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Wendy McDougall: Alice – Through My Looking Glass

“Life, what is it but a dream?” – Lewis Carroll

Sydney-based freelance photographer Wendy McDougall has been selected as a finalist or semi finalist in the Head On Portrait Prize on five separate occasions. Her series Alice – Through My Looking Glass was first presented as a gift but now features as an exhibition in Paddington’s Global Gallery from June 1-12, with an artist’s talk on June 11.

Alice – Through My Looking Glass is an exhibition 18 years in the making, a documentary series shot during the formative years of my niece.

Alice is the only child of my sister Jacki and husband Nigel. She was named after her great grandmother, but the connection to the stories by Lewis Carroll was also appealing and warmly embraced throughout her childhood.

In 1983, when I had not long started my photographic career and Alice was nearing one year old, I sensed a great opportunity to be involved her life by collecting birthday portraits. When she turned 18 I would give her an album of the photographs as a coming of age gift. The hardest part of the project was having the patience to keep the gift a secret. The only break from the series came at the age of 13 when Alice spent the year overseas with her parents.

We didn’t live in the same town so any available time became a special moment regardless of the camera. However, the sessions did become a joy and a focus for our hours and occasional days together. Playing dress ups, as I did when I was young, was a natural and favourite approach.

Only in hindsight can I see how the project mirrored my developing career as a photographer. I was determined to complete the series as much as I was determined to do photography full time, with the key element of anything I do being fun. Time and evolution themes are clearly evident and could be discussed at great length, but the project was simply a personal connection to my only extended family member.

After presenting the album to Alice I felt a wonderful sense of achievement by both of us, but I also felt a great sadness to have ended the series. No more ‘down the rabbit hole’ experiences.

Alice is more than happy to share her life in pictures. When asked how she felt about being photographed for all those years, she said, after a pause, “Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it….vogue!”                                                                                   Alice – Through My Looking Glass

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Head On Photo Awards 2024

Entries to the Head On Photo Awards 2024 open in May/June.

Image detail: Gary Ramage