I longed to arrest all beauty that came before me, and at length the longing has been satisfied.
August 9, 2007 7:11 PM   Subscribe

Julia Margaret Cameron did not begin her photography career until she was 48. She lived on the Isle of Wight in two adjacent cottages linked with a gothic tower that she called Dimbola Lodge. Many of her captivating photographs are of The Freshwater Circle, a group of artists and intellectuals centered around Alfred Tennyson, whose poems Idylls of the King, she illustrated with her photographs. Cameron's portraits of contemporaries -- Charles Darwin, George Frederic Watts, Edward Eyre, Thomas Carlyle, Julia Jackson (mother of Viginia Woolf) -- became significant because they were sometimes the only existing photographs of her subjects.
posted by jessamyn (16 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Read her unfinished autobiography written the year before she returned to Ceylon with her husband in 1875 to live out the rest of their lives. It begins "it is with effort that I restrain the overflow of my heart and simply state that my first camera and lens was given to me by my cherished departed daughter and her husband, with the words, 'It may amuse you, Mother, to try to photograph during your solitude at Freshwater.'"
JMC on Wikipedia, SFMOMA, Getty, MOCP, NGA and more
posted by jessamyn at 7:14 PM on August 9, 2007

Thanks jessamyn! Lots of stuff there! And it's encouraging to know that maybe I am still not too old to take a decent photograph some day.
posted by The Deej at 7:42 PM on August 9, 2007

Great life story and great links! Her portraits are amazing.
posted by amyms at 7:53 PM on August 9, 2007

Incredibly beautiful.
posted by notsnot at 8:26 PM on August 9, 2007

Julia Margaret Cameron did not begin her photography career until she was 48.

Contrary to current practice, this is a very, very, good thing.
posted by R. Mutt at 8:29 PM on August 9, 2007

I believe that what my youngest boy, Henry Herschel, who is now himself a very remarkable photographer, told me is quite true – that my first successes in my out-of-focus pictures were a fluke. That is to say, that when focusing and coming to something which, to my eye, was very beautiful, I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon.

Words to live by. Awesome post. Thanks, jessamyn!

Can we somehow make it mandatory that jessamyn post an FPP at least once a month? j/k -- thanks again
posted by trip and a half at 8:47 PM on August 9, 2007

Oh, awesome! I have had a poster of The Whisper of the Muse from The Getty up on my wall for many, many years. I saw an exhibit of Cameron photographs there in 1986 (I had to run check the poster for the date!) when I was a teenager - and that image just struck me.
posted by pinky at 10:08 PM on August 9, 2007

Neat! Old photos have an uncanny ability to make me stare and stare.

I like the famous folks photos, they are interesting. But this unknown model, I am completely debilitated looking at that photo. I suppose it is seeing a familiarity with the unmet past that is both calming and a bit disturbing. Human mortality and continuity.

Great post. I believe the Click or Clack would say:

1. historic
2. geographic
3. folkloric
4. photographic
5. literary-ic
posted by YoBananaBoy at 12:50 AM on August 10, 2007

These are lovely. Thanks!
posted by misozaki at 3:50 AM on August 10, 2007

Old photographs like this should serve as a reminder that the latest technology is not necessary to create excellent images. A dark box, a decent lens (or a tiny hole!) and a way to control exposure are all you need. No, I wouldn't want to go back to having to tote a gigantic camera and tripod, but it's good to look at these and remember that photography is all about the image, no matter what equipment you have.
posted by The Deej at 5:32 AM on August 10, 2007

Oh yes! We had a book of her portraits in the house when I was growing up. Wonderful to see them again. Many thanks, Jessamyn.
posted by tangerine at 11:32 AM on August 10, 2007

Old photos have an uncanny ability to make me stare and stare.

Me too. What really got me with these was that, although being old, they seemed as if they had been made yesterday, and not just the image; the people seemed contemporary. And this one of Arthur, wounded and lying in a boat, blew me away.
posted by sluglicker at 1:31 PM on August 10, 2007

A few years ago I put up some flatpanel speakers disguised as picture-frames, and since I was having a party the next night I needed some pictures to go in them. The National Portrait Gallery was having an exhibition of JMC, and I got a print of 'I Wait' which fit perfectly.

Mid-party my friend Ulric came into the living room and stopped dead. "Do you know what that is?" he said.

"Julia Margaret Cameron etc. etc." I said.

"No, do you know who that is?" he said.


"The girl in the picture."

"No, I don't know who she is."

"She's my great great grandmother."
posted by Hogshead at 3:16 PM on August 11, 2007

"She's my great great grandmother."

Cue dramatic chipmunk!

Sorry couldn't resist. Well, I could, but I didn't.
posted by The Deej at 4:53 PM on August 11, 2007

interesting that she was dismissed by many of her contemporary (male) photographers for the softness and unusual framing of her images which is exactly what we like so much about them today...
posted by toycamera at 1:45 AM on August 12, 2007

Lines For Winter

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself --
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

Mark Strand
posted by vronsky at 10:07 PM on August 20, 2007

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