Thursday, April 19, 2007

Julia Margaret Cameron

In some ways, portraiture has to be one of the hardest forms of photography to do well. Although like most fields of photography it has a small number who stand out from the crowd and probably always will, August Sander, Richard Avedon (though I hesitate slightly there) and Julia Margaret Cameron. Of the many contemporary portraitists, I wonder that perhaps only Rineke Dijkstra and Sally Mann can come close to being mentioned in the same breath.

Cameron was born in India in 1815 but didn't begin photographing until she was nearly 50. That she accomplished what she did in only about 12 years at the end of her life makes her achievement - in these the early years of photography's existence - even more astonishing.

While modern viewers may sometimes have some trouble with her (at the time very popular) Victorian allegories, her portraits of ordinary men and women, along with those of the like of Herschel and Tennyson, Browning and Darwin often come across as very modern. Their directness and simplicity is attention stopping. Her eye for a sort of casual and yet often intensebeauty is unerring. The subjects (even as allegory) are never less than fully human.


Anonymous said...

There are also some similar photographs by clementina, Viscountess Hawarden (1822-1865). See 'Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Harwarden' by Carol Mavor, in which parallels are drawn with Julia Margaret Cameron and Sally Mann. She was very productive, creating in excess of 800 images! I was just looking at this book recently and there are some excellent images - though those shown hardly scratches the surface!

Best, Sean.

Joe Reifer said...

Julia Margaret Cameron need not be compared to anyone -- her work has an amazing mystical quality that consistently amazes me every time I return to it -- there are precious few photographers who I can say that about.