carroll's fondness for young girls. One is that there is something downright creepy, if not pedophilic, about a grown man taking pictures of barely-clad girls. "I always call him Lewis Carroll Carroll, because he was the first Humbert Humbert. Have you seen those photographs of him with little girls?"3 said Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov, who translated the first Russian version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
The other is that Carroll's photos have been totally misread by modern audiences, who have a very different perspective on child nudity than the Victorians did. "In that era, adoration of little girls was trendy, it was cool, it was fashionable," said Karoline Leach, who wrote a book defending Carroll's reputation against charges of pedophilia. "If we don't see that, we're only seeing our own prejudices."4 There is no evidence that Carroll ever behaved inappropriately toward a child, or that he had any sexual or inappropriate thoughts about his young friends. It's not clear whether he ever had sexual thoughts about anyone. Carroll never married. He was ordained a deacon in the Church of England on 22 December 1861. As part of his orders, he took a vow of celibacy.