The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present the remarkable photographic work of Lewis Carroll this summer. Carroll is widely celebrated as an author of beloved children’s stories, especially the 1865 book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but little known as one of the most sophisticated and respected photographers of the Victorian period. The exhibition Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll will be on view at the Museum from August 3 through November 10, 2002.
Lewis Carroll was the pen name of the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an Oxford mathematics lecturer. Dodgson acquired his first camera in 1856, the same year he invented his pseudonym, and pursued photography in tandem with his writing and his academic career. Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll is the first exhibition to offer a critical assessment of his photographs from an art-historical perspective. Dodgson’s fame as an author has impeded previous discussions of his photographic career, where his images have been cast as hobbyist creations rather than serious works of art; Dreaming in Pictures reveals Dodgson as a uniquely talented visual artist.
The 76 images featured in the exhibition focus on Dodgson’s pictures of people, including enigmatic portraits of children—perhaps his favorite subject—and tableau photographs. The latter, based on the tableaux vivants popular in the 19th century, involved costumed sitters posing in historical and allegorical scenes and described narratives familiar to a Victorian audience. The San Francisco presentation will also incorporate an auxiliary gallery featuring works by Dodgson’s contemporaries—Julia Margaret Cameron, David Wilkie Wynfield and Roger Fenton among them—as well as contextual materials related to Dodgson’s understanding of picture making, including works by the artists he selected to illustrate his children’s books.
Organized by Douglas R. Nickel, curator of photography at SFMOMA, Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll presents an aesthetic appraisal of Dodgson as a visual artist and a working photographer. The assembled works—mostly rare vintage prints drawn from a number of important public and private collections—demonstrate Dodgson’s conception of the photograph as private theater. According to Nickel, “Dodgson’s photographs show the workings of his unique intelligence, underscoring his literary concerns with fantasy, dreaming, childhood innocence and the power of the imagination, but they also illustrate a strain of Victorian photography that has been largely ignored by or suppressed in official histories of the medium. This exhibition offers the opportunity to examine both the individual and his times.”
Dodgson was raised in the countryside of Yorkshire, north of London, and moved to Oxford to attend Christ Church College in 1851. Following brilliant achievement in mathematics as an undergraduate, he was made a fellow and mathematics lecturer of the college in 1856. Early in Dodgson’s academic career, photography became his great passion. With ever increasing seriousness, he established successively more elaborate and spacious studios, ultimately devoting more than 24 years to the medium and generating approximately 3,000 images.
In Victorian times, one of the primary vehicles for the presentation of photographs was the album. Dodgson is believed to have assembled approximately 34 of these during his career, utilizing them as portable exhibitions of his photographic talents. In order to facilitate a better understanding of this 19th-century practice, SFMOMA is collaborating with Perimetre Design, a San Francisco–based company, in the planning, design and development of a computer program that will allow Museum visitors to interact with “virtual albums”—electronic facsimiles of Dodgson’s originals. Via touch-screen monitors, viewers will be able to turn the pages of these albums and encounter over 100 images by the photographer.
SFMOMA’s Education Department will present a variety of programs and public lectures to further enhance the visitor’s experience of the exhibition. Mark Burstein, vice president of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, will present To Stop a Bandersnatch, a free Art in Conversation lecture in SFMOMA’s Phyllis Wattis Theater on Friday, August 30, at 11:30 a.m. Additional program information is available on the Museum’s Web site at www.sfmoma.org.
In conjunction with the exhibition, SFMOMA is copublishing with Yale University Press a major new study on the subject, Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll. The 172-page book features an essay by Douglas R. Nickel, annotated plate descriptions by Carroll expert Edward Wakeling and 95 duotone illustrations. The plate section will include all 76 works in the exhibition. The hardcover catalogue (cloth with dust jacket) will be available at the SFMOMA MuseumStore and online at www.sfmoma.org for $45.
The presentation of Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll at SFMOMA will be followed by a prestigious national tour: venues include the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (February 22 to May 19, 2003); the International Center for Photography, New York (June 16 to September 7, 2003); and the Art Institute of Chicago (October 2003 to January 2004).