My Favourite ‘Julia Margaret Camerons.' Pre-Raphaelite photography
11th June 2015
On this day, 200 years ago precisely, the pioneering Victorian photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron was born. Known as the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Photographer,’ due to her soft-focus compositions, atmospheric lighting and use of poetic and literary themes, her portraits resonate naturally with the work of the celebrated Pre-Raphaelite painters of the mid and latter half of the 19th Century such as Rossetti and Millais. She also knew many of the artists of the times personally, including G.F. Watts and Val Princep (to whom she was related), along with notable writers such as Tennyson, Longfellow and Lewis Carrol.
Julia Margaret Cameron at piano (1863) by Oscar Rejlanderdd.
There are lots of biographies on the internet, if you would like to learn more about her. Today, there will no doubt be plenty of posts on Facebook and Twitter, too. But the best way to celebrate is probably just to look at some of her work. Here are my personal favourites:
May Princep as Beatrice.
A young Ellen Terry in 1864
The Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Another May Princep - 'Study of Beatrice Cenci.'
Why Julia Margaret Cameron's work is important
So why do I like these photos? Why are they considered so important in the history of art and photography? Well, we admire them firstly because they were new for their time. Photography was still in its infancy when Julia Margaret was given her first camera as a present in 1863. It was still rather prone to being a science - technically challenging. It was also seen as a method of rendering things as accurately and as clearly as possible. Nothing to do with art.
While others in the field were busy endeavouring to achieve greater and greater clarity and sharpness to their photographs, JMC was pioneering soft-focus. Quite a brave move. But it changed the way we think of photography for good.
Julia Margaret decided to reverse all that and to explore the complexity and depth of character in her subjects instead. Her work anticipates the freedom of emotional expression that was to evolve from the rigidity of Victorian Society – and this most notably in the context of her female subjects. Her images look ahead to a more relaxed form of dress, and towards political movements such as women’s suffrage. They are photos of value, introspection and allegory, and each tells a story.
Hatty Campbell 'The Echo' 1868, by Julia Margaret Cameron.
Julia Margaret Cameron liberated photography – not single-handedly (that would be more than she herself would ever claim), but she certainly played a leading role in its development as an art form. Happy Birthday Mrs Cameron!