Julia Margaret Cameron
(From Wikipedia, the
Julia Margaret Cameron
(June 11, 1815 – January 26, 1879) was a British photographer. She became
known for her portraits of celebrities of the time, and for Arthurian and
similar legendary themed pictures.
Cameron's photographic career was short, spanning the last eleven years of
her life. She did not take up photography until the age of 48, when she
was given a camera as a present. Her work had a huge impact on the
development of modern photography, especially her closely cropped
portraits which are still mimicked today. Her house, Dimbola Lodge, on the
Isle of Wight can still be visited.
Julia Margaret Cameron was born Julia Margaret Pattle in Calcutta, India,
to James Pattle, a British official of the East India Company, and Adeline
de l'Etang, a daughter of French aristocrats. Cameron was from a family of
celebrated beauties, and was considered an ugly duckling among her
sisters. As her great-niece Virginia Woolf wrote in 1926 introduction to
the Hogarth Press collection of Cameron's photographs, "In the trio [of
sisters] where...[one] was Beauty, and [one] Dash, Mrs. Cameron was
Julia was educated in France, but returned to India, and in 1838 married
Charles Hay Cameron, a jurist and member of the Law Commission stationed
in Calcutta, who was twenty years her senior. In 1848, Charles Hay Cameron
retired, and the family moved to London, England. Cameron's sister, Sarah
Prinsep, had been living in London and hosted a salon at Little Holland
House, the dower house of Holland House in Kensington, where famous
artists and writers regularly visited. In 1860, Cameron visited the estate
of poet Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Isle of Wight. Julia was taken with
the location, and the Cameron family purchased a property on the island
soon after. They called it Dimbola Lodge after the family's Ceylon estate.
In 1863, when Cameron was 48 years old, her daughter gave her a camera as
a present, thereby starting her career as a photographer. Within a year,
Cameron became a member of the Photographic Societies of London and
Scotland. In her photography, Cameron strove to capture beauty. She wrote,
"I longed to arrest all the beauty that came before me and at length the
longing has been satisfied."
The basic techniques of soft-focus "fancy portraits", which she later
developed, were taught to her by David Wilkie Wynfield. She later wrote
that "to my feeling about his beautiful photography I owed all my attempts
and indeed consequently all my success".
Alfred Lord Tennyson, her neighbour on the Isle of Wight, often brought
friends to see the photographer.
Cameron was sometimes obsessive about her new occupation, with subjects
sitting for countless exposures in the blinding light as she laboriously
coated, exposed, and processed each wet plate. The results were, in fact,
unconventional in their intimacy and their particular visual habit of
created blur through both long exposures, where the subject moved and by
leaving the lens intentionally out of focus. This led some of her
contemporaries to complain and even ridicule the work, but her friends and
family were supportive, and she was one of the most prolific and advanced
of amateurs in her time. Her enthusiasm for her craft meant that her
children and others sometimes tired of her endless photographing, but it
also means that we are left with some of the best of records of her
children and of the many notable figures of the time who visited her.
During her career, Cameron registered each of her photographs with the
copyright office and kept detailed records. Her shrewd business sense is
one reason that so many of her works survive today. Another reason that
many of Cameron's portraits are significant is because they are often the
only existing photograph of historical figures. Many paintings and
drawings exist, but, at the time, photography was still a new and
challenging medium for someone outside a typical portrait studio.
The bulk of Cameron's photographs fit into two categories - closely framed
portraits and illustrative allegories based on religious and literary
works. In the allegorical works in particular, her artistic influence was
clearly Pre-Raphaelite, with far-away looks and limp poses and soft
lighting Cameron's sister ran the artistic scene at Little Holland House,
which gave her many famous subjects for her portraits. Some of her famous
subjects include: Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning,
John Everett Millais, William Michael Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Ellen
Terry and George Frederic Watts. Most of these distinctive portraits are
cropped closely around the subject's face and are in soft focus. Cameron
was often friends with these Victorian celebrities, and tried to capture
their personalities in her photos.
Cameron's posed photographic illustrations represent the other half of her
work. In these illustrations, she frequently photographed historical
scenes or literary works, which often took the quality of oil paintings.
However, she made no attempt in hiding the backgrounds. Cameron's
friendship with Tennyson led to his asking her to photograph illustrations
for his Idylls of the King. These photographs are designed to look like
oil paintings from the same time period, including rich details like
historical costumes and intricate draperies. Today, these posed works are
sometimes dismissed by art critics. Nevertheless, Cameron saw these
photographs as art, just like the oil paintings they imitated.
In 1875, the Camerons moved back to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Julia
continued to practice photography but complained in letters about the
difficulties of getting chemicals and pure water to develop and print
photographs. Also, in India, she did not have access to Little Holland
House's artistic community. She also did not have a market to distribute
her photographs as she had in England. Because of this, Cameron took fewer
pictures in India. These pictures were of posed Indian natives,
paralleling the posed pictures that Cameron had taken of neighbours in
England. Almost none of Cameron's work from India survives. Cameron died
in Ceylon in 1879 (now called Sri Lanka).Cameron's
niece Julia Prinsep Stephen née Jackson (1846–1895) wrote the biography of
Cameron, which appeared in the first edition of the Dictionary of National
Julia Stephen was the mother of Virginia Woolf, who wrote a comic
portrayal of the "Freshwater circle" in her only play Freshwater. Woolf
edited, with Roger Fry, a collection of Cameron's photographs.
However, it was not until 1948 that her photography became more widely
known when Helmut Gernsheim wrote a book on her work.