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On a summer's day in 1858, in a garden behind Christ Church College in Oxford, Charles Dodgson, a lecturer in mathematics, photographed six-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of the college dean, with a Thomas Ottewill Registered Double Folding camera, recently purchased in London.
The author,  Simon Winchester, deftly uses the resulting image--as unsettling as it is famous, and the subject of bottomless speculation--as the vehicle for a brief excursion behind the lens, a focal point on the origins of a classic work of English literature. Dodgson's love of photography framed his view of the world, and was partly responsible for transforming a shy and half-deaf mathematician into one of the world's best-loved observers of childhood. Little wonder that there is more to "Alice Liddell as the Beggar Maid" than meets the eye. Using Dodgson's published writings, private diaries, and of course his photographic portraits, Winchester gently exposes the development of Lewis Carroll and the making of his Alice.

According to one review, fascinating as that story is, it has been told many times. What Winchester offers that is new, largely, is a detailed explanation the nascent field of amateur Victorian photography. He meticulously tracks Dodgson’s 1856 purchase of his first mahogany-and-brass folding camera. He carefully works through the history of the development of the camera, and explains the difference between the daguerreotype, the calotype, and the wet-plate collodion that Dodgson relied on. What is frustrating, however, is to hear a good deal about Dodgson’s photographs but to see only the one of Alice, as no others are reproduced in the book.

If you are still keen, you can purchase the book through the Amazon link on the right.

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