Julia Margaret Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron



Julia Margaret Cameron was born June 11, 1815 in Calcutta, India. Her father, James Pattle, was Scottish and an official of the British East India Company. Her mother, Adeline de l’Etang was a French aristocrat. Cameron was raised by her maternal grandmother in Versailles and was educated in Europe and England. She returned to Calcutta in 1834 and married Charles Hay Cameron in 1838. He was also an official of the East India Company. They raised six children, adopted five orphaned nieces and one beggar girl. Upon retirement, Mr. Cameron and two of their sons invested in a coffee plantation in Ceylon. They returned to England and made their home at Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight.


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Julia would convince friends, household staff, or family to dress in costumes and pose for her to create religious or literary pictorials. However, the photographs that secured her place in the history of photography are her portraits. She tried to record not just the image of the subject, but the inner person as well. Cameron experimented with soft focus to achieve a more expressive image. This style sparked a degree of controversy among her peers, some claiming that either her lens was not sharp or she didn’t understand focus. She consistently claimed she was purposely focusing soft. One-hundred-and-twenty-five years later Cameron’s style is emulated by many sensitive portraitists.

Many of the friends she photographed are also historically important: Sir John Herschel, Alfred Tennyson, and Charles Darwin are among the notable figures that sat for her. Cameron’s portrait of Mrs. Herbert Duckworth (mother of Virginia Woolf) was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1974 for 1500 ($2800); the most ever paid for a photograph at that time.

Mrs. Cameron returned to Ceylon with her husband in 1875. She died there in 1879. Charles Hay Cameron died one year later.

By Vi Whitmire For IPHF