For Julia Margaret Cameron, it all started with the gift of a camera to amuse her. With no former training or knowledge of the arts or photography, within 18 months, the Victoria and Albert museum had purchased 80 of her works. The year was 1865. Lincoln was inaugurated for his second term.
She was a mother of 6 and 48 years old when given her first camera as a gift. She counted among her great friends the painter G. F. Watts; the poets Robert Browning, Henry Taylor, and Alfred Lord Tennyson, her neighbor at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight; the scientists Charles Darwin and Sir John Herschel; and the historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle.
An excerpt from a recent Financial Times, Arts piece: Julia Margaret Cameron said, “From the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardour,” she later wrote, “and it has become to me as a living thing, with voice and memory and creative vigour”.
She never set out to be a photographic master, but she became one without the critics believing in her. When the Photographic Journal reported her works as, “slovenly manipulation” she proved them wrong the following year by winning a gold medal in Berlin. Having a place of power does not give someone the right to decide your worth. Julia Margaret Cameron had developed and unprecedented form of photography. Severely criticized, she stayed true to herself and her craft knowing that she was creating something special: her own version of photography and that it meant something to her. Cameron wrote later that, it would have dispirited her “had I not valued that criticism at its worth,” basking instead in the positive judgment of artists and friends. Her works are still today among the most highly admired Victorian photographs.
Portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron, One of Photography’s Early Masters opens on August 19 at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and runs until January 5, 2014. Read the full story here.