Julia Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron (June 1815 – 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 themes.

Her 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 was widely regarded as the ugly duckling of her family. Born in India into a clan of famously beautiful women, the daughter of a British officer of the East India Company, Julia was always considered plain and uninteresting.

And indeed, for most of her life, she seemed destined to bear this out. She was married early to a man twice her age, and they continued to live quietly in India for the first ten years of their marriage. Then he retired and they returned to England, where they settled into the next chapter of the comfortable, if unspectacular existence that had been charted out for her. As her great-niece Virginia Woolf wrote in the 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”

Virginia Woolf

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. The gift of the camera came at a moment when her husband Charles was in Ceylon attending to the family’s coffee plantations, when their sons were grown or away at boarding school, and when their only daughter, Julia, had married and moved away. Photography became Cameron’s link to the writers, artists, and scientists who were her spiritual and artistic advisors, friends, neighbours, and intellectual correspondents. “I began with no knowledge of the art,” she wrote. “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.” No matter. She was indefatigable in her efforts to master the difficult steps in producing negatives with wet collodion on glass plates.

Alfred Lord Tennyson


The Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson, her neighbour on the Isle of Wight, often brought friends to see the photographer, and many of them ended up sitting for a portrait including Charles Darwin.


Charles Darwin


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. 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 her. One of the reasons 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 portrait studio.


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.

I started writing this blog entry about 2 weeks ago. Before I had seen any of her work in person o(nly online). Last weekend we were in Mannheim for an exhibit abut the birth of photography, and several of her works there to see up close. It was a great feeling to think hay I’ve just been researching this very subject matter for the last few weeks and here it is direct before my eyes.


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