The Child in Charles Dodgson’s Photographs and Their Criticism: Subject, History, Body and Archive
By Dr Jessica Medhurst
Abstract PhD Thesis Dr Jessica Medhurst
Congratulations to CIRCL PhD student Jessica (Jess) Medhurst (formerly Sage) on passing her viva on 10-07-2014 with her thesis on ‘The Child in Charles Dodgson’s Photographs and Their Criticism: Subject, History, Body and Archive’. External Examiner: Dr Emma Francis from the University of Warwick and Internal Examiner Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, supervisor Dr Neil Cocks.
Abstract of thesis
Through close readings of a small selection of Charles Dodgson’s photographs and their criticism this thesis, informed by Jacqueline Rose’s The Case of Peter Pan, considers the implications of reading childhood and photography as construction. Framed by Jacques Derrida’s claim in Of Grammatologythat “il n’y a pas de hors-texte”, it questions what constitutes these terms, which are taken for granted in the current criticism, and by this it worries the field’s investment in the availability of the object.
It also considers the notion of frame in the photographs and the claims made about them, worrying the possibility of a distinction between context and text. Reading ideas of history in Anne Higonnet’s Pictures of Innocence and the process of photographic production in Diane Waggoner’s “Photographing Childhood: Lewis Carroll and Alice”, it draws conclusions that form the basis of the fourth chapter’s interrogation of constructions of the child’s body and nudity. Sexuality, granted such importance by so many of the critics, including Carol Mavor and Morton Cohen, is further brought into question through reading hair and colour, ideas that receive little attention in the current field.
The final chapter problematises ideas of archive as somehow stabilising the photographs and the photographer, claims I read in Roger Taylor and Edward Wakeling’s The Princeton University Library Albums, and through this it produces new readings of archival texts. It also analyses the glass plate negatives held by the National Portrait Gallery, about which little has been written.
The deferral that I read in these analyses results in what might be taken to be photographs making a delayed entry into this thesis and in an engagement with texts that do not constitute themselves as to do with Dodgson’s photography. In this I read this thesis as producing a new frame: one that questions its own ability to delimit, that worries the critics’ claimed accessibility of the child, and that problematises the photograph as evidence.
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