Alice in Wonderland

January 10, 2011

Alice in Wonderland written by Lewis Carroll in 1865 tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world. The book has influenced and still greatly influences popular culture today, almost 150 years later. For our presentation in professional practice we chose to look at this influence throughout the arts, in illustration, photography, music and film. What is it about this Victorian children’s story that still inspires popular culture so much today?

When thinking of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ most of us have a clear image of how the famous characters such as the queen of hearts, the mad hatter, and the Cheshire cat look and dress. How is it that we all know how these characters should look stereotypically? The original illustratons by John Tenniel showed little Alice in a tiny dress, before the Disney film many years later portrayed her as blonde haired and wearing blue. The character Alice was created for 3 young sisters Carroll knew.

The first filmed 1903 version of the story was a silent film directed by Cecil Hepworth, and shows Alice being played by a fully grown woman. As film was a very new medium at that point the overall effect is very jumpy and dramatic with high contrast. Compared to today’s smooth running films the effect almost mimics a series of photographs pasted together to create stop motion animation.

Even back then the idea of recreating fantasy was a great interest to film makers and photographers. A photograph or piece of footage is always quite scientific in the way that it records exactly what was put in front of the camera. Many modern photographers use these mediums to visually create their interpretation of particular themes or stories, making something creative and fantastical look ‘real’. In 1917 young British cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths created a series of photographs of the ‘Cottingley Fairies’, these very famous images caused much interest and controversy. Although these images were later found out to be forged, this great public interest in fantasy has never ceased.

The girls created cardboard cut-outs of fairies, in a similar way to how Abelardo Morel created his ‘Alice in Wonderland Series’ in 1998. Morel could have easily used colour film in this representation but he chose classic black and white, these collaged images are quite reminiscent of the original illustrations.

Modern photographers Tim Walker, Annie Liebovitz, and Pavil Havlicek have all used ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to create amazing surreal imagery of the story in their fashion photography.   In these modern representations Alice is very much a woman and not a little girl. These typically beautiful models that play her create a new more sexualised representation. This in itself is quite controversial considering it is all based on a children’s story. While the protagonist Alice is a very naive and innocent child in the books, Alice in wonderland in popular culture is often quite fetishlike and even more warped. Although nothing against him was ever proved many people were suspicious of Lewis Carroll, his lack of a wife, and love of children.

Abelardo Morel

Annie Leibovitz

Tim Walker

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