In late 1865, Julia Margaret Cameron began using a larger camera. It held a 15 x 12 inch glass negative, rather than the 12 x 10 inch negative of her first camera. Early the next year she wrote to Henry Cole with great enthusiasm – but little modesty – about the new turn she had taken in her work.
Cameron initiated a series of large-scale, closeup heads that fulfilled her photographic vision. She saw them as a rejection of ‘mere conventional topographic photography – map-making and skeleton rendering of feature and form’ in favour of a less precise but more emotionally penetrating form of portraiture. Cameron also continued to make narrative and allegorical tableaux, which were larger and bolder than her previous efforts.
Cameron’s ability to capture large groups improved with experience as well as with the use of her new, larger lens. Her friend and photographic advisor, the scientist Sir John Herschel, wrote that this picture was ‘very beautiful, and the grouping perfect.’ quoted from V&A
In December 1863 Julia Margaret Cameron received the gift of a wooden box camera from her only daughter, Julia, and her son-in-law Charles Norman. She was forty-eight years old, a woman whose prodigious energies had been centered on raising her six children. Now, with her daughter married and her husband and three eldest sons away on her family coffee estates in Ceylon, she found herself at a transitional moment in her life. Taking up photography at this time, she began, in her own words “to arrest all beauty that came before me.”
Cameron’s retrospective written account of her career in photography, Annals of My Glass House (penned in 1874 and published posthumously in 1889), stresses the solitary nature of her early experiments: “I began with no knowledge of the art. I did not know where to place my dark box, how to focus my sitter, and my first picture I effaced to my consternation by rubbing my hand over the filmy side of the glass.” Despite this proclamation, Cameron may have already learned the basics of camera operation and chemistry from Oscar Gustave Rejlander, with whom she shared many mutual friends, most importantly Alfred Tennyson, her neighbor on the Isle of Wight. Another likely early tutor was her brother-in-law Lord Somers, an accomplished amateur photographer who made portraits of Cameron’s family circle.
After some three weeks of experimentation in the January cold of her studio at her home in Freshwater, Cameron created this portrait of Annie Philpot (1857-1936), the daughter of a local resident. She later recalled the circumstances surrounding its creation in Annals of My Glass House: “I was in transport of delight. I ran all over the house to search for gifts for the child. I felt as if she entirely had made the picture. I printed, toned, fixed and framed it, and presented it to her father that same day.” Cameron carefully trimmed this particular print for presentation in an album given to Lord Overstone in 1865. It is a picture of great simplicity and grace, conspicuously divided in terms of light and dark. The out-of-focus background and deep shadows around the model’s eyes were acceptable to Cameron, indicating that from the outset her criteria for “success” were notably out of step with convention. She proudly inscribed the picture’s mount “My very first success in photography.”
“An atypical work for the naturalistically inclined Cuvelier, this highly Romantic image of two people sitting below the skeletons of burned pine trees and looking into the featureless distance like the contemplative figures in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, was no doubt a response to the startling sight of the charred landscape.” | quoted from The Met
“A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, And the dry stone no sound of water. Only There is shadow under this red rock, (Come in under the shadow of this red rock), And I will show you something different from either Your shadow at morning striding behind you Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” ― T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922)
“Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow” ― T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922)
Life is merely a fracas on an unmapped terrain, and the universe a geometry stricken with epilepsy. ― Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay (1949)