Photographer Biography – CAMERON, JULIA MARGARET

India, 1815-1878


Cameron was born in Calcutta in 1815. Although educated in France she moved back to India in 1834 when she was nineteen. In 1848 she and her husband moved to England. Cameron was part of a large family, the fourth of ten children, and had a large family of her own. Part of the upper class, Cameron enjoyed a rich life and made the acquaintence of a number of famous people. Her career as a photographer began in 1863 when her husband was away on a trip. To cheer her from her loneliness, her daughter gave her a camera.

Cameron liked the soft focus portraits and the streak marks on her negatives, choosing to work with these irregularites, making them part of her pictures. Although her photographs lacked the sharpness that other photographers at the time aspired towards, they succeeded in conveying the emotional and spiritual aura of the sitter. Cameron’s ambition as a photographer was to “secure [for photography] the character and uses of high art by combining real and ideal, and sacrificing nothing of truth by all possible devotion to poetry and beauty.”

In 1873 Cameron sent her sister Maria (Mia) Jackson a partially empty photo album, asking her sister to collaborate with her on the project in the years to come by adding images, as she sent them, in the places and the sequence she described. The front part of the album had photographs and portraits Cameron took of her family and friends, both candidly posed as well as acting out staged tableaux. The back half of the album contained images by Cameron’s contemporaries like Oscar Gustave Rejlander and Lewis Caroll, as well as numerous photographs of paintings and drawings

The Mia Album contained both kinds of images. Amongst the photographs in the album and in the exhibition are some of Cameron’s most famous. Included is The Kiss of Peace, a portrait of a mother and child based on the gospel story of the Visitation. In the photograph the child gazes down, while the mother’s lips rest casually on her brow. This is a quiet image, one that projects maternal love. Most of Cameron’s photographs have a spiritual sensibility, and are peaceful and romantic. The mood is sombre and contemplative. She did not photograph action or care much about backgrounds. It was the essence of the subject that motivated Cameron’s photography.

These are some of her photos: