MT: I do not recall when I first read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but I am certain I saw the Disney movie version of it at some point as a child. I had no particular fascination with it, and preferred watching or reading science fiction/futuristic things. But after a number of people mentioned similarities to some motifs in my work in the early 2000s, I reread the story. Charles Dodgson's photographs were something I was not really aware of until I started doing further reading on him. I knew and loved the images of Julia Margaret Cameron. Dodgson's works incorporate some of the same romantic Victorian sensibilities, as well as the use of costumes and literary references. His delight in word play and interweaving of politics, history, nursery rhymes and philosophy fascinated me. I collect photographs of Victorian children (and adults) who were roughly contemporaries of Dodgson and Alice.
SO19: What initially inspired you to approach this particular text as material for your artwork? To translate the prints to the UPF version?
MT: When I began creating my digital composites to accompany the story, I envisioned making only 10-12 images that would feature Alice, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter. But as I got further along in the process, I realized there were so many characters and stories within the story that I would need to keep working. In the end I had 45 images for the 12 chapters. My work is done in the computer, using Photoshop, and then I make inkjet prints in a limited edition in my studio. When I found a publisher for the trade edition of the book, which was printed in 2008 (all of the original text with my 45 images), I wanted to be sure that the images would be printed in a large size with great color and paper. I was amazed that we were able to get the book images to nearly match my original inkjet prints.
For the book design, I selected Connie Hwang because of her wonderful eclectic taste. At the time, she lived in
SO19: Many artists in many fields have re-imagined the
books. Yet as your images prove,
there’s always room in these for fresh surprises. Did you have any of these
earlier artists in your visual inventory, so to speak, as inspirations to
follow or resist? Alice
MT: During the three years that I worked on
When the copyright for the original
SO19: In creating your illustrations, you are literally doing what the story describes: changing the sizes and placement of things, creating new and strange juxtapositions, stretching the parameters of “reality.”
MT: Many of the "raw materials" that I assembled for the images were toys—small plastic replicas of the various animals and objects. I look for items in junk stores, antique fairs, and online at sites like Ebay. I scan them in and make layers in a Photoshop file. I spent hours and hours on Ebay and other websites to find the right miniature houses, hedgehogs and hats. One of the very first images I made for the story was
smaller/larger in the hall with a table and the key to the garden. I could not
decide whether she should be small or large, and then realized that with the
computer I could have her be both. Alice
SO19: Could you talk briefly about the process of creating the images, the steps from vision to completion?
MT: I never start an image with a preconceived idea of the finished work. I just scan in various elements that might work in the scene and begin to place and size them. There is usually a lot of retouching to be done on 19th-century photographs. Over the course of two weeks or so I am able to come up with something I like, and then I start to fine-tune the color and make test prints. It is a slow process, and on average I make 10-15 images per year.
must have been an especially interesting task. Where did you find the source
images? What were your criteria as you chose and manipulated source images? Alices
MT: The 19th-century photographs I am using are daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes. I have been collecting them for about 25 years now. They were made between 1845 and 1890, are unique, and we do not know in most cases who the photographer was. I realized very early in the process that I do not have one girl in multiple poses, so I would have to use a number of different girls to represent
SO19: You’ve given your scenes a lot more space, visually and figuratively, than artists like Tenniel and Rackham did. They have the kind of openness and amplitude reminiscent of, say, Magic Realism.
MT: In general, my work tends to blend interior and exterior scenes, which gives a bit of a wider window on the world. My husband, photographer Jerry Uelsmann, is known for utilizing multiple negatives in the darkroom and often blending interior/exterior spaces, so perhaps this is his influence on me. The color palette I seem to prefer is very much influenced by Magritte, Frida Kahlo, Magical Realism and Surrealism. I am always excited by the ability to include or sample bits of photographic reality in these more painterly images I am making.
SO19: All sorts of devices, including border treatments and more, make these settings obviously artificial—very modern, or postmodern, yet also reminiscent of 19th-century studio photographs. Can you comment on your thinking about this?
MT: When I scan daguerreotypes, I remove the metal matte that surrounds them. Underneath, on the silver surface, there is usually a patina developed in the areas that have been covered. Sometimes there are also marks at the edges where the plate was hand coated with the emulsion. I like these as a framing element, so even if the image I am working on does not have this edge, I can borrow it from another old photograph. So using modern technology, I can sample bits and pieces of the 19th century and have them as part of the image.
SO19: The landscapes behind and around the figures are beautifully rich and suggestive—with hints of European history in some, a resonant sense of wilder terrain in others. Any comments on these settings, your choice of them, their sources?
MT: I create the backgrounds of the images from multiple layers, mostly sourced from travel snapshots that I take. Over the last 15-20 years I have had the opportunity to photograph wonderful gardens and buildings in Germany, France, England, Wales, Austria, Ireland, Italy…and they all filter into my visual vocabulary. For example, in the image Explain yourself!, which pictures the caterpillar, the background shows remnants of a baroque theater in Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic, combined with a pile of leaves outside that theater, and a sky from Florida. Some of the same leaves are used as a foreground in An Invitation with a background of a foggy forest in northern
SO19: Any chance of your taking on Through the Looking Glass or some other 19th-century text? What’s next in your work?
MT: I have taken a break from
to go back to my regular work, which is basically whatever I feel like making.
But yes, I am considering working on some more images for Through the Looking Glass in the next year. I have begun to collect
little elements here and there! < Alice