Posted by: Lara | December 12, 2012

Dream Children

At the beginning of the semester I sat down with my buddy the LoC to find some images for the class. Of the many intriguing and beautiful images I found this one:

The image is entitled “A-listnin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about” and was taken by Elizabeth B. Brownell, ca. 1900.
(I also want to point out that this is a platinum printplatinum! I can only imagine what the physical copy of it looks like.)

We discussed Cameron’s and Carroll’s work with children and photography and I wanted to learn more about Brownell. Turns out there’s not much out there. A number of her images can be found in the LoC and the text of one of her books is available online, but besides that she’s rather difficult to find.

From my investigation I found she wrote/illustrated/photographed three books-
Dream Children, 1901, a collection of poems, stories, and prose about children with Brownell’s illustrations and photographs, including the image above that went along with “Little Orphant [sic] Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley.
Vision Children Posters, 1903, (full title: Elizabeth Brownell’s posters of the vision children of childhood : a small bunch of the most fragrant blossoms gathered from the ever-blooming gardens of childhood’s dreamland.)
and Really Babies, 1908, her final book with untitled verses that list no author, but written presumably by Brownell. *

Dream Children is available in the public domain via google books/archives, but only contains the text, not the images. Talk about frustrating. However, from her introduction we learn that Brownell is heavily influenced by religion and that “the aim of this little book has been to picture, with the newest aid to pictorial effect, the camera, a few Dream Children of literature.”

The table of contents is just wonderful in itself, containing the work of Hans Christian Anderson, Henry Longfellow, Lewis Carroll, Elizabeth Berrett Browning, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, George Eliot… and two of my favorite additions Edgar Allen Poe (“Annabel Lee” of course, since that’s totally for children) and our pal Thomas Carlyle (Remember him?).

I’m desperate to see the other photographs and illustrations in the books, so I requested both Dream Children and Vision Children through the interlibrary loan system and I hope I get them (many seem to be for display only).



I have to say that I am continually drawn to the “Orphan Annie” photograph. The girl’s eyes pull my own gaze and I feel like I cannot look away, yet at the same time, neither can she. (This also reminds me of Cameron’s “Echo” in a way). The title of the photograph causes me to apply the idea that the girl is listening to a story (told by Annie and thus must be rather exciting and a little scary). For me, the photograph captures the perfect moment of anxiety and anticipation. The moment of wanting, no needing, to know what will happen, while also being terrified for the tale to continue. In all honesty I feel that I can barely explain how the girl’s expression makes me feel. Those stunning wide eyes, so open and telling… it makes me think of our conversation in the last class about the soul in photographs.

Anyway, I wanted to leave off with this image:

Young boy holding a smaller child, Brownell, ca. 1900.

For me it recalls Cameron’s “Double Star.” I’m still contemplating the connection; how does Brownell’s image of two young boys differ from Cameron’s girls? Brownell’s pose is different, yet there still seems to be an intimacy / connection between the figures, how different is it?

Is anyone else as fascinated as I am with the “Annie” photograph?

*Most of the information I found came from one article by Gillian Greenhill Hannum, which can be found in pdf form here.


  1. She is beautiful…I want to know what happened to her.

  2. These images are great! Also, PLATINUM!?! I can’t imagine. The “Annie” images captures such a great moment of waiting. I too feel transfixed, waiting to find out what will happen.

  3. I am researching Riley’s Little Orphant Annie and the real life person which the character is based. I periodically do searches on the internet for information and images regarding Little Orphan Annie, and I ran across your site.

    I am a photographer myself (as a hobby), and love the images that you posted from Brownell. I am also intrigued about her relationship with James Whitcomb Riley, and their collaboration on the book, “Dream Children.” Another fact that sort of piqued my interest was that she was in Chicago and had some of her pictures published in the Tribune. This leads me to wonder if any of her pictures had any influence on the eventual comic strip Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray. Gray created the comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie” for the Chicago Tribune; however, it didn’t appear in the paper until 1924.

    If you run across anything that might be of interest to me regarding Brownell, Riley, and/or Gray – I would you be interested in seeing it.

    Loved your post! Now I’m going to have to find this book!

  4. I was writing up a review of her later book Really Babies, and was also fascinated by this little girl. A cropped version of this photo, and perhaps the child as an older girl, is on page 19. I did run across this quote from the Ladies’ Home Journal written in 1902, so a year after Dream Children (the point of which was to illustrate children from literature with children’s photos)

    . “A comparatively new worker in photography, Mrs. Brownell is meeting with great success in the rich but hitherto almost untouched field of the art as applied to book illustration. Among the children of the poor she has found her most effective material, and with a sympathetic touch she fills her studies with much of the poetic pathos which is frequently the attribute of humble lives. Mrs. Brownell’s photographs are the result of patient study. Her models are often first sketched in pencil for composition, and they are always carefully trained both for pose and expression.” and from google re Ladies’s Home Journal.

    Elizabeth Brownell’s two books, Dream [121] and Really [269], are listed in Mus White’s From the Mundane to the Magical Photographically illustrated Children’s books 1854 to 1945 and beyond (1999). I couldn’t find much else about her and hadn’t seen the Vision Children posters..

    In Really Babies, the poems are pretty terrible, so I am hoping this was a Rand McNally house writer, not Brownell! Her children may be posed, but they are so relaxed and open. I doubt if she “trained them for expression.”

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