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    Charles Lutwidge Dodgson: The photographic hobby that brought fame

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    Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, also known as Lewis Carroll. Within his twenty-five years of photography, Carroll used his creativity and love for mathematics to create thousands of portraits. To this day the Man has made a name for himself in his works of art. Many people find beauty and charm in his work, while some point out the controversial issues surrounding his work.

    Charles Dodgson was born in remote area in Cheshire on January 27th, 1832. His family lineage dates back into the church, which placed his family to the higher end of society. While they were not seen as aristocrats, the family were “good people.”

    Once his family moved to Croft, he began his formal education. From an early age, Charles wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and enter the church. He was sent off to Richmond. There he would be known for his mathematics and his love for debate. Charles then transferred to Rugby School in 1846. Photography was a common Hobby at the Rugby School. Most of the boys soon dropped photography though, as it demanded too much technical knowledge. Charles witnessed it in action, and immediately noticed its mathematical aspects.

    One of the major factors that influenced and affected Charles’s work was his camera. The Ottewill was unlike other cameras of the time. While typical cameras were heavy and cumbersome, the Ottewill was compact and portable. It was the only foldable camera available at the time. This camera would allow him to photography anywhere he pleased. The camera was also very adaptable for him. The Ottewill would allow him to take negatives from whole plates, down to smaller sized quarter plates. The camera would allow without the need for another camera. At the time, making an enlargement wasn’t an option. The negative image would determine the size. He would often save the larger plate for non-portrait pictures, such as anatomical specimens, because the subject wouldn’t move during the long exposure.

    Another factor that affected Dodgson’s photography was the chemistry aspect. The chemicals of the 19th century were full of impurities. Even the water was unreliable for most photographers. Dodgson bought all his chemicals from a rebuttable vendor who he knew would give him the purist products. Since photography was his major hobby, he believed it should be done with careful attention to the tiny details. Many would say he was obsessed with obtaining perfect images.

    Much like other photographers of the time, most of his work was made using the wet collodion negative process and the albumen print process. What set Dodgson apart from other photographers is his eye for detail. Dodgson was able to take long exposure portraits, without the subject moving. He would often reject dozens of photos that did not meet his standard.

    Dodgson’s first six years of photography have been noted as his most active. It’s thought that he had taken over seven-hundred photos during that timeframe. His photos arranged from the novice beginner, to him experimenting with the frame and position of the subjects. While most of his work is portraits, he also photographed sculptures and anatomical specimens. It was also during this timeframe that Charles would create some of his most well-known photographs, one of which is of Alice Liddell as The Beggar Maid of 1858. This would be the same Alice he would base his stories on later in his life. Many of Charles’s photographs have Alice present. (picture 1)

    Charles photographed his friends, colleagues, and many celebrities of the 19th century. His family would often travel, and he would have the opportunity to photograph many high influence people. Dodgson used his families place in society to his advantage. He would use his photographic skills to get him into the higher social conventions. Dodgson was fortunate enough to photograph the Poet Laureate Alfred. He was even allowed to photograph royalty. The Crown Prince of Denmark and The Duke of Albany both were fans of Dodgson work. (group 1)

    As time went on, he became known for portraits of children. Out of the three thousand pictures he created during his lifetime, over half are of children. Charles scrutinized every detail when it came to these portraits. The children would be posed in varies scenes. Many of these scenes came from various folktales. the seams and edges of backdrops are visible in many of his photographs. the children will often have blank faces and look somewhat out of place. In one of his photos the children of one of Dodgson’s colleagues are acting out a story of “Saint George and the Dragon.” Dodgson captures the ways children come together to play with one another. He often uses a few props and accessories to create an alternative world for the viewer. (group 2 ) His creativity and sympathy for the emotions of children is what gives his work its charm.

    While he is noted for his portrait photography, Some of his most interesting work is on the anatomical specimens. He would often take photographs for museums on the various skeletons that were donated. Many of the skeletons are held together by wire against a black cloth. The photos were on various unique animal species, such as the Kiwi bird and the Tunny-fish. One of his most unique pictures is the photograph skeleton of a sunfish. What makes this photo unique is that Charles confused the species of the fish. While he believed to be photographing the freshwater species, it was the much larger salt water sunfish. (group 3)

    In April of 1858, Charles took a photo that stands out alongside his other work. It’s a photograph the family doll named Tim, sitting in a chair. It was taken during at Ripon during the families stay. No other details are known about this doll, except for the surviving photo. All the children of the Dodgson house were fully grown, so it’s unknown why he decided to use a doll. What is even more eerie is the lifeless face the doll expresses. Its surprising to see a male doll from that timeframe, so perhaps that is why he decided to photograph it. (picture 2)

    Many have drawn controversy over Dodgson’s photos. Out of the 3000 photos he took, many of which include partials for fully nude children. They were often posed in a way that was odd for a children’s portrait. At the time, nudity was a sign of purity, and they would often have appeared on postcards or birthday cards sent by family members. Even by Victorian age standards, his photography practices raised many questions throughout the community. Its also noted by historians that because of the high infant-mortality that was prevalent at the time, many parents wanted a permanent image of their child.

    So if a child would perish, the family would have something of them forever. No proof has been found that he harmed any of the children, but that doesn’t stop skeptics. Over two-thirds of his work has either been destroyed or lost in time. Dozens of paged from his notebook have been torn out as well. Many have claimed its due to the collodion process breaking down, as the images were often not permanent. While other people believe it was done deliberately by the church, as a cover-up. To this day it is still unknown for certain, and it has put a stain on the beloved artist’s reputation. (group 4)

    Charles Dodgson quit his photography hobby in 1880, after twenty-five years of hard work. The collodion press that he became famous for had been outdated. With the invention of the dry plate process, it became easier for everyone to have access to the trade. Mixing the chemicals, and prepping the dark room was also getting to be a hassle for him. He believed that with photography being accessible by everyone, the art would suffer tremendously.

    Charles Dodgson dedication for the art and eye for detail are what every photographer should strive to achieve. He accepted nothing but the perfect image. His love for the hobby is what gave him his ambition. Artists today can take away many philosophies form his work. The photographic hobby today should still have that heart coming from its photographers. Without the passion and dedication for the art, then the art itself will suffer.

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    Charles Lutwidge Dodgson: The photographic hobby that brought fame. (2022, Dec 22). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/charles-lutwidge-dodgson-the-photographic-hobby-that-brought-fame/

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