Julia Margaret Cameron

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“Aunt Julia appeared as a terrifying elderly woman, short & squat – dressed in dark clothes, stained with chemicals from her photography (& smelling of them, too) with a plump eager face & piercing eyes, & a voice husky & a little harsh, yet in some way compelling & even charming.”  Laura Gurney, Julia Margaret Cameron’s great-niece.

Dimbola Lodge today

Julia Margaret Cameron aged around 65.

Tennyson may have been the leading luminary of the Freshwater circle, but photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 -1879)  was its driving social force. Her arrival in 1860  had a considerable impact on life in the Tennyson household. Julia would often turn up, unannounced, arms laden with gifts. Shortly after moving in to Dimbola, she presented a somewhat bemused Emily with two legs of Welsh mutton & several rolls of vivid blue wallpaper.

Camera

Camera similar to the one Julia Margaret Cameron used.

Given its inhabitants’ unwavering focus on artistic pursuits, it is perhaps unsurprising to discover that Dimbola was a fairly shambolic household. Dimbola seems to have been given over entirely to the rather messy art of photography. As Cameron herself admitted, “[My] habit of running into the dining room with my wet pictures has stained such an immense quantity of table linen with nitrate of silver, indelible stains, that I should have been banished from any less indulgent household.”

Iago

Iago – One of Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs.

It was out of this chaotic domestic environment that Julia Margaret Cameron produced some of the most striking images of the Victorian age.

Tennyson and his sons.

Left – An early photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron. Right – Tennyson & his two sons, Lionel & Hallam.

Her distinctive portraits helped to cement the fame of the various literary, artistic & scientific greats who congregated around her home & studio on the Isle of Wight.

Tennyson and his sons.

One of the reasons why people rarely smiled in Victorian photographs is because it took several minutes to take a picture & holding a smile for this long looks false. Find out more about the history of photography.

Tennyson and his sons.

In this photograph for Tennyson’s poem, Idylls of the King,

Julia Margaret Cameron re-creates the moment in which

Merlin (played by her husband, Charles) is put under a spell by

the sorceress Vivien.

When, in 1874, Tennyson suggested she produce a series of photographic illustrations for his poem Idylls of the King, Julia Margaret Cameron responded with customary enthusiasm. Julia also collaborated with other members of the circle. She organised a joint exhibition with photographer, Lewis Carroll, & discussed ideas & techniques with painter G.F. Watts.