Pre raphaelite photography – discover the extraordinary Julia Margaret Cameron

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The English Victorian artist Julia Margaret Cameron (who was actually born in India and raised in France) was an irreplaceable representative of pre raphaelite photography .

With a careful look, Julia produced portraits of deep sensitivity, marked by the drama she could manage for each scene.

Unlike artists who started their careers very early, still close to adolescence, Julia Margaret Cameron began her artistic journey at age 48.

 

 

Pre Raphaelite photography The Rosebud Garden of Girls (O Jardim do Roseiral das jovens), Julia Margaret Cameron , 1868

Julia Margaret Cameron, The Rosebud Garden of Girls, 1868, Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields.

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The pre Raphaelite Brotherhood

It all started when her daughter gave her a camera as a gift. Julia became a dedicated photographer and began to stage allegorical scenes referring to mythology, literature and history.

This was a tendency that aligned well with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The pre raphaelite photography followed the same principles.

In a few words, the movement advocated a return to nature and a way of making art that opposed the speed of industrialization.

The Italian early-Renaissance painters who came before Raphael, such as Botticelli, inspired their style.

Pre raphaelite photography

Julia Margaret Cameron, King Lear Allotting His Kingdom To His Three Daughters, 1872, Victoria and Albert Museum

 

In the photograph above, for example, she reenacts a tragedy of William Shakespeare. He is one of the favorite authors of the Pre-Raphaelites.

The subject of this photograph is the division of King Lear’s kingdom between the daughters Regan and Goneril, and the exclusion of their sister Cordelia from the inheritance. A dramatic theme in the pre raphaelite photography by Julia Margaret Cameron.

Pre raphaelite photography – Julia Margaret Cameron

Julia’s photographs delight in the meticulousness of detail. 

She recruited her friends and family, and even her servants, to be her models. One of Julia’s nieces, Laura Gurney Troubridge, stated that her aunt was unpredictable and that they never quite knew what to expect from her photographs.

However, they trusted her absolutely: when Julia asked them to stand still, they did, even if it took hours.

Since she was quite well-off and had a well-established network of contacts, her photographs feature many celebrities of her day, artists, and even scientists.

pre raphaelite photography The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere
Julia Margaret Cameron, The Parting of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, 1874, Musée d’Orsay

Kings and queens in pre raphaelite photography

The theme of “Kings and Queens” was a recurring one in Cameron’s artworks. And, of course, as it was common at the time, King Arthur was often a guest in her art. 

Pre raphaelite photography

Julia Margaret Cameron, So like a Shatter’d Column Lay the King’ (The Passing of Arthur), 1875, Victoria and Albert Museum

 

In the case of the two photographs above, Julia received a commission from the poet Alfred Tennyson, who wrote the book Idylls of King, based on the legends of King Arthur.

He asked her to do the photographic illustrations for the book. In response to the request, the artist produced a series of 25 photographs accompanying the poems.

Julia put a lot of effort into obtaining a good result. For example, she used fabric on top of the lens to create the misty atmosphere“. She also paid a lot of attention to costumes.

In 1864, the same year she began photographing, Julia became a member of the Photographic Society of London and Scotland.

One year later, she made her first solo exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum (which at the time was still called the South Kensington Museum).

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The technique in pre raphaelite photography

One of the most interesting things about Cameron’s work, however, is the way she preferred to keep blemishes and other “mistakes” in the final print.

Read the post - Phenomena in Photographs that look like damage. How to identify?

Critics at the time believed that it was the photographers’ obligation to eliminate any defects from their works. Cameron, however, did not care. The stains and scratches on the image were part of Julia’s aesthetic.

Julia Margaret Cameron’s Working Methods from Victoria and Albert Museum on Vimeo.

Cameron’s production took place over a decade and only declined when she moved with her family to Sri Lanka in 1875.

She lacked materials to develop the photographs and also didn’t really fit into a new community. Despite this, Julia left an impressive number of photographs, and she recorded all of them very carefully. 

It is especially due to her well-organized collection that we have access to her works today.

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