15 October 2011 – 13 February 2012
V&A Museum of Childhood
Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9PA
Tel: +44 (0)20 8983 5200
Fax: +44 (0)20 8983 5225
Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) was one of the great pioneers of Victorian photography, having had only a short photographic career just spanning eleven years of her life, from 1864 to 1875. She took up photography at the relatively late age of 48, when she was given a camera as a present by her husband and her eldest daughter. Soon after receiving the camera she constructed a darkroom in the coal store, as well as using the glass-enclosed chicken house as a studio, where she began to produce her single-handed photographic investigations eagerly. Cameron worked tirelessly – photographing and composing subjects, producing prints, and promoting and distributing her works as widely as possible. Immediately she began to register her images at the British Copyright Office, as well as becoming a member of the Photographic Societies of London and Scotland, in which she started to exhibit and sell her work. In 1865 the print dealers Colnaghi in London became her agent.
In her photography, she strove to capture beauty. She wrote“I longed to arrest all the beauty that came before me and at length the longing has been satisfied”. Although her style was not widely appreciated at the time, her work has had an impact on modern photographers, especially her closely cropped portraits. For Cameron she did not feel constrained to follow in the footsteps of conventional photographic techniques, yet she decided to develop her own style. She sought to produce photographs in which the emotional state of the model was the most important thing to consider in her photos. She would have her sitters position themselves in very unconventional ways, such as allowing the sitter to show their natural beauty, displaying them with their hair down, flowing freely. Another way she broke the barriers was by leaving her camera lens purposely out of focus as well as creating dim lighting with dark backgrounds forming a dreamy setting.
The V&A Museum of Childhood will be showing a small display featuring portraits of children taken by the influential photographer. The images explore Cameron’s vision of childhood, in which children are sacred as well as conveying the embodiment of innocence.