Parting of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere (1874)The J. Paul Getty Museum
She Was One of the Earliest Photographers
Julia Margaret Cameron was born in 1815, around 25 years before photography was even invented. In fact, she didn’t take up photography until she was 48, when her daughter gave her a camera as a present.
Her Career was Short but Prolific
Julia Margaret Cameron’s photography career lasted just 12 years. However, during this time, she took around 900 photographs, creating an outstanding body of work in the process. The majority of her photos are portraits, many of which depict scenes from the bible, books and classical literature.
Paul and Virginia (1864) by Julia Margaret CameronThe J. Paul Getty Museum
Cameron Enlisted the Help of Friends and Family
Most of Julia Margaret Cameron’s portraits feature friends, family and acquaintances from her large social circle. Cameron would often dress her subjects in costumes and arrange them in narrative scenes. This often gives her works the feel of classical paintings rather than modern photographic images.
Many of her favorite themes were taken from the bible, with the Madonna, saints and angels all regularly appearing in her works. Cameron was also inspired by Greek myths, Shakespeare and contemporary poets.
LIFE Photo Collection
Cameron's Connections Helped Her to Find Great Subjects
Julia Margaret Cameron was part of Anglo-Indian and British artistic circles. This helped her to find fantastic subjects for her paintings. Her close circle of friends included Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Henry Taylor, Robert Browning, Sir John Herschel and world famous naturalist Charles Darwin.
[Alethea] (1872) by Julia Margaret CameronThe J. Paul Getty Museum
Cameron Photographed Lewis Carroll’s Alice
Lewis Carroll’s muse, Alice Liddell, was one of Julia Margaret Cameron’s favorite subjects. As a child, Alice had inspired Carroll to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and it seems she continued to influence artists as she grew up.
Most of the images Cameron took of Alice Liddell were made between August and September 1872. In many of the photos, Liddell wears a white dress and is standing in front of thick foliage. Cameron named the images Pomona, after the Roman goddess of gardens and fruit trees.
Vivien and Merlin (September 1874)The J. Paul Getty Museum
Cameron’s First Exhibition was at the V&A
While many artists have to start small and work their way up to the top, thanks to her connections, Julia Margaret Cameron was able to hold her very first exhibition at one of the UK’s biggest galleries.
Then known as The South Kensington Museum, the V&A was the only place to show Cameron’s photos during her lifetime and was the largest collector of her works.
Ellen Terry, at the age of sixteen (1864, printed ca. 1913) by Julia Margaret Cameron|The Autotype CompanyThe Metropolitan Museum of Art
Cameron’s Work Was Controversial in her Lifetime
Although a lot of people loved the images Julia Margaret Cameron produced, some critics were scathing of her photographic abilities. In 1865, The Photographic Journal wrote “We must give this lady credit for daring originality, but at the expense of all other photographic qualities.”
While the Photographic News said “Smudged, torn, dirty, undefined, and in some cases almost unreadable, there is hardly one of them that ought not to have been washed off the plate as soon as it appeared.” Luckily, there were more admirers than there were detractors and Julia Margaret Cameron’s work has continue to be shown and appreciated around the world.
Julia Margaret Cameron (1874) by Henry Herschel Hay CameronThe J. Paul Getty Museum