Louis' Literature: Alice in Manhattan
Dan Hirshon ’04 grew up in Wonderland. An entire portion of his childhood home was filled with collectables of all kinds from Lewis Carroll’s classic novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” This very specific decor was the result of his father’s obsession with all things Alice. Though this would seemingly make holiday gifts easy to find, Hirshon explained that at one point in his childhood, he realized he would have to get creative with presents for his father because most “Alice in Wonderland” paraphernalia already existed in his home.
Hirshon’s book “Alice in Manhattan: A Photographic Trip Down New York City’s Rabbit Holes,” which was published in April of this year, was originally meant as a gift for his father. Hirshon was also influenced by his own experience with the novel. “I’ve always been very interested in reading and watching coming-of-age tales, seeing what causes characters to grow within a story, and trying to apply that to my own life. … Alice explores dark rabbit holes where others might not venture, interacts and even argues with mad characters, and, as a result, develops a sense of confidence in herself. It’s a story that reminds readers of every age to always explore and engage and that you’re sure to get somewhere ‘if only you walk long enough,’” Hirshon said in an interview with the Justice.
Hirshon’s book offers no ordinary literary experience. It includes over 60 original photos of the city that are coupled with quotes and excerpts from Carroll’s novel. His father was so impressed with the book that he suggested Hirshon try for publication. He thought it would be particularly popular within the “Alice in Wonderland” community. With the 150th anniversary of “Alice in Wonderland” approaching, it was perfect timing.
“While taking the photos for this book, I pushed myself to explore New York and remain alert at all times in case the perfect image crossed my path or appeared in my periphery,” Hirshon said. He knew the city would offer great inspiration for the book. When considering the Mad Hatter, for example, Hirshon was confident he would be able to find a New Yorker wearing an eccentric hat. Other times, Hirshon would find a particularly intriguing photo and comb through “Alice in Wonderland” to find a matching quote.
Currently, Hirshon is living in New York where much of his work is geared toward film production. He works on all genres, ranging from comedies to documentaries. At Brandeis, Hirshon double majored in American Studies and Film, Television, and Interactive Media. He also rowed for the crew team and was involved with WBRS, Brandeis’ radio station.
Yet his passion for photography came later. Hirshon partially credits his father for helping him discover photography. He would take photos with his dad when they traveled together, and his father would explain to him the best way to compose photos.
But the real turning point for Hirshon came with the development of DSLR cameras. The more streamlined nature of the cameras made taking photos easier and allowed Hirshon to focus on what was actually relevant to the image rather than being distracted by trying to get the camera to fulfill its purpose. Despite sometimes lacking inspiration, Hirshon forces himself to take pictures even when he doubts the quality of an image. It allows him to keep pushing past creative blocks to find more inspiration. To aspiring photographers at Brandeis, Hirshon’s advice is the same: just keep shooting.
“As someone who often struggles to stay present amongst a whirlwind of daydreams, I was happy to discover that photography forced me out of my own head so I could explore life’s rabbit holes. It is my hope that ‘Alice in Manhattan’ will inspire others to do the same, wherever they may be,” he said.