“As a little nursery child… sitting alone behind the nursery curtain to watch the great resplendent planet in the evening sky near sunset. The wonder and deep admiration I felt was surely something quite outside me, coming from another side of existence, of which I knew nothing, only that it was enchanting.”
Thereza Dillwyn-Llewelyn (later Story-Maskelyne, 1834-1926), was the daughter of John and Mary Dillwyn-Llewelyn, the progressive Victorian family from Penllergare, near Swansea. She was a woman of many talents. Throughout her long life, Thereza’ s interests spanned the sciences, politics, culture, photography and astronomy, all of which she explored on her family’s estate. The landscaped Penllergare estate was designed as a place to ponder the picturesque, yet Thereza’s inquisitiveness drove her to look beyond such grounded beauty toward the boundless possibilities symbolised by the cosmos. This fascination with the ‘resplendent planet[s]’ encouraged her father John to build an observatory at Penllergare, and it was here, in 1858, that father and daughter collaborated to produce the now iconic - and at the time groundbreaking - photograph of the moon. Thereza was instrumental in the making of this image and it places her as an important figure in both astronomy and photography.
Since 2014 I have been studying the observatory at Penllergare and responding to the life of Thereza Dillwyn-Llewelyn, whose contributions to science and photography currently lack in-depth acknowledgement in all but a few recently published books. As part of my research I tracked down Thereza’s memoirs that until 2015 lay un-archived in the British Library. The memoirs revealed Thereza’s innermost conflicts and desires, specifically her lifelong obsession with experiencing comets. “How I longed to see a comet in those days. I even put a pin into the old pillar in the dungeon of Oystermouth Castle, walked around it three times and wished for a comet and it came within a year”.
Thereza’s memoirs also contain a range of previously unseen, unpublished illustrations. The images break the artistic norms and expectations of young women during the 19th Century and further reveal Thereza’s obsession with the night sky. Featuring dark, sparse and expansive spaces, Thereza’s illustrations are punctuated with pinholes for stars and bright white streaks cutting across their pages. My own images, taken in the dark corners of the observatory throughout its renovation, aim to create a resonance with Thereza’s, distorting our perceptions of the distant and the near.
The Dillwyn-Llewelyn’s were at the forefront of utilising contemporary science and technology in all areas of their lives. For example, it is likely that John visited the Great Exhibition in 1851 to source the most innovative building materials for the observatory, which were uncovered and replicated during the recent renovation process. Equally the position of the observatory was carefully calculated for optimum performance. He was later invited to the Royal Photographic Society to present the photograph of the moon, which was guided and calculated by Thereza.
Thereza was also committed to contemporary science and technology. There are a number of letters written by her and on her behalf to Charles Darwin and other prominent figures in science and she supplied climate data to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. However, it is clear from Thereza’s journals that although her father did everything to encourage her passions, she was stifled by the political and societal norms of the time, which prevented Thereza from pursuing them outside the grounds of Penllergare and attending events such as the invitation to the Royal Photographic Society, alongside her father.
Given the Dillwyn-Llewelyn’s experimentation with cutting edge science and technology, I am under no doubt that if they were alive today they would be equally fascinated with Virtual Reality (VR). I also believe that Thereza in particular would have embraced VR given her fascination with other worlds, realms of existence and exploring the micro and macro elements of our planet and its position in the universe. Rather than replicate historic processes or remain in the status quo, in collaboration with GoTouchVR, we have created a response to the life of Thereza Dillwyn-Llewelyn that attempts to engage with contemporary technology. VR is developing rapidly and is the current focus of many early adopters, much like the Dillwyn-Llewelyn’s early adoption of photography.
Another Side of Existence can be experienced using you phone, tablet or desktop and navigated through by simply moving your phone/tablet around, or guiding your mouse. However, for more enhanced immersion we suggest using a VR headset such as Occulus, or a simple phone-based headset such as Google Cardboard (which originates from the victorian photographic stereoscope).
Launch the Virtual Reality space by clicking on the image below
Story-Maskelyne Thereza, 1923, Memoirs, Add MS 89120/10