Inspiring women: Julia Margaret Cameron

In 1863, when Julia Margaret Cameron was 48 years old, her daughter gifted her a camera and thus began her career as a photographer. Studying under David Wilkie Wynfield, she created portraits with unprecedented intimacy. They were under-appreciated in their time, the softness and intentional lack of focus led to ridicule from her contemporaries.


But Cameron stuck to her guns, photographing obsessively. Her seriousness extended to protecting and preserving her images too and she registered them all at the copyright office. Her collection is important, not only because of its beauty, but, because many are the only known photographs of prominent figures. Among many others she photographed Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning.


I find the intimacy of Cameron's portraits at times little suffocating; her subject's eyes haunting and deeply expressive. It strikes me that although I see picture after picture of women in magazines and websites now, there's a hollowness to these photographs. And perhaps that's necessary - most of those photographs aren't about the people, they're about the products they're modeling. But still, isn't it something to gaze upon these portraits and feel a connection with the model and photographer? And aren't you left feeling like so much of what we're served these days comes up short on pure, raw expressiveness?

Julia Margaret Cameron's Women
Julia Margaret Cameron: A Critical Biography

Images via and via

18 comments:

  1. I love her photos. Thanks for reminding me of her.

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  2. Oh these are so beautiful! "Haunting" and "deeply expressive" are the right words indeed!

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  3. I am a big fan of Julia Margaret Cameron. There is an other worldly quality to her portraits - not just because of when they were actually shot - it is the expression caught on a person's face, particularly the eyes.

    I saw a photography exhibit recently with a lot of portraits and they seemed very 'personal' or confronting. Can't think of the right word. Of course, now I can't remember the photographer's name and had stumbled across the gallery... will probably remember at 3am tomorrow morning.

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  4. Freaky, Jane, we were commenting on each other's posts at the same time.... Good morning!

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  5. Ha - that's awesome! Good morning, Alice!

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  6. Beautiful photos.
    I wasn't aware of Julia Margaret, so thank you so much for introducing me to her work,.
    Can't wait to find more of her photographs.
    Best,

    Marija

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  7. ditto to everything you wrote here... thanks so much for introducing me to this photographer! these 2 photographs are especially amazing to me.

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  8. i love your inspiring women series. these photographs show an amazing sensitivity -- really marvelous.

    p.s. also, valerie finnis! too awesome.

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  9. Love her. Wrote a paper on her my senior year of college. I've always been a big fan and I love that she didn't start photography until later in life.

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  10. don´t know her but inspiring women are the best.

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  11. i really love these -- they do feel so intimate, almost to the point where you sometimes feel like you need to look away for a moment.

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  12. Oh, beautiful. Today's portraits do lack any soul. She obviously had a gift for capturing what couldn't be written.

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  13. Thanks for this!! I'm reading a book of letters of Vanessa Bell right now and she refers to her Aunt Julia's photos!

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  14. Thanks for this!! I'm reading a book of letters of Vanessa Bell right now and she refers to her Aunt Julia's photos!

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  15. I've loved Cameron's work for years - despite their theatrical quality (like Pre-Raphaelite paintings brought to life), they have an immediacy and an intimacy which makes them feel quite contemporary.

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  16. I just saw one of her exhibits at the historic museum in my neighborhood (Frick Art Museum in Pittsburgh, PA). Did you know that this model is Virginia Woolf's and Vanessa Bell's mother? I'm pretty sure she was Cameron's niece. Lovely.

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  17. I didn't know of her, but these are spell-binding... I love the ethereal magic in them.

    xoox,
    -maria

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