My Alice LIke Dodgson's & Cameron's Too?Wednesday, March 09, 2011
|Rebecca as Alice Liddell, Rosa 'William Shakespeare'|
The most often asked question I hear when people find out I am a photographer is, "Who’s the most famous person you have ever photographed?" Not even a close second is, “Of all the photographs you have ever taken which is your favourite?”
The first question I answer with a varied response. It is no different from the question, “Which is your favourite rose in your garden?” It really depends on the season and even within the month, week or day.
But the second question will always be the same. It is the picture I took of my granddaughter Rebecca on July 9, 2004. I took her to the garden and I used my Mamiya RB-67 with one roll of Kodak Plus-X in 220 (had I shot the whole roll there would have been 20 exposures.) I lit her with a 2x3 ft softbox fired by a Norman 200B. The purpose of the flash is to diminish the contrast on what really was a sunny day.
In that year I was getting lots of flack not only from my wife but from all our relatives, including Rebecca’s on her father’s side. They all wondered why I never asked Rebecca to smile. I had never thought about it. It was just the way it was. But when I began to investigate I came up with an answer. I have been influenced in my style of photography by both Julia Margaret Cameron and the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, both photographers of the 19th century. Both had photographed Alice Liddell (Cameron when Liddell was an adult, Dodgson when Liddell was a child). It was Dodgson who as Lewis Carroll transformed Alice Liddell into the Alice of his books. In none of the pictures of Alice Liddell was there ever one where she smiled. I liked the fact that the two Victorian photographers saw children as adults and never condescended to them.
Somehow when I asked Rebecca to smile there was a falseness (just my impression) that I did not like.
I have posted here the two contacts with the 13 exposures of Rebecca and one of my female cat Plata. The first exposure is top right and the last is bottom left in the second contact. It is plain to see that the picture that I like I only took one and had variations of the others. There is something in the picture that I like that makes me gaze at it when I wake up in the morning. It is close to my bed and all I need to do before I go to sleep is turn my head to the right and there she is all 16x20 inches in size.
The print on the wall is one of two. Shortly before I printed the picture I found, buried under a pile of photographic paper boxes, one envelope of five 16x20 sheets of Agfa Portriga paper. The paper had been discontinued quite a time before 2004 so it was expired. The prints do not have a true white, it is creamy. I made four prints, two of the one you see here and two of another which I took at a different time in the middle of my rose bed. The fifth sheet of paper I cut up in strips to make test strips to print the four pictures.The print has a beautiful look to it that I cannot describe and the scan here does no justice to the actual print. Rebecca now refuses to pose by the spot because the Cedrus deodara ‘Snow Sprite’ (a true cedar) behind her is most prickly.
I long to be alive so that I can play both Dodgson and Cameron. If that happens I will get to photograph my Alice as a child and as an adult. And I will not ask her to smile for that shot either.
The chronology is as follows. The first picture is of my female cat Plata. Then you go down and to the next column, the third and from there to the second contact. The last picture taken is bottom left. The picture I ultimately chose was the ninth, bottom left of the first contact.