Julia Margaret Cameron – Influence and Intimacy

2008bu5443_cameron-christabel   jmc-st-agnes-web

As a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), the Science Museum is presenting “Influence and Intimacy”, an exhibition of her shots of the Victorian elite.

The display includes portraits of her illustrious relatives (her niece, Julia Jackson, was Virginia Woolf’s mother), friends and acquaintances (Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, William Hunt, etc.) from the Herschel Album (1864) – which she “considered to be her finest work” (Science Museum, 2015) – as well as some rare images and objects such as the late photographs taken in Sri Lanka, her camera lens and some handwritten letters and notes.

According to the information in Higgins’ article (2015), Mrs. Cameron was given her first camera by her daughter when she was 48 years old. She then began experimenting, making studies of biblical representations and scenes from famous plays, never afraid of making mistakes. In fact, Mrs. Cameron “deliberately used unconventional methods when taking her shots, avoiding sharp focus and including technical faults to create more expressive images” (Visit London, 2015), much for the disdain of critics at the time, who would see in photography a way to generate clear, “perfect” images (Sadler, 2015).

Mrs. Cameron had quite a short career and yet, she still became well-known for her innovative and pioneering works which, I believe, probably made her an inspiration for women in the Victorian times.

Regarding the curation and installation of “Influence and Intimacy”, since the moment I took the first steps into the room, it was clear to me that curators Colin Harding and Tim Clark had set up this space as to create a sort of spiral, in which we dive into as we walk further in the exhibition. I believe this is meant to represent our immersion into Mrs. Cameron’s life; a way to make us engage with her work. However, it may not be clear enough that there is a certain direction we are supposed to follow for I watched people walking outwards the spiral – the “wrong way”.

Another view I can add is that the inclusion of handwritten letters is definitely a nice touch. They add a certain intimacy, as we’re dipping in her private life.

Something very clear in Mrs. Cameron’s works is that she loved children. Many of her photographs represent either children or maternal, caring scenes and positions (also related to biblical representations). In my opinion, this may be the result of a need to express her fondness and love as a mother – especially having in mind the strictness of the Victorian morality.

The_Mountain_Nymph_Sweet_Liberty,_by_Julia_Margaret_Cameron The_Return_after_3_days,_by_Julia_Margaret_Cameron

Another characteristic of this talented artist (which we can distinctly take from her photographs in Sri Lanka) is the fact that she portrayed not only her friends and family but also her servants, workers and local residents. Not many photographers of the Imperial period made portraits of ordinary people, “preferring picturesque landscape and architectural scenes, usually taken from a controlled vantage point” (Clark and Harding, 2015). This makes me believe that Julia Margaret was rather a loving woman, who actually cared and made friendship with people working for her and tried to honour them through her photographs.

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To conclude, from the works seen in “Influence and Intimacy”, I can say there is something in Cameron’s portraits that appeal to me in the same way my favourite photographer’s works do. Although they represent other people rather than herself, they are a reflection of her personality and show how remarkable she was.

Bibliography:

  • Higgins, C. (2015) Julia Margaret Cameron: soft-focus photographer with an iron will. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com (Accessed: 13 November 2015)
  • Khan, T. (2015) America And Victorian London: A Photography Double Header At Science Museum Reviewed. Available at: http://londonist.com (Accessed: 18 November 2015)
  • Sadler, V. (2015) New Ehibition on Julia Margaret Cameron – A Photography Pioneer. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk (Acessed: 16 November 2015)
  • Science Museum (2015) Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy. Available at: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk(Accessed: 12 November 2015)
  • Time Out (2015) Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy. Available at: http://www.timeout.com (Accessed: 12 November 2015)
  • Visit London (2015) Julia Margaret Cameron at Science Museum. Available at: http://www.visitlondon.com (Accessed: 17 November 2015)
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