Julia Margaret Cameron

(1815 - 1879) British


Born to a prosperous family stationed in Calcutta, Julia Margaret Pattle was educated in England and France. She was married in 1838 to Charles Hay Cameron and had six children. The family settled in 1860 on the Isle of Wight, neighboring the estate of their friend the poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Cameron's practice of photography began relatively late in her life, at age forty-eight, when her daughter gave her a sliding wooden box camera. Her "very first success in photography" came in January 1864, with a portrait of Annie, daughter of a neighbor.
Cameron used the wet collodion process, making prints with albumen printing-out paper, and worked with large negatives in order to avoid having to enlarge. In 1864 she began to register her work at the British Copyright Office, became a member of the Photographic Society of London and of Scotland, and prepared photographs for exhibition and sale through the London print dealers P. and D. Colnaghi. Most of her work was made between 1864 and 1875, before she left for family coffee plantations in Ceylon. She exhibited frequently in London, Dublin, Berlin, Paris, Philadelphia, and the Netherlands, and won numerous medals and awards.
Cameron's oeuvre, some 3,000 photographs, falls into two categories: portraits, and religious and allegorical tableaux vivants. They share a stylistic consistency, characterized by soft focus, dramatic chiaroscuro lighting reminiscent of Rembrandt, and technical imperfections. This idealizing aesthetic bespeaks the influence of painter George Frederic Watts; Cameron shared with Pre-Raphaelite associates such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti a predilection for the Italian Old Masters. Cameron's portraits have received the most praise of all her photographs, and are distinctive because of their closeness of framing and strength of composition. Her sitters were often drawn from her circle of prominent acquaintances, including Tennyson, Sir John Herschel, Charles Darwin, and Thomas Carlyle. While her portraits were usually of influential men, her photographs of women and children were often intended as allegorical figures. In 1874, Cameron made photographic illustrations for Tennyson's Idylls of the King at his request, and began Annals of My Glass House, an unfinished account of her career which was published posthumously in 1889.
Lisa Soccio
Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 210.
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