Julia Margaret Cameron. Madonna with Children. 1864. Albumen silver print, 10 1/2 × 8 5/8" (26.7 × 21.9 cm). Gift of Shirley C. Burden

“[F]rom the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardour, and it has become to me as a living thing, with voice and memory and creative vigour.”

Julia Margaret Cameron

Although she would become one of Victorian Britain’s most famous photographers, Julia Margaret Cameron started taking pictures relatively late in life. In 1863, at 48 years old, she received her first camera from one of her six children, a gift meant to provide her with a hobby since they were grown.

Having lived in India and London, Cameron’s family had recently moved to the Isle of Wight, a popular location for Britain’s cultural elite—residents included essayist, philosopher, and historian Thomas Carlyle, author Charles Dickens, inventor John Herschel, and poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. Cameron photographed these famous tenants and anyone else who would let her. Such local figures as the postman, as well as her own family and servants, appear in many of her images. Her tenacity and eccentricity eventually became well known; she allegedly followed promising-looking people on the streets until they consented to model for her. A well-read, educated woman, she often pressed her subjects into posing for pastoral, allegorical, historical, literary, and biblical scenes, such as in Madonna with Children (1864). In this photograph, she transforms Mary Kellaway, a local dressmaker, and Elizabeth and Percy Keown, children of a gunner in the Royal Army, into figures in an enduring art historical scene.

Cameron is best known today for her moving and sensitive portraits of eminent Victorians. A paramount example is her 1867 photograph of Sir John F. W. Herschel, in which the scientist, mathematician, and photographic experimenter looks directly at the camera, emerging from the shadows with the tousled hair and deep facial lines of a man devoted to the intellectual life. Her soft-focus style, ridiculed by many critics and photographers of the period who were devoted to sharp precision in photography, gives Herschel a timeless quality and emphasizes the essence of the man instead of transitory details. About such sittings, Cameron wrote, “When I have had such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavored to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer.”1

Note: opening quote is from Julia Margaret Cameron, “Annals of my Glass House [1874],” first published in Photo Beacon (Chicago) 2 (1890): 157–60. Reprinted, by permission, from the original manuscript in the collection of The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, London, reprinted in Beaumont Newhall, ed., Photography, Essays and Images: Illustrated Readings in the History of Photography (New York: Museum of Modern Art; Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1980), 135, https://oscarenfotos.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/cameron-annals-of-my-glass-house.pdf.

Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, 2016

  1. Julia Margaret Cameron, “Annals of my Glass House [1874],” reproduced in Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present, edited by Vicki Goldberg, 180-187 [Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988], 186.

Wikipedia entry
Julia Margaret Cameron (née Pattle; 11 June 1815 – 26 January 1879) was a British photographer who is considered one of the most important portraitists of the 19th century. She is known for her soft-focus close-ups of famous Victorians and for illustrative images depicting characters from mythology, Christianity, and literature. She was born in Calcutta, and after establishing herself among the Anglo-Indian upper-class, she moved to London where she made connections with the cultural elite. She then formed her own literary salon in the seaside village of Freshwater, Isle of Wight. Cameron took up photography at the age of 48, after her daughter gave her a camera as a present. She quickly produced a large body of portraits, and created allegorical images inspired by tableaux vivants, theatre, 15th-century Italian painters, and contemporary artists. She gathered much of her work in albums, including The Norman Album. She took around 900 photographs over a 12-year period. Cameron's work was contentious in her own time. Critics derided her softly focused and unrefined images, and considered her illustrative photographs amateurish. However, her portraits of artists and scientists such as Henry Taylor, Charles Darwin, and Sir John Herschel have been consistently praised. Her images have been described as "extraordinarily powerful" and "wholly original", and she has been credited with producing the first close-ups in the medium.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
As the daughter of an official of the East India Company, Cameron spent a number of years in Calcutta, but was educated in England in France. She married Charles Hay Cameron in 1838 and brought up six children. She was given her first camera in 1864 to keep her occupied while her husband and sons tended to the family coffee plantation in Ceylon. She mastered the difficult wet collodion negative and albumen print process, and was later elected as a member to the photographic societies of London and Scotland in 1864. Cameron regarded the recent technical advancements of photography as an intrusion between her and her subject. She often inscribed on her work "From Life," and refused to retouch defects on the negative. Her soft-focus technique gives her images a dream-like quality, often using dramatic and symbolic lighting. Her major work of narrative photography was her "Illustrations to Tennyson's 'Idylls of the King' and Other Poems" (London, 874-1875).
British, English, Indian
Artist, Writer, Photographer
Julia Margaret Cameron, Julia Margaret Pattle, Julia Margaret Pattle Cameron, Julia Margaret née Pattle, Julia M. Cameron
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


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