Women’s History Month: Julia Margaret Cameron

Europe, Photography

NOTE: As March is Women’s History Month here in the United States, I thought I’d acknowledge this by highlighting a few female photographers from the past throughout the month.

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 – 1879)

Julia Margaret Cameron was a British photographer born in Calcutta, India, 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. While 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, 1870

Julia Margaret Cameron, 1870

A highly intelligent and deeply spiritual woman who appreciated the complexities of life, religion, poetry, and art, Cameron counted among her mentors and models many of the greatest minds of Victorian England—Tennyson, Herschel, Darwin, Ruskin, Carlyle, and others. When her children gave her a camera in 1863, she strove to express biblical and literary ideals of innocence, wisdom, piety, or passion that she saw embodied in her family and friends, rather than aiming for a precise likeness as most professional portrait photographers did. It is said that Cameron’s last word, as she died in Ceylon on January 26, 1879, was “Beauty.”

The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere, 1874

The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere, 1874

Numerous books on Julia Margaret Cameron can be found, including Colin Ford’s Julia Margaret Cameron: A Critical Biography (J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003) and Victoria Olsen’s From Life: Julia Margaret Cameron and Victorian Photography (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has some very good information available from a recent exhibit, where the second paragraph of this post (and the three photos) come from.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1866

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1866

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