In 1998, I made a series of photographs illustrating Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. I designed my images to be situated within a landscape made of books because it struck me that Carroll had linked Wonderland to the idea of discovering imagination by digging deep into the pages of a book.
After completing this project, I always thought I would re-visit Wonderland again and explore Carroll’s second “Alice” book, Through the Looking Glass. But other projects distracted, took precedence. That is until 2020. My experiences of getting sick with the COVID virus early on, and then sheltering in place thereafter sent me down another, different sort of rabbit hole. Suddenly, Alice’s adventures seemed to have a lot in common with what was going on in the world – and within me.
Through the Looking Glass revolves around Alice stepping into a mirror, on the other side of which there is a topsy-turvy, unfamiliar and illogical world. What she encounters there seemed to me to have parallels to new realities in our present moment. Notably, however, in both her trips to Wonderland, Alice is resilient. She confronts the many disturbing things she encounters with determination and, in the end, she manages to adapt to her new situation. Alice’s rolling with the punches supplied me with an instructive guide to living in turbulent times. Brave Alice learns to deal with the irrational without ignoring it. She makes her own sense out of nonsense.
To make my pictures, I have depended on and quoted from Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations generously. His drawings of both Alice books remain what I think are the best visual translations of what Carroll described in words.
For many images, I’ve created wallpaper, taking liberties and using parts of Tenniel’s drawings to piece together my own designs that I used as backgrounds in sets for my pictures.
After finishing illustrating Through the Looking Glass, I reviewed my 1998 pictures of Alice in Wonderland and it struck me that some of them did not pass the test of time so I made a few new versions.
While this photographic work is unavoidably steered and shaded by the eeriness of our present times, it is largely a product of invention, imagination and freedom – things needed to make something new out of the old.