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
Introduction by Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, 2016
502: Early Photography and Film
A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio
Feb 8–Nov 2, 2014
Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography
May 7, 2010–Apr 18, 2011
Photography Collection: Rotation 4
Dec 15, 2006–Jul 16, 2007
Photography Collection: Rotation 3
Mar 15–Nov 27, 2006
- Julia Margaret Cameron has online.
If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).
All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.
If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].