To celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), the V&A present an exhibition that will showcase more than 100 of her photographs from the Museum’s collection. The exhibition will offer a retrospective of Cameron’s work and examine her relationship with the V&A’s founding director, Sir Henry Cole, who in 1865 presented her first museum exhibition and the only one during her lifetime.
Julia Margaret Cameron is one of the most acclaimed female photographers of the 19th century. Her photographic career began when she received her first camera as a gift from her daughter at the age of 48. In the next few years she experimented with the art of photography.
The V&A in its previous incarnation as the South Kensington Museum played an important part in Cameron’s career, in 1868, the Museum granted her the use of two rooms as a portrait studio. Her friendship with the V&A’s founding director, Sir Henry Cole led to the museum buying some of Cameron’s photographs and being a recipient of a gift of photographs from Cameron herself. A measure of this friendship was that in 1865, the museum presented Cameron’s first and only museum exhibition during her lifetime.
In what was still the early decades of photography, Cameron was concerned to illustrate its potential as an art form. Therefore she concentrated on posing her sitters as characters from biblical, historical or allegorical stories. Women and children were particularly favourite subjects in a variety of poses that included groups and close-ups.
For all the interest in this particular group of photographs, it is perhaps the remarkable portraits of members of Cameron’s intellectual and artistic circle that provide the most interest. Scientist Charles Darwin, poet Alfred Lord Tennyson and Julia Jackson, Cameron’s niece and mother of Virginia Woolf are just a few of the Victorian ‘celebrities’ that sat for her. Tennyson was a particular favourite of Cameron which resulted in a number of portraits and some photographic illustrations to his epic Arthurian poem, Idylls of the King.
In her lifetime, Cameron’s work was appreciated for the beauty of her compositions, however she was criticised for her unconventional techniques which sometimes included prints intentionally out-of-focus, and often including scratches, smudges and other traces of the photographic process.
This intriguing free exhibition gives some remarkable insights into the early days of photography and the way that a female photographer explored particular aspects of the Victorian ‘mindset’. It is ironic the way Cameron uses the latest technology to recreate scenes from the past using biblical or classical stories. This was clearly an attempt to illustrate that photography could be utilised as a respectable art form inspired by paintings and sculpture.
Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy at the Science Museum’s Media Space
The exhibition is part of a nationwide celebration of Julia Margaret Cameron’s remarkable work during her bicentenary year, including the free exhibition Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy at the nearby Science Museum’s Media Space which displays over 100 prints given by Cameron to the astronomer Sir John Herschel.
If you would like further information about the exhibition , visit the Victoria and Albert Museum website here
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
Julia Margaret Cameron Exhibition
28th November 2015 to 21st February 2016
The V&A is open daily from 10.00 to 17.45 and until 22.00 on Fridays
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