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

  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. 

Introduction
Julia Margaret Cameron (née Pattle; 11 June 1815 – 26 January 1879) was a British photographer who is considered one of the most significant portraitists of the 19th century. She is known for her soft-focus close-ups of famous Victorian men and for illustrative images depicting characters from mythology, Christianity, and literature. She also produced sensitive portraits of women and children. After establishing herself first among Calutta's Anglo-Indian upper-class and then among London's cultural elite, Cameron formed her own salon frequented by distinguished Victorians at the seaside village of Freshwater, Isle of Wight. After showing a keen interest in photography for many years, Cameron took up the practice at the relatively late age of 48, after her daughter gifted her a camera. She quickly produced a large body of work capturing the genius, beauty, and innocence of the men, women, and children who visited her studio at Freshwater, and created unique allegorical images inspired by tableau vivants, theater, 15th-century Italian painters, and the work of her creative contemporaries. Her photography career was short but productive; she made around 900 photographs over a 12-year period. Cameron's work was contentious in her own time. Critics lambasted her softly focused and unrefined images, and considered her illustrative photographs amateurish and hammy. However, her portraits of respected men (such as Henry Taylor, Charles Darwin, and Sir John Herschel) have been consistently praised, both in her own life and in reviews of her work since. Her images have been described as "extraordinarily powerful" and "wholly original", and she has been credited with producing the first close-ups in the history of the medium.
Wikidata
Q230120
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Introduction
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).
Nationalities
British, English, Indian
Gender
Female
Roles
Artist, Writer, Photographer
Names
Julia Margaret Cameron, Julia Margaret Pattle, Julia Margaret Pattle Cameron, Julia Margaret née Pattle, Julia M. Cameron
Ulan
500118804
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License

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 firenze@scalarchives.com. 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 or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA's archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.