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Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell: "the same pair of eyes, only different spectacles"

By Maggie Humm


Writing to Vanessa Bell in 1937, Woolf imagined ‘do you think we have the same pair of eyes, only different spectacles?’\ud From the age of fifteen, both Woolf and Bell took, developed and mounted photographs in albums throughout their careers. There are over 1,000 photographs in Woolf’s Monk’s House Albums and a similar number in the albums of Vanessa Bell. Both sisters wrote about photography and photography influenced their aesthetics and art. The modernist sisters used photography not simply as a documentary device but as a means of crossing the border between the visual and the unconscious.\ud The photographs reveal Woolf and Bell’s struggles with the public and the private, with formal aesthetics and everyday moments. The albums offer a crucial insight into those psychic mechanisms structuring Woolf and Bell’s aesthetics. For example Bell’s erotic photographs of her naked children are her ‘unconscious optics’ as well as a record of her world.\ud The paper shows how album photographs are vivid examples of Woolf and Bell’s ideas about aesthetics, the maternal, the erotic and identity

Publisher: Clemson University Digital Press
Year: 2005
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