Julia Margaret Cameron - I Was In Transport Of DelightWednesday, December 17, 2008
This stunning modern looking portrait of Annie Philpot, which reminds me of photographs of Anne Frank, was taken by the Victorian lady Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) in 1864. Cameron was perhaps the most famous and influential portrait photographer of the 19th century. She was criticized by the males of her profession (and interesting, too, so were the abominable canvasasses produced by the young Ipressionists in France) for being smudgy or out of focus. The fact is that Cameron had very sharp eyes and she chose to rack her lens into focus and then unfocus it to her tastes even after her son Harding taught her how. She settled on the Isle of Wight in 1859 when she visited Lord Tennyson and fell in love with the island. She bought two properties (her husband Charles Cameron had coffee and rubber plantations in Ceylon) and named one of them Dimbola Lodge.
It was at Dimbola in December 1863, that Cameron, then aged 48, was given a camera by her eldest daughter, Julia, and husband, Charles Norman. Before actually owning what was an expensive and cumbersome piece of equipment, Cameron had been involved in various aspects of the photographic process - printing negatives and photograms, compiling albums as gifts, posing for photographs and helping to stage compositions. The gift marks the beginning of what would quickly become her all-encompassing application to the 'art' of photography. Setting up the coal store as a darkroom and the glass-enclosed chicken house as a studio, she began her single-handed photographic investigations fervently, annotating a portrait study of Annie Philpot as 'My first success' (the picture above left) which she took in January 1864. Of this first success Cameron wrote about it in her unfinished autobiographical manuscript (1874) which was not published until 1927:
Having succeeded with one farmer, I next tried two children, my son Harding, being on his Oxford vacation, helped me in the difficulty of focusing. I was halfway through a beautiful picture when a splutter of laughter from one of the children lost me that picture, and less ambtious now, I took one child alone, appealing to her feelings and telling her of the waste of poor Mrs Cameron's chemicals and strength is he moved. The appeal had its effect and I now produced a picture which I called My First Success. I was in transport of delight. I ran all over the house to search for gifts for the child. I felt as if she entirely had made the picture. I printed, toned, fixed and framed it, and presented it to her father that same day: size 11 by 19 inches. Sweet, sunny haired little Annie! No later prize has effaced the memory of this joy, and now that this same Annie is 18, how much I long to meet her and try my master hand upon her.
albumen print, oval, April 1867
Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson; formerly Mrs Duckworth) (1846-1895), Wife of Sir Leslie Stephen and mother of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. She sat for Cameron 8 times. This woman is the niece and goddaughter of Julia Margaret Cameron and, like her, a member of the artistic circle which gathered at Little Holland House. She was a renowned beauty and a favourite of the Pre-Raphaelites and sat for Burne-Jones, as well as G. F. Watts and her godmother. From her second marriage to the historian, Leslie Stephen, she was the mother of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell.
The Cameron print, above, left, has a complicated explanation and the sitter a long pedigree. My photograph of Swedish actor, Max von Sydow, right, does not carry such a lengthy explanation. While I photographed him later with my lights I took this one with a long, 250mm lens with my Mamiya on a tripod in the Sun Room of the Hotel Vancouver.