In the look­ing-glass world

Still she haunts me, phan­tom­wise, Alice mov­ing un­der skies Never seen by waking eyes. — from “A Boat, Be­neath a Sunny Sky” by Lewis Car­roll

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Michael Abatemarco

Fol­low artist Mag­gie Tay­lor down the rab­bit hole in her first ex­hi­bi­tion at Photo-eye Gallery, A Tale Be­gun in Other Days, which is cur­rently on view through Sept. 9. Tay­lor’s en­chant­ing, sur­real pho­tomon­tages, some of them based on au­thor Lewis Car­roll’s Through the Look­ing-Glass, are a heady mix of the every­day and the fan­tas­tic. Tay­lor uses a com­bi­na­tion of an­tique pho­to­graphs, scanned ob­jects, and dig­i­tal ma­nip­u­la­tions to cre­ate nar­ra­tive com­po­si­tions that evoke a fairy-tale sen­si­bil­ity. On the cover is her 2015 archival pig­ment print Well then.

IN 1862, ten-year-old Alice Lid­dell asked Charles Lutwidge Dodg­son, who went by the pen name Lewis Car­roll, to en­ter­tain her and her sis­ters with a story dur­ing a boat ride en route to a pic­nic lunch. Car­roll made the young girl the pro­tag­o­nist in a se­ries of ad­ven­tures that be­gin with Alice fall­ing down a rab­bit hole. Thus, Alice’s

Ad­ven­tures in Won­der­land, first pub­lished in 1865, was born. Car­roll, a close friend of the Lid­dell fam­ily, was also a pho­tog­ra­pher. Sev­eral por­traits of Alice and her sis­ters are in his reper­toire, much of which is now miss­ing. But the sto­ries of Alice that Car­roll tells in the book and its se­quel, Through the Look­ingGlass, have fired the imag­i­na­tions of artists for more than 150 years.

Pho­tog­ra­phy based on the sto­ries, how­ever, is rare. Look­ing at the imag­i­na­tive land­scapes of pho­tog­ra­pher Mag­gie Tay­lor, one can’t help but feel her work is per­fectly matched with Car­roll’s vi­sion of a mag­i­cal land that seems an in­verse of our own, where char­ac­ters with a pen­chant for rid­dles and puns cel­e­brate their un­birth­days and time runs back­wards. The im­ages in Tay­lor’s cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion at Photo-eye Gallery, A Tale Be­gun in Other Days, were in­spired in part by Through the Look­ing-Glass. Per­haps it was in­evitable that Tay­lor would take on this work. “I did an Alice in Won­der­land book a few years ago, and now I want to do the se­quel,” she said. “Most of the im­ages were done in the last two years.”

Tay­lor’s com­po­si­tions are jux­ta­po­si­tions of her own pho­tos (of­ten land­scapes cap­tured with her cell­phone’s cam­era) and scanned ob­jects, in­clud­ing an­tique toys and old tin­types, ar­ranged in Pho­to­shop into vivid, some­times whim­si­cal and some­times un­set­tling, im­ages that ap­pear to be culled from dream­scapes. El­e­ments from ver­nac­u­lar pho­to­graphs and stu­dio por­traits of anony­mous in­di­vid­u­als com­bine with more fan­tas­tic imagery, adding a sense of the real to her pe­cu­liar worlds. Char­ac­ters in the artist’s im­ages seem to be­have with dis­pas­sion­ate in­ter­est — the ef­fect of long ex­po­sures in the 19thcen­tury pho­to­graphs she uses, with sub­jects who had to sit still for lengthy pe­ri­ods, avoid­ing most fa­cial ex­pres­sions — even while tak­ing part in the most ab­surd sit­u­a­tions. In a state­ment on Tay­lor’s web­site, she writes: “There is no one mean­ing for any of the im­ages, rather they ex­ist as a kind of visual rid­dle or open-ended poem, meant to be both play­ful and provoca­tive.” Only the as­tute ob­server might catch all the ref­er­ences to Car­roll’s writ­ings, such as the ti­tle of When there’s any­body worth talk­ing to, a mag­i­cal scene of blos­soms with hu­man faces that evokes the sec­ond chap­ter of Through the Look­ing-Glass, in which Alice en­coun­ters the Gar­den of Live Flow­ers:

“O Tiger-lily,” said Alice, ad­dress­ing her­self to one that was wav­ing grace­fully about in the wind, “I wish you could talk!” “We can talk,” said the Tiger-lily: “when there’s any­body worth talk­ing to.”

Other com­po­si­tions de­pict more rec­og­niz­able char­ac­ters from Car­roll’s story. “There are the iconic fig­ures that peo­ple re­mem­ber,” Tay­lor said. “I have Twee­dledee and Twee­dle­dum, Humpty Dumpty, and var­i­ous kings and queens that are part of the Alice thing. But some are more my loose in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Alice.” One im­age called Later, for ex­am­ple, is a still life of a bou­quet of flow­ers. It’s one of the least fan­ci­ful works in the show, ap­pear­ing as a tra­di­tional still life, but it does tie in to the Look­ing Glass theme. “Peo­ple would not as­so­ciate that with

Through the Look­ing-Glass, but it’s from a scene where the White Queen is de­scrib­ing to Alice what it’s like to live back­wards in time. She lives her life back­wards be­cause she’s in the look­ing-glass world. There’s a cor­re­spond­ing im­age that’s also in the show called Now, where all the flow­ers are dead. It il­lus­trates that Now is oc­cur­ring be­fore Later, and they’re all dead be­fore they’re alive be­cause that’s the way the White Queen per­ceives time.”

The fig­ure of Alice her­self, while not ex­plic­itly iden­ti­fied, also ap­pears in Tay­lor’s work. It would soon be time shows her sit­ting with her back to the viewer, look­ing out over a patch­work of tilled land. “That’s from the very be­gin­ning of the book, when she’s just been told that it’s all a big chess game and she’s go­ing to have to try to ad­vance eight squares,” Tay­lor said. “She’s go­ing to start out as a pawn, but one of the queens prom­ises her in the end if she does ev­ery­thing right she’ll be a queen.” To Alice’s right, stretch­ing in a long line through the land­scape, are the chess pieces she will en­counter. Above her head is a cloud in the shape of a crown — a prom­ise, as yet in­sub­stan­tial, of her corona­tion.

Height­en­ing a sense of wist­ful­ness and nos­tal­gia that per­vades Tay­lor’s work are play­ful touches that re­mind us of the im­ages’ pho­to­graphic ori­gins (the artist’s Pho­to­shop ma­nip­u­la­tions are ex­ten­sive, and the use of ac­tual pho­tog­ra­phy is not al­ways ap­par­ent), such as the dis­col­ored emul­sion that borders sev­eral works. In an old da­guerreo­type or tin­type, these would be hid­den by the pic­ture frame. The soft edges and the bleed­ing and blur­ring that the dis­col­ored emul­sion lends each work fit with Tay­lor’s over­all com­po­si­tions.

The affin­ity be­tween Tay­lor’s work and Car­roll’s sto­ries takes on per­sonal res­o­nance for her be­cause she rec­og­nizes Car­roll for his pho­tog­ra­phy as well as his writ­ing. The an­tique pho­to­graphs she uses cor­re­spond to the time frame in which he was mak­ing im­ages, an ac­tiv­ity for which he earned ac­co­lades and met with some suc­cess. “Mine are all Amer­i­can girls and peo­ple,” Tay­lor said. “I buy them. I don’t like to work with im­ages I can get over the in­ter­net. I like to ac­tu­ally own the im­ages. The rea­son I buy them is that those par­tic­u­lar im­ages have some­thing in them that sparks my imag­i­na­tion in some way. I try to be re­spect­ful of the fact that these are peo­ple I don’t re­ally know any­thing about and they have no con­trol over what’s be­ing done with their im­age. They’re usu­ally from about 1850 to 1870. And that’s one rea­son I got in­ter­ested in Lewis Car­roll and Alice in Won­der­land.”

Above, Mag­gie Tay­lor: It would soon be time, 2016; left, And a good hand­some shape it is, 2015; both archival pig­ment prints

Only on Thurs­days, 2016, archival pig­ment print

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