Anna McNay

Essay on Julia Margaret Cameron


Julia Margaret Cameron

Victoria and Albert Museum

28 November 2015 – 21 February 2016


Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy

Media Space, Science Museum

24 September 2015 – 28 March 2016

The aspects of her photography for which Julia Margaret
Cameron (1815-79) is most celebrated are – and indeed always have been – those
for which she is also most criticised, namely her imprecision, lack of focus,
and deliberately vague, artistic subject matter. Regardless of one’s opinion on
her style, however, Cameron’s impact on the development of the medium and its
acceptance as an art form cannot be denied. She was the first photographer who
took repeated advantage of the Copyright Bill of 1862, paying one shilling per
picture to register some 505 of her photographs, and, in 1868, she became the
first “artist in residence” at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria
and Albert Museum), when its then director, Sir Henry Cole, allowed her to use
two rooms as a studio. Her experimental techniques and penchant for scratching
or drawing on to the negative, as well as her deliberate use of smudges and
swirls, from applying an excess of collodion, render her resultant imagery
poetic and alluring, far removed from documentary style. Indeed, Cameron
herself acknowledged in a letter to her friend and mentor, Sir John Herschel,
at the end of 1864: “My aspirations are to ennoble Photography and to secure
for it the character and uses of High Art by combining the real and Ideal and
sacrificing nothing of the Truth by all possible devotion to Poetry and

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