By the early 1870s Julia Margaret Cameron and her husband had fallen on hard times. Deciding that they would be better off living with their sons in Ceylon, where living expenses were far lower, they set sail from Portsmouth in October 1875. Their destination was the fishing village of Kalutara, on the southwest coast of the island. In a letter written in November 1876, Cameron reflected on the benefits of her new environment: “My wonder for instance has been tamed but not my worship—The glorious beauty of the scenery—the primitive simplicity of the Inhabitants & the charms of the climate all make me love and admire Ceylon more and more.”
It is not known to what extent Cameron continued to photograph after her move to this new environment. Few images have survived—there are less than thirty examples in existence. Various factors may have affected her creative output—the harsh heat created problems of peeling collodion and glutinous varnishes, and this, together with the lack of readily available fresh water for washing prints, lessened the odds of obtaining good-quality pictures. More importantly, she no longer had an audience or market for her work and therefore could hardly justify the expense of materials.
Cameron’s photographs from Ceylon are mostly portraits of maidservants and plantation workers, posed either individually or in intimate groups. Occasionally she photographed members of the same family together; these works more or less imposed the values found in photographs of her own family onto individuals of the different culture. Although Cameron had a benevolent attitude toward the Ceylonese, she supported the British Empire's civilizing mission in Asia, as was typical of her time. Though she admired her subjects for their beauty and poise, they are clearly represented as “other.” In this picture the camera is positioned low and close to the sitter. While intimate in scale, the composition is organized so as to emphasize the ethnicity of the child, whose bare and hardened feet are prominently lighted. The interior setting perhaps suggests that the girl was a domestic servant in the Cameron home.