Photographers: Julia Margaret Cameron (England/Scotland, 1815-79)


Figure 1.--This is Annie Wilhelmina Philpot (1854-1930), a family friend of Julia Cameron. Cameron worked with her camera for a year after receiving it from her daughter for Christmas (December 1862). This was the first photograph that she was pleased with--"my first success" as she described it in January 1864. It was albumen print.  

British photographer Julia Margaret Pattle was a rare woman photographer among the 19th century photographic luminaries. She was born in of all places in Calcutta, India, to James Pattle, a British East India Company employee. Her mother was Adeline de l'Etang, a daughter of French aristocrats. She was educated in France, but generally associated herself with Britain. She returned to India where she married Scottsman Charles Hay Cameron, a jurist and member of the Law Commission stationed in Calcutta (1838). He was much older, but provided a comfortable life style for her. Photography was not an interest until her daughter gave her a camera as a Christmas present when she was nearly 50 years old (1862). Thus her photographs are all from a rather narrow window during the second half of the 19th century (1863-79). She was as a photographer a perfectionist. Incredibly it took her over a year to be satified with her first print--a portait of her young daughter Annie. She would have her subjects sit for hours in bright sunlight. Sge is important because she was one of the few early Scottish photographers. She lived in Edinburgh for several years. She also lived in London where she photographed the luminaries of the day. Some of the best photographs of men like Darwin, Tennyson, and many others are her portraits. In some cases they are the only surviving portraits. She was friendly with Lewis Carroll and took mny portraits of Alice Lidell (Caroll's Alice in Wonderland). Caroll photographed her with her two boys. Part of the reason that Cameron is so well known is that she meticulously registered each of her British photographs with the British copyright office and maintained detailed records. She returned to India and lived in Ceylon (Sri Lank) where she continued her photographi work. Tragically, virtually all of this work has been lost.

Parents

Julia's parents were James Pattle, a British East India Company employee. Her mother was Adeline de l'Etang, a daughter of French aristocrats. Her father was a Bengal-born Scot. Her mother'sd family had fled the French Revolution to escape the Reign of Terror. Both parents died when Julia was still quite young.

Childhood

British photographer Julia Margaret Pattle was a rare woman photographer among the 19th century photographic luminaries. Julia was born in of all places in Calcutta, India. Julia was from a family of celebrated beauties, but was rather plain. She was considered the ugly duckling of the family and this deeply affected her as she grew up.

Education

After the early death of their parents, Julia and her sisters went to live with their grandmother in France. It was here that they were educated. The girls subsequently moved to England. Here they gravitate towards England's artistic society. They enjoyed the company of poets, writers and artists. They organised popular social gatherings and entertained in an elaborate style. Julia's beautiful sisters were a draw at the events. We are not entirely sure how Julia figured in at these events.

Family

Julia returned to India where she was born. While still in India she married Scottsman Charles Hay Cameron, a jurist and member of the Law Commission stationed in Calcutta (1838). He also had investments in Ceylon. She was still quite young, 23 years old. Cameron was was much older than Julia , but provided a comfortable life style for her. This was fairly common at the time. When her husband retired, they returned to England where they raised five children. A a sixth child was born in England (1857). They also adopted Mary Ryan. Julia's sister, Sarah Prinsep, help the Cameron's enter English society, especially the artistically and intelectually inclined. [Lukitsh, p. 286.] Sarah lived in London and hosted a salon frequented by smart artistic society. She lived at Little Holland House, the dower house of Holland House in Kensington. Popular artists and writers regularly visited. Thus when the Camerons returned to England, they had an easy entry into smart London society. It was here , Cameron met Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson. He invited them to his estate on the Isle of Wight. Julia was so taken with the location that she convinced her husband to purchased a nerarby property. They named it Dimbola Lodge after the their Ceylon coffee plantation. She also met Lewis Carol who photographed her and thge family. This probably raised her interest in photography..

Photography

Photography was not an interest until her eldest daughter gave her a camera as a Christmas present when she was nearly 50 years old (1862). Thus her photographs are all from a rather narrow window during the second half of the 19th century (1863-79). At the time Cameron was rather bored and a little lonel. One source suggests that her children were all grown up. This is not really correct, but the younger boys probably had been sent to preparatory boarding schools. Her husband was an important jurist who was often away on business. Her daughter thought a camera might give her something to occupy her time. Photography at the time, however, was not a simple matter. Most women at the time would have been uninterested, but not the ecentric Cameron. She not only became interested in the possibilities, but became obsessed with the artistic possivilities. Her objective as she explained it was from the beginning to "arrest all beauty that came before me". And to achieve this, she was as a photographer a perfectionist. Incredibly it took her over a year to be satified with her first print--a portait of her young daughter Annie. She would have her subjects sit for hours in bright sunlight. She had a strong esthetic sence and was interested in art and literature. Her portraits she explained were influenced by Raphael, Giotto, and Michelangelo. She was influenced by one of the most important artistic movements of the day--the Pre-Raphaelite school. They sought to return to the artistic practices of Europe of the Renaissance. In addition to portraits, she liked to do costumed 'tableux vivants'. She also produced experimental images with Arthurian and other legendary themes. While many of her photographs have technical imperfections, there is often a romantic air about them that make the portraits stand out. Many of her photographs are of women and children which makes Cameron especially interesting for HBC.

Scotland

Cameron is also important because she was one of the few early Scottish photographers. She spent time in Edinburgh for several years. I think this was because of her husband's family.

England

Charles and his sons had to return to Ceylon Sri Lanka where they owned a coffee plantation (1860). Julia and the rest of the family moved to the family residence at Freshwater. It was at this time that Cameron became a neighbor and close friend of Alfred Lord Tennyson and his family. It was here that Cameron did most of her photographic work. Somehow her rather eccentric personality helped her enlist her family, domestic servants, and neighbors as subjects for her camera. Cameron moved in London society which made it possible to photograph the luminaries of the day. Some of the best photographs of men like naturalist Charles Darwin, Sir John Herschel, Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson, astronomer George Frederick Watts, and many others are Cameron's portraits. In some cases they are the only surviving portraits. She was friendly with Lewis Carroll and took mny portraits of Alice Lidell (Caroll's Alice in Wonderland). Caroll photographed her with her two boys. Part of the reason that Cameron is so well known is that she meticulously registered each of her British photographs with the British copyright office and maintained detailed records.

Ceylon

She returned to India and lived in Ceylon (Sri Lank) where she continued her photographi work. Tragically, virtually all of this work has been lost.

Reputation

Cameron's reputation as a photographer was not as great in her day as it is today. She did gain membership in the Photographic Societies of London and Scotland. But her reputation was hurt by the technical imperfections in her work. She sometimes even did her portraits slightly out of focus for effect. This was not appreciated at the time. Today her portraits are very highly regarded and seen as giving her sitters an emotuiinal depth more commonly associated with painted portraits.

Sources

Lukitsh, Joanne. "'Simply Pictures of Peasants': Artistry, Anthropology, and Ideology in Julia Margaret Cameron's Photography in Sri Lanka." The Yale Journal of Criticism Vol. 9, No. 2 (1996), pp. 283-308.







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Created: 7:28 PM 2/17/2011
Last updated: 7:28 PM 2/17/2011