Julia Margaret Cameron is today recognised as one of the great
photographers in the history of the medium and is among the
outstanding women artists of the nineteenth century. The National
Gallery of Victoria is proud to be the only Australian venue for this
major exhibition of sixty of Cameron's photographs drawn from the
Michael and Jane Wilson Collection in London.
In her fragmentary
autobiography Annals of My Glass House, Julia Margaret Cameron
records that she took her first successful photograph in January
1864. She was forty-nine years old when she began her
remarkable career as a photographer.
Julia Margaret Cameron (nee Pattle) was born in 1815 in Calcutta, India. After the death of her
parents, James and Adeline Pattle, Julia and her six sisters went to live with their grandmother
in Versailles, France where they were educated. The Pattle sisters eventually settled in England
where individually they attracted some of the periodís leading artists, writers and poets to their
salons and were well known for the often flamboyant nature of these gatherings.
In 1838, Julia married Charles Hay Cameron, a jurist and member of the Law Commission
stationed in Calcutta. Charles Cameron was twenty years her senior and, after his retirement,
the couple moved to 'Dimbola Lodge' in Freshwater, Isle of Wight near to the poet Alfred, Lord
Tennyson's home. Charles continued to manage his business interests in Ceylon, leaving his
wife alone for extended periods. In 1864, at the age of forty-nine, Cameronís daughter and
son-in-law gave her a camera as a way to help occupy her time.
Cameron approached photography with great enthusiasm and passion, converting an old
coalhouse at Dimbola into a darkroom and a glass chicken shed into a studio with windows that
allowed her to regulate the light source. She was largely self-taught and developed an original
approach to the medium, taking photographs slightly out of focus to emphasise the spiritual
and psychological dimensions of her sitters, and to create 'High Art' as opposed to sharply
focused documentary photographs.
Cameron was a determined promoter of her own work and, in 1865, she held the first one
person exhibition of her photographs at Colnaghis in London and presented a folio of her work
to the British Museum. During the late 1860s she produced many of the portraits of 'famous
men and fair women' for which she has become recognised. In 1874, Tennyson commissioned
Cameron to produce a major series of photographs to illustrate his epic poem, Idylls of the
King and Other Poems. The following year the Cameron's moved to Ceylon where Julia died in
Julia Margaret CAMERON
A study for the Cenci (Kate Keown), 1868
albumen silver photograph
27.0 x 35.2cm
The Wilson Centre for Photography