History of photography
Julia Margaret Cameron
Julia Margaret Cameron (June 11, 1815
– January 26, 1879) was a British photographer. She became known for
her portraits of celebrities of the time, and for Arthurian and
similar legendary themed pictures.
Cameron's photographic career was short, spanning the last eleven
years of her life. She did not take up photography until the age of
48, when she was given a camera as a present. Her work had a huge
impact on the development of modern photography, especially her
closely cropped portraits which are still mimicked today. Her house,
Dimbola Lodge, on the Isle of Wight can still be visited.
Julia Margaret Cameron was born Julia Margaret Pattle in Calcutta,
India, to James Pattle, a British official of the East India
Company, and Adeline de l'Etang, a daughter of French aristocrats.
Cameron was from a family of celebrated beauties, and was considered
an ugly duckling among her sisters. As her great-niece Virginia
Woolf wrote in 1926 introduction to the Hogarth Press collection of
Cameron's photographs, "In the trio [of sisters] where...[one] was
Beauty, and [one] Dash, Mrs. Cameron was undoubtedly Talent."
Julia was educated in France, but returned to India, and in 1838
married Charles Hay Cameron, a jurist and member of the Law
Commission stationed in Calcutta, who was twenty years her senior.
In 1848, Charles Hay Cameron retired, and the family moved to
London, England. Cameron's sister, Sarah Prinsep, had been living in
London and hosted a salon at Little Holland House, the dower house
of Holland House in Kensington, where famous artists and writers
regularly visited. In 1860, Cameron visited the estate of poet
Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Isle of Wight. Julia was taken with the
location, and the Cameron family purchased a property on the island
soon after. They called it Dimbola Lodge after the family's Ceylon
In 1863, when Cameron was 48 years old, her daughter gave her a
camera as a present, thereby starting her career as a photographer.
Within a year, Cameron became a member of the Photographic Societies
of London and Scotland. In her photography, Cameron strove to
capture beauty. She wrote, "I longed to arrest all the beauty that
came before me and at length the longing has been satisfied."
The basic techniques of soft-focus "fancy portraits", which she
later developed, were taught to her by David Wilkie Wynfield. She
later wrote that "to my feeling about his beautiful photography I
owed all my attempts and indeed consequently all my success".
Alfred Lord Tennyson, her neighbour on the Isle of Wight, often
brought friends to see the photographer.
Cameron was sometimes obsessive about her new occupation, with
subjects sitting for countless exposures in the blinding light as
she laboriously coated, exposed, and processed each wet plate. The
results were, in fact, unconventional in their intimacy and their
particular visual habit of created blur through both long exposures,
where the subject moved and by leaving the lens intentionally out of
focus. This led some of her contemporaries to complain and even
ridicule the work, but her friends and family were supportive, and
she was one of the most prolific and advanced of amateurs in her
time. Her enthusiasm for her craft meant that her children and
others sometimes tired of her endless photographing, but it also
means that we are left with some of the best of records of her
children and of the many notable figures of the time who visited
During her career, Cameron registered each of her photographs with
the copyright office and kept detailed records. Her shrewd business
sense is one reason that so many of her works survive today. Another
reason that many of Cameron's portraits are significant is because
they are often the only existing photograph of historical figures.
Many paintings and drawings exist, but, at the time, photography was
still a new and challenging medium for someone outside a typical
The bulk of Cameron's photographs fit into two categories - closely
framed portraits and illustrative allegories based on religious and
literary works. In the allegorical works in particular, her artistic
influence was clearly Pre-Raphaelite, with far-away looks and limp
poses and soft lighting Cameron's sister ran the artistic scene at
Little Holland House, which gave her many famous subjects for her
portraits. Some of her famous subjects include: Charles Darwin,
Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, John Everett Millais, William
Michael Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Ellen Terry and George
Frederic Watts. Most of these distinctive portraits are cropped
closely around the subject's face and are in soft focus. Cameron was
often friends with these Victorian celebrities, and tried to capture
their personalities in her photos.
Cameron's posed photographic illustrations represent the other half
of her work. In these illustrations, she frequently photographed
historical scenes or literary works, which often took the quality of
oil paintings. However, she made no attempt in hiding the
backgrounds. Cameron's friendship with Tennyson led to his asking
her to photograph illustrations for his Idylls of the King. These
photographs are designed to look like oil paintings from the same
time period, including rich details like historical costumes and
intricate draperies. Today, these posed works are sometimes
dismissed by art critics. Nevertheless, Cameron saw these
photographs as art, just like the oil paintings they imitated.
In 1875, the Camerons moved back to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Julia
continued to practice photography but complained in letters about
the difficulties of getting chemicals and pure water to develop and
print photographs. Also, in India, she did not have access to Little
Holland House's artistic community. She also did not have a market
to distribute her photographs as she had in England. Because of
this, Cameron took fewer pictures in India. These pictures were of
posed Indian natives, paralleling the posed pictures that Cameron
had taken of neighbours in England. Almost none of Cameron's work
from India survives. Cameron died in Ceylon in 1879 (now called Sri
Lanka).Cameron's niece Julia Prinsep Stephen née Jackson (1846–1895)
wrote the biography of Cameron, which appeared in the first edition
of the Dictionary of National Biography, 1886.
Julia Stephen was the mother of Virginia Woolf, who wrote a comic
portrayal of the "Freshwater circle" in her only play Freshwater.
Woolf edited, with Roger Fry, a collection of Cameron's photographs.
However, it was not until 1948 that her photography became more
widely known when Helmut Gernsheim wrote a book on her work.
Ellen Terry at age 16
I Wait (R. Gurney), 1872
The Mountain Nymph
Mrs. Herbert Duckworth
My Favorite Picture of All My Works.
My Niece Julia
God's Gift to Us
November 18, 1869
Professor Jowett, 1864
Charles Hay Cameron, 1864
Paul and Virginia , 1865
Thomas Carlyle, about 1870
Marie Spartali, 1870
Prayer and Praise, 1865
Holy Family, 1872
Lancelot and Guinevere , about
Charles Norman, 1874
Girl, 1875 - 1879
Whisper of Muse , 1865