Science Museum lines up new exhibition of Julia Margaret Cameron portraits

By Edward Lowton | 12 June 2015

Science Museum exhibition will provide insight into the life of Julia Margaret Cameron

Black and white photo of a young girl
Julia Margaret Cameron, "Sadness", the actress Ellen Terry at the age of 16© Wikimedia Commons
A new set of portraits by innovative Victorian-era photographer Julia Margaret Cameron is to be revealed by the Science Museum, marking the 200th anniversary of her birth.

The exhibition will include the only existing print of her iconic portrait Iago, drawn from the world’s largest collection of Cameron’s photographs - part of the Science Museum Group’s National Photography Collection.

“Julia Margaret Cameron is deservedly regarded as one of the founding figures of modern photographic portraiture,” says Kate Bush, the museum’s Head of Photography.

“The range of her work, from tender, naturalistic observation to dramatic staged tableaux, anticipates every subsequent approach to the genre.”

Black and white portrait photo of a man
Iago, Study from an Italian (1867)© National Media Museum, Bradford
Cameron began photography at 48 after receiving her first camera as a birthday present from her daughter.

Enthused by the new medium, she wrote: "I longed to arrest all the beauty that came before me and at length the longing has been satisfied.”

Black and white photo of two Victorian children
Ernest and Maggie (circa 1864)© National Media Museum, Bradford
Practically minded, Cameron registered each of her photographs with the copyright office and maintain a record, which helped ensure the survival of many of her works.

Her portrait work is unconventional and distinctive. Often rendered in soft focus, she created blur through by using long exposures and leaving the lens out of focus.

“Her closely framed faces, bold, expressive and minimal, are as radical and visionary as the woman who created them,” added Ms Bush.

A centrepiece of the exhibition is the Herschel Album, compiled by Cameron in 1864 as a gift to her friend and mentor, Sir John Herschel.

Highly regarded as one of the finest albums of Victorian photography, in 1975 it was the first photographic item to be placed under an export ban in order to preserve it for the UK.

Black and white photo of a girl in a period dress
After the Manner of Perugino (1865)© National Media Museum, Bradford
Cameron’s circle of friends encompassed a wide range of Victorian celebrities including Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones, Thomas Carlyle and William Holman Hunt. In many cases her portraits remain the only existing photograph of historical figures.

She also produced several notable photographs of her niece Julia Jackson, the mother of Virginia Woolf.

During her later years, the Camerons moved to Sri Lanka - then Ceylon - but due to difficulties in obtaining materials for developing and printing and lack of a market for her photographs, Cameron produced less work. The exhibition is fortunate to include a selection of extremely rare photographs from this period.

Black and white photo of a woman wearing a necklace and Asian dress
Woman, Ceylon (circa 1877)© National Media Museum, Bradford
In addition to her photographic work the display will feature a daguerreotype portrait which is the first known image of Cameron; her camera lens, the only surviving piece of her camera equipment; and the handwritten manuscript of her autobiography and personal letters.

Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy is at the Virgin Media Studio, Media Space, Science Museum, London from September 24 2015 - March 28 2016.

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