Chelsea Arts Club, London
After many months of living in a stranger version of life with empty city streets and only our dreams to explore, the world has finally begun to open up. I recently had the chance to visit the exhibition Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and its own stories and altered realities pulled me through time and space in many different ways. While in the galleries, I was transported back to a shoot that I did with a captivating young woman, in a series of dreamlike gardens, inspired by Alice herself as well as her charm and strong presence.
When we worked together to create these images, I was guided as a photographer to capturing her effortless self-expression, and the gardens at Cadogan Gardens and Belgrave Square served as the perfect setting.
I have always felt at my most comfortable in gardens, especially now as a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, where the hidden realms of the natural world are encountered and encouraged by human hands. I felt that the gardens were grounds for the natural magic in which I was able to capture Talitha’s vivid internal world.
In my work, I encourage every woman to express herself in comfort and confidence, and I truly felt that the dreamlike garden settings brought out the magic that made her inner world visible to the eye.
In the exhibition at the V&A, one particular photograph stopped me in my tracks. The photo depicts Alice Liddell as Pomona, the Roman goddess of gardens. Alice was Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for the story that shares her name, and it is no wonder, as the viewer can feel her personality through the strength of her frank gaze.
Just as Julia Margaret Cameron once captured this image, so I feel that Talitha exudes from the images I have taken, when our realities collided in the mystical space of London’s great gardens.
As the illustrator Chris Riddell explains, encounters with Alice and her story through time are always fresh, exciting and wondrous, with his illustrations entering into a long line of artists to represent the curious girl in art. Then again, just as Alice is pivotal to her own story, so is her wonderland, as the collage artist Kristjana S Williams so deeply understands when she explores the magic of paper theatre and incorporates the impossibilities of spaces in spaces into her colourful collages. Just as these artists use their talents to tell Alice's story ever afresh, I am always working my magic to create the new it-girls. Talitha brought her charm and energy to our meeting, and I was able to guide her down the garden path into a world of my own invention, where her presence bloomed. David E. Cooper writes in his book A Philosophy of Gardens that 'the person appreciating a garden...is typically in, surrounded by, what he is appreciating', and he quotes Horace Walpole, the man of letters who built Strawberry Hill House, as saying of a friend that he had 'leaped the fence, and [seen] that all Nature was a garden'. I believe that there are no limits to the expressive power of a woman at her highest levels of confidence, and the liminal space of the garden between the world we know and the one we don't captures my philosophy perfectly.
In this photoshoot and in all my work, I am committed to creating the right environment for the subject to feel alive, and I give every client one hundred per cent of my attention to give them the room to understand that it’s all about them. With the special care that I take to get to know the natural self of a client totally at ease in her environment and proud to be herself, her true essence always comes forward in the world that we create. Reality is what you make it!
Artists who also created their own wonderland: