You are currently viewing archive for February 2015
26 February 2015
Mark Burstein

A couple of months ago I went to California to visit Mark Burstein, who has a mind-blowing collection of "Alice" books and memorabilia, one of the best in the world. He is a vital part of the LCSNA (Lewis Carroll Society of North America) and he and his family live on a farm north of San Francisco. It was kind of touch and go if we would be able to visit, since he had jury service during our time in California. But luckily Justice held off for a day, and so one sunny morning we got in the car and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin county...

And after a while, going down ever smaller roads, we arrived at the dazzling white tower where Mark keeps his collection.

I can't start to tell you what amazing things are there.

Mark's collection is built upon the one given to him by his father, Sandor. It contains one of only 2,700 very expensive books of Salvador Dali prints of "Alice in Wonderland" - I was excited, as I've not had the chance to examine these before. But I must confess I was equally impressed by other volumes. Look at these bindings. That luminous mother-of-pearl effect on this "Looking Glass"...

And this is the companion edition of "Wonderland, " both published by Cheshire Cat Press and illustrated with George Walker's distinctive prints.

The collection contains one of the rare press kits which were issued or the Tim Burton movie of "Alice in Wonderland." It is an elaborate piece of work, which is unlocked with a huge key. Can you see it there on the top of the pile? Very few of these were made, and so it's quite an acquisition.

Talking of acquisitions, one of the many interesting things about Mark is that he doesn't look to the internet to find his treasures. He prefers,he says, the "traditional way." Which means the hard way - by asking about, by looking around. Not so easy, but far more fun, of course.

There are "Alice" books here in many different languages; I was specially interested in some of the Russian illustrations which are typically stylish and emotionally powerful

But of course there aren't just books. What about the white rabbits, clustered around the staircase....

wwhite rabbits

And all kinds of toys and games and artworks, including this collage featuring Lewis Carroll. If you stand the shiny cylinder in one place, it reflects back an image of Carroll himself.

I spent a long time looking through his collection of material about Lewis Carroll and his life, of course. In fact, that was so interesting to me that I was considering turning up the next day, too, with a sleeping bag and a couple of packs of sandwiches, so I could stick around and read everything that caught my eye.

But no, I'm joking - about the sandwiches, anyhow. We didn't need sandwiches, because we had a great lunch, and met his attractive family, who were so hospitable, creative and friendly.

Then we went for an outing to the Charles L. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA, home of "Peanuts." Schulz was a "local boy" in this area, and he was also a big fan of "Alice." If you know "Peanuts" you'll remember Snoopy's Cheshire Beagle Trick and so many other references to Alice in the comic strips.

Lucy and the Cheshire Beagle

The museum was running an "Alice" show, "Peanuts in Wonderland," featuring some of Mark's collection in clever VIctorian style display cabinets - one of which has a tiny door in the side, which looks to be leading into the garden. Unfortunately my camera started malfunctioning, so I didn't get any usable shots. But, if you live within reach, the show is on till 26 April, so I hope you can make it.

Finally, it was time to head back to Mark's place. We dropped him off, gave a last look to the magic tower, and set off back into San Francisco in the evening sun.

What an amazing day it was - one I'll really remember. And, if you think I sound like a bit of a fan.. well, you know something -

I am!!

<br />
25 February 2015
Alice Doll

The Londonist is the best guide to London that I know. It's online and as I live in London I consult it often when I want a day out. It's just run a piece on London Alice in Wonderland hangouts. Some of the connections are just a bit tenuous, but all are interesting, the listings particularly. I'll be visiting some of them- so watch this space!

The Alice tree ornament doll at the top, by the way, was made by my friend Marjorie, who is a wonderful needlewoman - she always has some interesting stitching project on the go and she has made us some fantastic things over the years. The ornaments were a whole set and she gave one character to each member of the family.
04 February 2015
I'm sure everyone has now forgotten the BBC2 film on Lewis Carroll except those of us who were at the sharp end and actually appeared on it. For me, it is still an issue, because I have spent so long in trying to uncover the truth about Lewis Carroll, whatever it may be. I can't change anything that wasn't nice about him, but I feel directly affected when a mass audience programme goes out, with ME on it, making suggestions that contradict what I know to be true. So if you thought there was something a bit peculiar about this photo they are supposed to have discovered at a late stage, read on ...

The programme is now offline, but try Youtube, as I'm told it has been leaked onto that.

1. First - about the photo, attributed to Lewis Carroll and said to be of Lorina Liddell.

- The BBC found it in the summer, several months before the late January screening, not late in the day, as they say. They found it on the internet, although they do not say so in the film. You can find it too by simply typing "Lorina Liddell" into Google images, and it will come up on the first page. Here it is on the Scala Archives art site as an attribution (they say "called" as it is a auto translation) - and it's held at Musee Cantini, Marseilles.

2. What about the Musee Cantini?

- It is a small modern art museum in Marseilles. More info here in English, and a link to its site (in French) Its collection contains works by some very major artists and a photo collection, and it has professional staff.

So let's consider the BBC's investigation.

3. What do Musee Cantini's own experts say about their own item on the programme?

- They say nothing. No representative from the museum appeared on the programme. However, we do know from the Scala site that it is only attributed to, not "by" Lewis Carroll in the catalogue.

4. Has the museum done its own tests on it?

- Yes. They have determined it is NOT connected with Carroll.

5. What about the views of the programme's own experts on Carroll and his photography?

- Let's start with me. I am an expert on Carroll's life, and in the context of what is known about Carroll's life, this photo simply does not fit. My aim is to find the truth about Carroll, not whitewash him or offer distortions about him. But I was not told about this photo till shortly before transmission, so I was unable to consider it and give my opinion. You will notice from the film that the trip to Marseilles was made in the summer, so they had plenty of time to discuss it with me in the months since then. I was, however, told certain things which are the subject of a complaint I am putting in to the BBC so I am afraid I cannot tell you about those at the minute.

6. What about the other experts on the programme?

- The programme's expert on Carroll's photographs is Edward Wakeling. Here are his credentials. He is just finishing off the definitive edition of Carroll's photos, and is consulted by the V & A Museum, the National Museum of Film and Television, major auction houses, etc. He also studied this exact image for the Musee Cantini in 1993, and for various reasons concluded it could not have been by Carroll.

7. Where do we hear Edward Wakeling's view on this photo?

- His view is given in a voiceover which was added 2 days before transmission. He did not get air time to discuss it.

8. Which experts do get the air time?

- There are two. One is a professional paper and photographic conservator, Nicholas Burnett, of MCS. This company is an art restorer offering Watercolour Restoration, Paper Conservation and Conservation Framing.

Mr Burnett's professional opinion does not state that this photo is by Lewis Carroll. He does correctly identify that the photo is from the 30 year period c1851-1880 (some of the time when Carroll was photographing,) but then so were tens of thousands of other photos. He also identifies that the image, like Carroll's work and tens of thousands of other photos worldwide, were taken with plate cameras and the wet collodion/albumen print processes - that's because that is how photos were taken at the time. That's all. There is nothing to even link this photo to England, let alone to Lewis Carroll. Yet his "gut feeling" - his personal, non-professional opinion. is that it is by Carroll. Perhaps it is not fair to Mr. Burnett to leave us with this, but this IS what we are left with.

The BBC's other expert is David Anley, a forensic image analyst whose professional tests are given several minutes of air time. His professional opinion is that "there is a moderate likelihood based on the two photos | have seen seen that the photo shows Lorina Liddell." Notice he will not professionally back the idea that it is even "very likely" to be of Lorina, let alone that it actually is her. He is not qualified to judge who took the picture. He only studied two of the many photos of Lorina. Yet viewers were also given Mr Anley's "hunch" (i.e. personal non professional opinion) that it is genuine. This is what we are left with.

In terms of providing balance, (a cardinal rule, supposedly, for BBC documentaries), the film didn't make it clear that on one hand they had people with no relevant expertise in photographic history or knowledge of Carroll's life, whose entirely personal hunches were offered airtime and discussion, and on the other hand they didn't tell their own relevant experts anything about the image, so their opposing views were not given airtime or discussion.

A few days before transmission, I was told by the BBC that they were expecting intense media interest. Well, this film has succeeded. As an example of advertising technique, it is pretty darn good. As a piece of decent documentary journalism - well, draw your own conclusions. Now, sit down and enjoy the film!

PS - April 2015. At Kings Place, London, recently, the consultant for the programme was asked about this photograph. He stated that he had nothing to do with the section of the programme which was about this photograph, and added "the consultant doesn't always know everything."