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Julia Margaret Cameron

British Photographer

Julia Margaret Cameron Photo
Movements and Styles: The Pre-Raphaelites, Pictorialism

Born: June 11th, 1815 - Calcutta, British India

Died: January 26th, 1879 - Kalutara, British Ceylon

"Growth is a spiral process, doubling back on itself, reassessing and regrouping."

Summary of Julia Margaret Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron was a mighty talent with a mighty heart; her photographs typically have a soft focus whilst her mind and eye have an acute sharpness, the combination of which created a pioneering quality in her work that still endures today. Unlike other early practitioners of the medium, Cameron did not seek technical perfection in her work as a means to "capture" or document reality. She appreciated the scientific processes behind her pursuit but privileged instead the creation of an otherworldly sense of beauty using props, allegory, and slight blurriness. As such, Cameron was intensely aware that she was an 'artist', trying ultimately to expose the emotional internal lives of her sitters. At the time, her experimental style was better received by the Pre-Raphaelite painters than by fellow Victorian photographers. Surrounded by impressive figures, mostly men, Cameron photographed them accordingly with great respect but rejected hierarchy and gave equal attention and importance to passing strangers, children, and nursing mothers.

Key Ideas

Cameron has become an influential mother-figure for subsequent generations of modern and contemporary photographers with particular interest in making images born out of heightened levels of communication. Following the creation of spaces of trust, consent, and reciprocity it is arguably possible to make more sensitive and revealing portraits, particularly of children. Such was also the endeavor of Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange, and Sally Mann.
The notion of showing something of the reflective inner life of the sitter - an interest in the unconscious, the dream, and the imagination as the vehicles through which to explore identity - are the founding principles of Surrealism. Photographers Duane Michals and Francesca Woodman inherit Cameron's use of soft focus, shadow, and the trace as devices to highlight the more magical and ethereal aspects of human existence.
Cameron upheld a long-term relationship with Sir Henry Cole, the director/curator of the South Kensington Gallery (now the V&A museum), and was even given a studio space in the gallery from 1868 qualifying her as the gallery's first artist in residence. She was at the epicentre of an intellectual and artistic movement (connected to the Pre-Raphaelites) and this was unusual for a British woman at the time.
Due to her interest in experimenting with special characteristics particular to the medium (for example long exposure and soft focus), Cameron's oeuvre supports key theoretical debates surrounding the relationship between photography and time. Her photographs are now interestingly discussed in the context of the Belgian professor, Thierry de Duve's essay, 'Time Exposure and Snapshot', Walter Benjamin's concept of 'aura', and Roland Barthes' poetic discussions on the "punctum" of an image.
Julia Margaret Cameron Photo

Julia Margaret Cameron was born in 1815 in Calcutta, India. She was the second of seven sisters, born into a wealthy, highly cultured, and well-educated family. Her father James Pattle was a well-respected official working for the East India Company. Her mother, Adeline Pattle was the daughter of French Royalists. As such, Cameron and her sisters spent their youth between India, Versailles, and England. All of the Pattle sisters were known for being vivacious and witty aesthetes, often noticed and commented upon for their unusual beauty and candor.

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