An Unusual Hobby for a Woman by Julia Margaret Cameron


Julia Margaret Cameron (née Pattle; 11 June 1815 – 26 January 1879) was a British photographer. She became known for her portraits of celebrities of the time, and for photographs with Arthurian and other legendary or heroic themes. Cameron’s photographic career was short, spanning eleven years of her life (1864–1875). She took up photography at the relatively late age of 48, when she was given a camera as a present. Although her style was not widely appreciated in her own day, her work has had an impact on modern photographers, especially her closely cropped portraits.

Julia_Margaret_Cameron_by_Henry_Herschel_Hay_CameronJulia Margaret Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron (née Pattle) (1815-1879) was born in Calcutta, India of a respectable English family. As her family was well-connected, she was raised to perform the kind of duties expected of a woman of her class and upon her marriage to Charles Hay Cameron in 1838, became a devoted mother of six. Cameron got a late start in photography for two reasons; the techniques were still in their infancy and she had not recognized the need for artistic expression until the children were out of the house and she wanted something to help pass the time. Sir John Herschel, an astronomer and friend informed her of this new technology and she must have at first experimented by borrowing the cameras of others before receiving her own as a gift from her daughter and son-in-law Julia and Charles Norman in 1863. This was an unusual hobby for a woman as it was a technical and messy process using wet collodion and such photographers were noted for their black fingers from handling the chemicals. She was self-taught and worked on her craft in England and then in Ceylon where she and her husband relocated in 1875. Apart from Herschel, she was friends or acquaintances with a number of noted figures including Alfred Tennyson and his wife who were neighbors for a time. Running a business was becoming a respectable practice for the upper classes in Victorian England and photographers were making their fortunes producing postcards from their images. At that time photography demanded a lot of time and money, and though Cameron wanted to supplement her family’s income with her work, that ambition never reached fruition.

Fortunately for us and for posterity, there was a resurgence of interest in Cameron’s work in the 1970s and efforts to track down her surviving photographs began, resulting in the book Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs by Julian Cox and Colin Ford in 2003. 1225 images are known to have survived and are included in catalog form in this book. She was a prolific correspondent and was one of the most written-about women of her time so there is ample documentation about her life and artistry. She classified her work into three general groups: 1) Portraits, 2) Madonna Groups and 3) Fancy Subjects for Pictorial Effect. No matter what the theme, Cameron regarded her goal as achieving a work of beauty. Her earliest efforts did make use of the children in her life, mainly members of her extended family and those of her closest friends. Her first exhibition was in 1865 at the South Kensington Museum. Her accomplishments are even more impressive when one considers the 3 to 7 minute exposure time required. Cameron made efforts to minimize the production time, but it must still have been a formidable challenge to get children to sit still that long. The exposure times also made the modern convention of smiling for photographs out of the question, as such a tense expression could not be maintained.  Although Cameron was a perfectionist when it came to composition and effect, she was harshly criticized for her sloppy technique.  Early photography was a sensitive process; chemicals had to be applied evenly and the photographer had to be careful handling the plate to avoid dust, scratches and other marks.(via Pigtails in paint)


9 thoughts on “An Unusual Hobby for a Woman by Julia Margaret Cameron

      • Si in effetti quello che mi stupisce di più sono le espressioni…queste foto potrebbero uscire da una rivista qualsiasi dei nostri tempi!
        Poi certo se pensi all’esposizione capisci che la tizia stava avanti anni luce! 🙂

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