Juliet Margaret Cameron was a Pioneer Victorian photographer during the nineteenth century. She took up photography later in life at the age forty-eight when her daughter presented her with a camera. This simple gift sparked enthusiasm in Cameron and led her to become one of the most colorful personalities in photography.
Cameron was born in Calcutta in 1815 to a well to do British Family. After being educated in Europe, she returned to the Cape of Good Hope in 1836. While she was there she met Charles Hay Cameron, whom she married in 1838. On Charles’ retirement in 1848, they moved to London, the Isle of Wright, where Julia Margaret became part of Kensington’s artistic community.
In 1863, Rejlander, a photographer, came to the Isle of Wright to photograph her neighbor Tennyson, a poet, and it was most likely then that Julia Margaret learned her basic technique from him. Also inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite painters, Cameron’s photographs were frequently allegorical, containing religious, antique, and literary themes. Her subject matter consisted of portraits of the cream of Victorian Society, family, friends, and even passersby. Secure in her beliefs as a high Church Anglican, Cameron’s photographs also contained strong religious themes. Cameron thought that religious art was far from dead and could be revived in photography. She also made strikingly bold photographs of children, including a series of large-scale heads.
Julia Margaret created some of the most intimate and powerful portraits produced in any medium. Ambitious from the start, she considered herself an artist who made photographs rather than a photographer. Cameron was more interested in capturing the essence of the subject than mastering perfect camera technique. Her photographs are notable for the extreme intimacy and psychological intensity of effect achieved by the use of close up perspective, suppression of detail (sometimes accompanied by peripheral blurring) large scale, and dramatic lighting. In her photographs, Cameron tried to achieve an effect called “plasticity” which created an expression of feeling rather than fact. Julia Margaret made it her duty to show her subjects in the light of their potential immorality and it shows beautifully in her work.
Julia Margaret Cameron was an English woman with a remarkable talent for photography and who created brilliant photographs that captured moments of emotional intensity. She rejected the meticulously observed and highly defined detail of the artisan photographers, yet there was nothing eccentric or amateur in her approach. The financial condition of her family at the time when she began to work at her photography was so distressing that it must have taken an incredible act of will to launch herself into a field where few women had a place. Her astonishing energy and boldness carried her through all the difficulties she faced. Even if she didn’t make all the money she had hoped for, she managed to transform photography using psychological penetration – “conveying the inner spirit”, in her terms, and is recognized today as being decades ahead of her time.