Thursday, October 13, 2011

Julia Margaret Cameron

I began this series of posts about People and Place by discussing the work of David Bailey and also Richard Avedon; this was partly by coincidence and so I wanted to include another portrait photographer whose work is quite different and yet something I find inspiring.

First, a little about Julia Margaret Cameron ...

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) was born in Calcutta in 1815, one of seven daughters to a man known as "the biggest liar in India". After being educated in Europe, she returned to the Cape of Good Hope where she met Charles Hay Cameron, whom she married in 1838. On Charles's retirement in 1848, they moved to London where Julia became part of Kensington's artistic community, including poet Henry Taylor, painter G.F. Watts and Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The gift of a camera from one of her daughters in 1863 sparked an enthusiasm in Julia Margaret Cameron for this new art form. Within a year she had begun to present her friends with albums of her work and was elected a member of the Photographic Society in London. She outraged society by becoming an experimental photographer, though because of her refusal to "retouch", many considered her a bungling amateur. Then, in 1875, at the peak of her fame as photographer, her husband wanted to return to his sons in India so that he might be with them for his last years. She gave it all up, and the Camerons departed for Ceylon.

I consider her work worthy of consideration not just because it is classed as great photographer but also because she was operating at a time when techniques were quite different owing to the limitations placed on early photographers by the medium. For instance, the portrait photographer often had to request their subjects to hold a pose for long periods of time. This resulted in rather forced poses as well as blurred or soft focus faces.

It is interesting to note that a book about her entitled "Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs" published by Thames and Hudson in 2003 is now being sold for over £1,000 although one can pick up new copies for £375. The original price was probably about £25.

I am looking for the monograph that was published by The National Portrait Gallery at the time of thie exhibition of her work; it does not seen to be available on Amazon. In the meantime, I have ordered a book in Phaidon's 55 series about Great Portrait Photographers as she is one of them.

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