A to Z of Photography: Central Park and Lewis Carroll

A to Z of Photography: Central Park and Lewis Carroll

Continuing our A to Z foray into the world of photography, we move on to C and the iconic Central Park. What possible reason could Central Park have for inclusion in this brief A to Z and didn't Lewis Carroll write books? Find out as we move on to alphabetical Cs.

Central Park

By dint of being photographers it means we end up photographing people, objects, and places. It's what we do. Naturally, then, there are places we want to photograph. In fact travel photography — in the form of photographing places we have visited - has a history as long as the camera with early work from the Abdullah Freres, John Thomson, and Francis Frith being good examples.

In the social media age where it is not so much what you take a photo of but rather where you are and how that importance is translated to the individual — the selfie reigns supreme. For many, that will mean a bucket list with some popular spots including Taft Point (Yosemite), Antelope Canyon, and Maya Bay (Thailand). In short, everyone is a photographer because they have a smartphone and want to take a selfie! Where then is the most photographed place on the planet? It has to be where people want to take photos, that they have a camera, and, well, there are a lot of people!

How you exactly count photos, and recognize where they are taken, is open to debate. In this instance Google was my friend in sourcing different top ten lists and, unsurprisingly, they are almost entirely comprised of cities. Expedia used travel photography website Trover which gave the top spot to Central Park in New York City. In contrast, Conde Next Traveller based their count on Instagram with the Eiffel Tower garnering over 4.5M posts since 2013. The Readers' Digest also used Instagram and reckon New York City was the most photographed in 2017.

The Washington Post went for Panoramio instead and, surprise, surprise, New York City remains the most photographed, with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum taking top spot for location.The last word naturally has to go to Quora and roundly trumps all of the above lists. Yes, the most photographed place on Instagram for 2017, following reporting in The Telgraph, is Disneyland, Anaheim.

What does the above show? If you want to stand out and rise above the graphical noise that is visually stupefying us, then go somewhere that isn't on that list. That, or be so astronomically off-the-scale in your work that people sit up and listen... or rather look!

Lewis Carroll

It's an overwhelming mystery, wrapped up in a fairy tale, that might be a nightmare. The life of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson takes some telling and has been the source of active documentation and controversy for nearly a century. Better known through his pen name Lewis Carroll, Dodgson is remembered for writing Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, along with noted poetic literary nonsense Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark. Educated at the University of Oxford (Christ Church) he was awarded a First Honors in Mathematics before going on to teach mathematics at the university. Following family expectation, he was ordained a deacon in the Church of England in 1861. His scholastic achievement reflected his generally high ability and he also wrote (rather well!), painted, and invented. As a university teacher he wrote a number of academic manuscripts which have remained current and relevant, outlining the sophistication of his research in areas such as geometry, algebra, and logic, including writing nearly a dozen books. He was an avid writer of letters and even authored "Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing". As an inventor he devised a postage stamp case (for Wonderland stamps!), a nyctograph for writing in the dark, and even an early form of Scrabble. Surprisingly, and unknowingly for me, he was also a photographer of note.

Dodgson attended Oxford in 1851, working as a teacher from 1855. This almost exactly coincided with the collodion wet plate process and during this period he mastered the technique, creating over 3000 plates and even had a studio of his own. His work was well received and his portraiture extended to celebrities including John Everett Millais, Ellen Terry, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Julia Margaret Cameron, Michael Faraday, Lord Salisbury, and Alfred Tennyson. After a 24 year career, he abruptly stopped plate making in 1880, in part due to the popularity of the dry-plate process (which allowed other photographers to work more quickly) and changing tastes.

Of the 3000 plates, only about 1000 survive. This is partly due to the fragile nature of the medium, but also because many of them were destroyed either by Dodgson or those that inherited them. This leads to the most controversial aspect of his work - he clearly liked photographing children. Around a half of the surviving images are of children, thirty of which are nude or semi-nude. Whilst questions about his sexuality didn't arise until the 1930s, well after his death, the topic remains controversial. Of early photographers, he wasn't alone in photographing children and we can't ever fully understand Victorian sensibilities with regard to photography. In essence we are appraising 1850s photographers within our own social context, yet it remains that he was a bachelor who spent periods of time entertaining young girls and (professionally) photographing them, sometimes naked. The Smithsonian Magazine gives a good appraisal of current thinking, whilst the BBCs recent documentary has more forthright views expressed.

Looking beyond this controversial aspect of his work, Dodgson clearly takes his place as a photographer of significance during the formative years of photography as an artform.

Other Cs

Other Cs that didn't make the cut this week include the Calotype, childhood photos, Canon, Cprint, Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Capa, carte-de-visite, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Cibachrome, Larry Clark, Cosina, Cliche-verre, Chuck Close, collodion process, contact print, copyright, and Imogen Cunningham.

A to Z Catchup

Alvarez-Bravo and Aperture, Bronica and Burtynsky

Lead image a composite courtesy of Skitterphoto and brenkee via Pixabay used under Creative Commons and Wikipedia, in the Public Domain. Body image courtesy 12019 via Pixabay used under Creative Commons and Wikipedia, in the Public Domain.

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2 Comments

Really enjoying the series. I'm sure choosing who to feature is tough. So far we've skipped Ansel Adams, Mathew Brady, and Canon. I wonder who else will miss the cut!

Mike Smith's picture

Thanks Peter - much appreciated! There are definitely some biggies that Ive skipped past. A really tough call each week