The ukelele, still in fashion


When our family sold Alice’s memorabilia more than 10 years ago, one thing I managed to hold on to was this original photograph of Alice and her sisters playing the ukelele, taken by Lewis Carroll.

Lewis Carroll, or Charles Dodgson as he was really called, took loads of photographs of the girls, Alice in particular. In fact he was an early pioneer of photography and he used the collodian wetplate process, a fiddly business with lots of variables: if the chemicals were mixed wrongly, the exposure too long or too short, the light to bright or too dark, and so on, the plate would be ruined. Dodgson’s diaries are punctuated with failures. And also the children had to sit completely still for up to a minute!

He often told them stories to get them into the dreamy state of mind he wanted. And there are lots more parallels between photography and Alice in Wonderland: the glass negative turned black into white, like all the inversions in his tale. The lens created little miniature upside-down figures. And his photographs often tell a story, or suggest one, rather than being straight portraits.