Julia Margaret Cameron – the experimental photographer whose camera created the art


They say life is temporary, but some carve their name beyond their years through the power of art. One such artist was Julia Margaret Cameron whose camera immortalized her in the realm of portrait photography. His delicate close-ups of prominent Victorian men, as well as images depicting figures from mythology, Christianity and literature, were fascinating and unprecedented for the time. She is also known for capturing images of compassionate moments between mothers and children.

Julia Margaret Cameron (June 11, 1815 – January 26, 1879) was a British photographer considered one of the most influential portrait painters of the 19th century. She grew up in Calcutta, India, as her father was an employee of the British East India Company.

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Cameron started photography at the relatively late age of 48 after his daughter gave him a camera as a gift to fill his loneliness. A few years after beginning her photographic journey, she wrote: “From the first moment I handled my lens with tender ardour, it became to me like a living thing, with voice, memory and creative vigor.

She developed innovative iconographic visuals inspired by tableaux vivants, theatre, 15th century Italian painters and the work of her creative contemporaries, and soon produced numerous documents illustrating the genius, beauty and innocence of men, women, as well as children who visited his studio in Freshwater. His career as a photographer was brief but lucrative. For 12 years, she produced around 900 photos.

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Cameron’s approach was divided at the time. His delicately focused and raw shots were criticized by critics, who thought his descriptive photographs were unprofessional and over the top. His portraits of well-known people (such as Henry Taylor, Charles Darwin and Sir John Herschel) have repeatedly been appreciated, both during his lifetime and in later appraisals of his work. Her photographs have been called “incredibly dramatic” and “completely original”, but she is known for creating the very first close-ups in the world of photography.

Julia Margaret was the fourth of 10 children from a large family. According to stories, each of her sisters had a characteristic-driven nickname. “Beauty” was one of her sisters’ nicknames. Julia was known as “Talent”. Julia developed a fixation on idealized beauty as a result.

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Cameron then set up her own salon in the Isle of Wight resort town of Freshwater, visited by Victorian notables, having first established herself among Calcutta’s Anglo-Indian upper class, then among London’s intellectual elite.

As her era progressed, while she was criticized by some, some saw her as an unorthodox and innovative photographer. Historians, enthusiasts and analysts of photography now believe that Julia Margaret Cameron is today one of the crucial masters and practitioners of the photographic art in the world.

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