1867 Julia Jackson (later Julia Stephen) by JMC.
All photographers know how challenging it is to capture emotion, character and energy from a portrait session. This semester I am privileged to teach a course on alternative photographic process’s, which involves many historical methods, including salted paper and albumen printing.Julia Margaret Cameron made some wonderful salted prints and albumen prints, that capture the imagination and human spirit better than most. Even more remarkable is the fact that they were made in the 1860′s.
Many early pioneers of photography had a technical and scientific focus, reproducing details from reality to document and record, with nothing more or less than that as their goal. Cameron however, produced images with tight cropping, shaping her subjects with light, giving intimate portraits that fill the frame and captivate. She experimented with intentionally long exposures to produce movement and energy within the image. Her wet plate photography work with salted and albumen printing is breathtaking. These photographs transcend time and place.
1867 Angelo Colarossi, by JMC
Her work is made even more compelling by the fact that she did not pick up a camera until she was 48, and shot her body of work during the 1860′s and 70′s. Growing up in India, she did most of her photography in mid life after a move to the UK. Based on the Isle of Wight, and with her family connections, she had access to many influential and famous people of the Victorian era. Her portrait subjects included Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sir John Herschel, and Julia Stephen (her niece and mother of Virginia Woolf).
Iconic photographer Imogen Cunningham famously commented, ”I’d like to see portrait photography go right back to Julia Margaret Cameron. I don’t think there’s anyone better.” And I tend to agree. For those of us that love photography, these images are timeless and inspirational.
Along with a group of photography students, I recently had the good fortune to view an original Cameron print, in the photography archive, at George Eastman House, Rochester, NY. If you can get to Rochester, GEH is a treasure, and well worth exploring. Further south, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City currently has a comprehensive exhibit of Cameron’s work on display. A must see for Cameron fans, the show runs till 5th January 2014.
For books on Cameron, I recommend Helmut Gernsheim’s 1975 in depth study Julia Margaret Cameron: Her Life and Photographic Work. Also, the insightful biography by Colin Ford: Julia Margaret Cameron: A critical Biography, and lastly, From Life: Julia Margaret Cameron and Victorian Photography by Victoria Olsen.
1864 Ellen Terry, by JMC