Photography Pioneers: Julia Margaret Cameron
Photography as a form of self-expression
Julia Margaret Cameron was a British photographer that came to be known as one of Britain’s most famous photographers in the 19th century. Although her start in photography was relatively late in life.
Cameron’s known for her style — soft-focus close-ups of famous Victorian men -, creating illustrative images depicting characters from mythology, Christianity and literature. However, not everyone was a supporter of her work, since she was constantly criticized, but we will cover this further ahead.
She started photography when, at 48, one of her six children gave her a camera as a present, a gift meant to provide her a hobby since they were grown. Her photography career was short but full, productively wise, since in 12 years, she made around 900 photographs.
“I began with no knowledge of the art, I did not know where to place my dark box, how to focus my sitter, and my first picture I effaced to my consternation by rubbing my hand over the filmy side of the glass.”
Julia Margaret Cameron.
Cameron lived in India and London, but moved with her family to Isle of Wight, a popular location for Britain’s cultural elite — her neighbors were Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens, John Herschel, Alfred Lord Tennyson. She took the advantage and photographed her famous neighbors, as well as her own family and servants.
“From 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.
She became known for her tenacity and eccentricity personality, since she, allegedly, followed promising-looking people on the streets until they consented to model for her.
As we mentioned before Camerons’ work was constantly criticized for her softly focused and unrefined images, many considered her illustrative photographs amateurish and hammy. Other photographers often accused Cameron for her supposedly poor technique: some of her pictures were out of focus, her plates were sometimes cracked and her fingerprints were often visible.
The Photographic Journal, reviewing her submissions to the annual exhibition of the Photographic Society of Scotland in 1865, reported with a condescension that infuriated her: “Mrs. Cameron exhibits her series of out-of-focus portraits of celebrities. We must give this lady credit for daring originality, but at the expense of all other photographic qualities. A true artist would employ all the resources at his disposal, in whatever branch of art he might practise. In these pictures, all that is good in photography has been neglected and the shortcomings of the art are prominently exhibited. We are sorry to have to speak thus severely on the works of a lady, but we feel compelled to do so in the interest of the art.” The Illustrated London Newscountered, describing her portraits as “the nearest approach to art, or rather the most bold and successful applications of the principles of fine-art to photography.” The Photographic Journal rebutted: “Slovenly manipulation may serve to cover want of precision in intention, but such a lack and such a mode of masking it are unworthy of commendation.”
But her work was contentious in her own time. However, her portraits of respected men (such as Charles Darwin, Henry Taylor, and mores) have been consistently praised, both in her own life an in reviews of her work since.
However, later critics appreciated her valuing of spiritual depth over technical perfection and now consider her portraits do be among the finest expressions of the artistic possibilities of the medium.
Sometimes we take things for granted. Things that you never thought of losing or having. We have to look into the past to understand how we’re fortunate now, that’s why we have this column on our blog, named Photography Pioneers, where we honor people that made photography what it is today.
If you are interested in the early live of the photographic world, you can read these next stories:
- Gustave Le Gray, that had an important role on turning photography as an art.
- James Clerk Maxwell, created the first color photography using 3 filters.
We hope you find them helpful, which Photography Pioneers should we talk about next?
Companies using custom visual content have 7 times higher conversation rates! Visit us to learn more about us — Frameload — a place where photographers and your business needs meet each other. Keep up with our news! You can follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn or Facebook.
Julia Margaret Cameron | MoMA
British, 1815-1879. Although she would become one of Victorian Britain's most famous photographers, Julia Margaret…
Julia Margaret Cameron | British photographer
Julia Margaret Cameron, British photographer who is considered one of the greatest portrait photographers of the 19th…
Julia Margaret Cameron | Julia Jackson | The Met
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 14," September 9, 1996-December 9…