15 March 2007

Julia Margaret Cameron

Like Lady Hawarden of yesterday's post, Julia Margaret Cameron was a British woman who got into photography in the medium's early days. She was given a camera in 1863 as a birthday present when she turned 48. 48! Back in the mid-1800s, 48 was OLD. That ought to give hope to anyone out there. It is never, ever too late. I love it.

Anyway, Cameron was well-connected, so well in fact that she had the opportunity to make portraits of some of the notable figures of her day: A. L. Tennyson, Charles Darwin, Edward Burne-Jones, among others. And it is primarily because of these portraits that we have any record of Cameron's work. In 1926, these portraits were published under the title Victorian Photographs of Famous Men and Fair Women by none other than Virginia Woolf. Cameron was her great-aunt. I admit that I was a bit surprised that the title wasn't something like J.M. Cameron's Victorian Photographs of Famous Men and Fair Women. That her name wasn't included leads me to believe that in 1926, she was totally unknown, and therefore it wouldn't have helped the volume sell. Besides, in 1926 photography's status as art was still a matter of debate.

Anyway, many of Cameron's photographs were complete fantasies, Allegorical images as they are called. She posed her family, servants, neighborhood children, even Sri Lanken natives when her husband's employment took them there, and these are the images that I find most engaging. The image above is one of these, an Allegorical portrait of the Madonna and child, with Cameron's maid posed as the Madonna.

The differences between Cameron and Hawarden are slight. They both photographed their children in varyingly fantastic situations, were recognzied for their technical competence and skill, and both were very nearly forgotten entirely. Cameron's work is seen by many as a forerunner to the images Sally Mann made of her children during the late 1980s and early 90s.

science & society picture library


Dad said...

These portraits always remind me of the young teenager, from Afganistan, photographed for National Geographic, years ago. Probably a couple of decades by now. The imagine has been burned into my brain cells so intensely that it is always vivid. She seemed to be a visual image of what was happening to her people at a very trying time.

Vatti said...

Interesting that she staged the photographs. I guess that is the normal practice with potraits. Does that make them qualify more as art?

Mary Ann said...

I think their art value originates elsewhere. I think it was Roland Barthes who said that if you wait long enough, any photograph becomes art. That's part of it, and the other half I think is that Cameron thought she was making art. Civil War photographers didn't tend to make those kinds of claims, but even their images are handled, sold, and collected as works of art.

Mary Ann said...

Oh, and Dan, that image may be one of the most famous NG has ever published. Did you hear that the photographer recently went back and found her?

Dad said...

Yes, and I thought it was a very interesting story to find out what had happened to her but I think it might have even been better to not know what had happened and our imaginations could have taken us much further.