Throwback from History | Julia Margaret Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron was a British photographer who became known for her portraits of celebrities of the time. She took up photography at the relatively late age of 48, when she was given a camera as a present by her daughter and son in law.


Cameron’s photographic career was short, spanning eleven years of her life (1864–1875).

Although her style was not widely appreciated in her own days, her work has had an impact on modern photography, especially the closely cropped portraits. Today she is the subject of discussion in many photography schools and thus PhotoConcierge brings ‘Throwback from History’, the life of Julia Margaret Cameron, aka Cameron.


Julia Margaret Cameron was born in Calcutta, India. Her father was James Pattle, a British official of the East India Company, and her mother was Adeline de l’Etang, a daughter of French aristocrats. Julia Margaret was part of a large family, the fourth of ten children. In turn, after her marriage, she had a large family of her own. Because of her social status and prominence she was able to make the acquaintance of a significant number of famous people.


Julia was educated in France, but returned to India in 1834 when she was nineteen. In 1838, she married Charles Hay Cameron, a jurist and member of the Law Commission stationed in Calcutta; he was twenty years her senior. In 1848, Charles Hay Cameron retired and he and Julia and their family moved to London. It was then when her husband was travelling frequently, Cameron’s daughter gifted her the camera to cope up with the loneliness. Cameron began photographing everyone in sight. Within a year, she became a member of the Photographic Societies of London and Scotland.


During her career, Cameron registered each of her photographs with the copyright office and kept detailed records. She was also a determined promoter of her own work. In 1865, she had the first one person exhibition of her photographs at Colnaghis in London, and also presented a folio of her work to the British Museum.

Most of Cameron’s photographs are portraits of members of her family, concentrating on their faces. She wanted to show their natural beauty, and she often asked female sitters to let down their hair so she could show them in a way that they were not accustomed to presenting themselves. Judging by the number and quality of photographs she made of girls and women, she shows evidence of being especially attuned to photographing them and showing their inner qualities.


According to New World Encyclopedia, the bulk of Cameron’s photographs fit into two categories: Closely framed and evocative portraits of both male and female subjects, and illustrative allegories and tableaux based on religious and literary works. In the allegorical works in particular, her artistic influence was clearly Pre-Raphaelite, with far-away looks, limp poses, and soft lighting.

In Cameron’s posed photographic illustrations she frequently photographed historical scenes or literary works, often using forms of staging and imaginative posing that had become conventions in oil paintings. However, she made no attempt at hiding the backgrounds in her pictures. She was also considered the role model for the medieval damsels.


Cameron’s closely held frames and dreamy photographs reminds us of the Instagram filters that are being used centuries after her life!

One of her most popular quotes goes like this “Beauty, you’re under arrest. I have a camera, and I’m not afraid to use it.”Stay inspired and continue to produce great imageries.


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