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Julia-Margaret-Cameron-Photographs-1 News & Insight

150 Year Old Portraits By Julia Margaret Cameron That Show A Surprising Side Of The Victorian Era

By Michelle Bird on May 27th 2014

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It’s never too late to pursue your dreams, that’s what Julia Margaret Cameron learned in 1863 at the age of forty-eight, when she received her first camera as a gift from one of her daughters. The mother of six drew a strong attainment for photography and developed a unique craft for that day in age; her work still lingers 150 years later inspiring many photographers with their own.

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Cameron dodged any formal techniques that contemporary photographers were using at that time, many criticizing her images often citing them as unskilled or lacking any type of craftsmanship. With slight movements and soft focus combined, Cameron’s techniques were actually well thought out, and although not appreciated in her own time, she brought something into photography that was missing, life and beauty.

[REWIND: Incredible Video By British Pathe Uncovers The First Hundred Years Of Photography]

Let’s face it when you look at images from the Victorian era, they are often portraits of unhappy looking folks, or landscapes. Cameron’s work stood out from the rest, not only was she friends with prominent authors, writers and stage actors of the time, like Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Ellen Terry, her celebrity friends of the hey-day were often her photography subjects.

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Although her career lasted a short 12 years, Cameron’s Arthurian and legendary themed body of work had a “huge impact on the development of modern photography, especially her closely cropped portraits which are still mimicked today.”

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Philip Stanhope Worsley: An Oxford-educated poet who translated the Odyssey and part of the Iliad into Spenserian verse, Worsley died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty. Cameron’s portrait was made the year of his death

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Alice Liddell, served as Lewis Carroll’s muse and frequent photographic model as a child – posed for Cameron a dozen times in August and September 1872.

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[via] Visual News

Michelle Bird is a Southern California based freelance photographer and writer, with a strong focus on music, editorial and portrait photography. She is the founder and creative force behind the music+culture online blog Black Vinyl Magazine, and can often be found in the photo-pit shooting the latest concerts in town. She has a strong passion for art, exploring, vintage finds and most of all animals. Connect with her through Email,
Instagram , or Facebook

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ian Moss

    The photo of Alice shown is far more formal that Lewis’ portrait of Alice as a young girl. I can’t help thinking that this article is hugely simplifying the state of Victorian photography.

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  2. Drew Pluta

    It’s amazing how contemporary some of these feel. It’s almost as if our modern editorial style is informed by this period without us knowing it. Certainly cause for reflection and more research!

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  3. Diana

    Everyone in these pictures look so very sad…….

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  4. JL Oakley

    Thanks for sharing. I have many tintypes of my ancestors from the late 1850s and 1860s-1880s. As the technology improves for the average camera user, the scenes become more natural. I love these portraits, reflecting on a not well known slice of Victorian life.–the artistic community. By the way, my great aunt developed (and took photograph)s in the 1890s in Indian Territory. Some of the Comanche and Kiowa people she knew personally. Many of the photographs were taken outdoors , showing their daily life.

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    • Michelle Bird

      You’re welcome JL, glad you enjoyed them! It’s beautiful to see where a small stem of creativity took off and how folks can still value it today. People like her were definitely a driving force into developing photography with an artistic incline. You come from a long line of photographers then, are your great aunt’s pictures still kept in the family?

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  5. nadja oxford

    i think these are wonderful.I grew up in a home with a black and white dark room,,my mother being the photographer.My mother was a very unconventional photographer.Not all her images made sense…but they were beautiful.She also had a sense of humor that not alot of people understood. So to me these photos bring me back to a day when life was simple.Being only 44,,, those days were in the 70’s…but we lived off the grid and entertained ourselves with simple things.Joining my mom in the dark room was one of those things.Thank you for sharing these images.
    there are many well known photographers in my life today.People i grew up with looking at their images…then looking at mine’ as i grew older.Patricia Oxford (my mother) Judy Davis, Norman Locks, James Oxford,, Allen Mortin and Gordon Layten.(some of which worked with the beloved Ansil Adams.)The photographers in my life were all very simple in their technique…as i too display.A true image…as it was intended and as it was seen.So these images strike a cord with me.Even tho i choose color these days,,,the black and white photograph will always depict what is truly there.

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    • Michelle Bird

      This is such a beautiful story Nadja, thank you for sharing a piece of your past. Life is all about the little moments, they are what definitely stick with us and mold us throughout our lives. Keep snapping away!

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  6. John V. Hedtke

    I love that several of these pics, particularly the one with the two women looking at the white flower, have a Pre-Raphaelite feel to them. Yes, these are a good century ahead of her time. She clearly understood the things that might be done with a camera. I would love to see much more of her work.

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  7. Curator999

    I could be wrong, but a couple of these photos are Hawardens. Not Camerons.

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  8. Boniface Wolfsong

    Absolutely beautiful! Thank you for posting these.

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  9. andy schmitt

    I love when people put up comments indicating that they are:
    a. jaded by all the imaged they see on fb, etc…
    b. missing seeing real photographic prints…these images are wonderful in the flesh..
    ow well… not my problem… :)
    good article, thanks

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  10. Lynn

    These are lovely to see. I am also taken by the photography of Zaida Ben Yusuf. There is in her body of work the more conventional portrait photography of her day, but there is also a very artistic treatment present in much of her work.

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  11. Jan Bon Jr

    Impressive!

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  12. Canvey island photographer

    Just love this style of photography, true art and something so difficult to try and replicate with today’s technology.

    Love all the images and an in site into a great photographer.

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  13. Ian

    Sorry, what is surprising about these?

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    • Michelle Bird

      Step inside a time machine Ian, and take it back to the mid 1800s, when photography was still relatively new, the use of a camera was still pretty new, where daguerreotypes and dry plates ruled, and no digital images existed. A time when photographing folk consisted of cabinet cards, and typically angry looking people. Julia Margaret Cameron brought an artistic and creative force to photography at that time, she changed the way people viewed the medium as a whole, she brought beauty into the world of photography, something that didn’t particularly exist at that time. I mean, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but this woman was definitely a pioneer of her time.

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  14. Winifred Boles

    So sublime and perfect! Love her technique. Waaaaaay ahead of her time.

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