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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Julia Margaret Cameron

Born: Julia Margaret Pattle 
Other: Julia Margaret Pattle Cameron 
Dates:  1815, 11 June - 1879, 26 January
Born:  India, Calcutta
Died:  Ceylon, Kalutara
Active:  England
She was every bit the Victorian lady with a strong interest in the arts and literature. She was given a camera when she was 48 and experimented with photography for only about ten years but produced some of the most extraordinary portraits of Victorian England. Her photographs can be divided into two main types: those of famous Victorians (such as Herschel, Carlyle, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charles Darwin and the actress Ellen Terry) and her recreations of literary, biblical and historical events. Her portrait style, of large head close-ups, is instantly recognisable. During the relatively short period when she was active she produced over 3,000 large format wet collodion negatives. She moved back to India (Ceylon) in 1875 and thereafter produced very few photographs.
[With assistance from Pam Roberts]
Contemporary criticism of her photographs shown at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition 1876-1877.
"Characteristics of the International Fair. VI. Closing Days", The Atlantic Monthly, January, 1877, Volume XXXIX, p.94
You look into the eyes of a good photograph and the very glance of a friend mysteriously meets your own; there is the pulp of life in the lips and hands; in landscape there is at once some of the actual movement and stillness of nature; a picture may be painted from memory, but a photograph is the stamp of a bodily presence. The invention deserves universal gratitude for this and the numerous facilities which it offers, but it should be kept within its proper limits. The most egregious instance of its exceeding them is to be found in the English department of Photographic Hall; there are some absurd, blurred groups, representing scenes from the Idyls of the King, which everybody who has been to London will recognize as Mrs. Cameron's. The attempt at artistic and dramatic effect is enormous; the result is merely a series of very poor photographs of ill-dressed actors and actresses in exaggerated attitudes. Unfortunately, it is but another case of overdoing a successful experiment: eight or ten years ago Mrs. Cameron, then an amateur, I believe, took very striking and agreeable likenesses; one of her favorite subjects was the druidical physiognomy of Henry Taylor, author of Philip van Artevelde, whom she used as an advertisement.
Obituary for Julia Margaret Cameron. The Victoria magazine. Conducted by Emily Faithfull., vol. XXXII, November - April 1879, p.585-586.
MRS. CAMERON.—Julia Margaret Cameron, as she loved to subscribe herself in fine bold characters, was in many respects a remarkable woman. A few may still remember her as one of the three Miss Patties, whose varied gifts won for them in Calcutta society the names of- "Wit, Beauty, and Fashion." There she met and married Mr. Charles Hay Cameron, then legal member of Council, who still survives as the last of Bentham's personal disciples. But to most she will be better known as the hospitable occupant of a sea-side house at Freshwater, in the Isle of Wight, whither visitors were attracted by her own talents no less than by the reputation of her venerable husband. During this period of her life she first won publicity, about fifteen years ago, by her bold innovations in the art of photography. It was not only by the intrinsic merit of her pictures, but also by the interest associated with their subjects, that she succeeded in at once taking both the cultivated and the popular tastes. The heads of her neighbours, the Poet Laureate and Sir Henry Taylor, were among the first of her successes. After these came portraits of Browning, Carlyle, Darwin, Sir W. Herschel, and many other distinguished men whose intellectual features lent themselves readily to her peculiar process of photography. Having established her reputation in portraiture, she followed it up with imaginative representation either of individual personages in history and literature, or of easily recognised scenes. Colnaghi's gallery was the regular place of exhibition for her pictures season after season, though they also became familiar in many a shop window of the London streets. In our opinion, among the most effective of all was a fancifully-draped head of a young lady, a relation of her own, to which she gave the appropriate, title of Beatrice Cenci. It must be admitted that her illustrations to, the cabinet edition of Tennyson, published by Henry S. King. & Co., in 1875, do not rank among her happiest works. She did not claim for herself any original discovery in photographic processed. We believe that her only secret was to place her sitter far out of-focus; and to subject the plate to an unusually long exposure. With characteristic energy she worked at all the disagreeable details of chemical manipulation with her own hands, and gradually perfected herself with infinite assiduity. In looking at a series of her pictures it is instructive to observe how her improvement in artistic design kept pace with advance in technical skill. Her first efforts were on a small scale, scarcely larger than the cabinet size now in vogue; and they aimed at little more than faithful portraiture after the style common to all amateurs. Many of them also have sadly altered in colour at the present day. Her latest photographs, such as that of Beatrice Cenci, were almost as large as life. Expression of feature and arrangement of drapery were studied with as much care as by a professional painter in oils. The process of printing was performed with such thorough knowledge and watchfulness that, though these, too, were taken many years ago, no spots and no indications of fading are visible. When Mrs. Cameron, in company with her husband, resolved to follow her dearly-loved sons to Ceylon, her occupation of photographer was abandoned. But soon she sent for her cameras and chemicals, and again set to work with enthusiasm under a less clouded sky. Her death, we believe, happened suddenly, after but a brief illness. She is regretted by an exceptionally large circle of friends, to whom she was endeared by a rare warmth of heart, expansiveness of sympathy, and old-fashioned directness of expression. Few of them but possess some memorial of her in the products of her art, which she was wont to distribute with lavish generosity.—The Academy.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Julia Margaret Cameron
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

'…a terrifying elderly woman, short and squat, with none of the Pattle grace and beauty about her, though more than her share of their passionate energy and wilfulness. Dressed in dark clothes, stained with chemicals from her photography (and smelling of them too), with a plump, eager face and piercing eyes and a voice husky, and a little harsh, yet in some way compelling, and even charming…'
Laura Gurney Troubridge, Julia Margaret Cameron’s niece and frequent photographic subject.
Julia Margaret Cameron was born in Calcutta in 1815. Her father, James Pattle, was an official with the East India Company and her mother, Adelaine de l’Etang, was of French aristocratic descent. Julia was the fourth of seven sisters and received much of her education in France and England before returning to Calcutta in 1834. In 1836-7 she travelled to Cape Town where she met the notable scientist and astronomer Sir John Herschel. Herschel was to become a life-long friend and supporter of her work. He was probably the first to introduce her to photographic processes and is the subject of some of her best known portraits. In 1837 she met Charles Hay Cameron, whom she married in Calcutta in 1838. He was an important figure in law reform and education in India, and twenty years her senior. For the next ten years the Camerons lived in India and were highly regarded and active in colonial politics and society. Mrs Cameron was kept busy as hostess, manager of the household and as a mother.
Several of the Pattle sisters (renowned for their beauty and charm) had married and settled in London and the Camerons’ two eldest children, Julia and Eugene, were sent to England to be educated. When Charles Cameron retired from colonial service in 1848, the rest of the family returned to England to live. Initially settling in Kent, they made the acquaintance of the author Sir Henry Taylor (who was a neighbour) and through him Alfred Tennyson. Like Herschel, both Taylor and Tennyson would remain lifelong friends, public supporters and frequently photographed subjects of Mrs Cameron.
The Camerons were soon frequenting the home of Julia’s sister, Sarah Prinsep, who set up a salon at Little Holland House in Kensington, London. It was here that Mrs Cameron kept company with an important network of literary and artistic figures including G. F. Watts, William Holman Hunt, Tennyson, Robert Browning and Henry Cole, the founding director of the South Kensington Museum, now the Victoria and Albert Museum. Freshwater, Isle of Wight
In 1859 when Charles Cameron took an extended trip to Ceylon to inspect the faltering family coffee and rubber plantations, Mrs Cameron visited the Tennysons at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight, subsequently buying two cottages on the island and setting up the new family home, Dimbola Lodge.
As Little Holland House had been before it, Freshwater became something of a salon, with a host of artists, writers, and intellectuals gathering at the Tennyson and the Cameron residences on the island. The photographer Reginald Southey visited in 1857, followed by Charles Dodson (Lewis Carroll) in 1862 and Oscar Rejlander in 1863, photographing both families and probably instructing and collaborating on compositions with Mrs Cameron. In her 15 years of work after the acquisition of her own camera, it was with her friends from these circles at Little Holland House and Freshwater - the painter / photographer David Wynfield Wilkie, Watts, Tennyson, Herschel, Taylor and Cole - that she would discuss practical and artistic matters pertaining to her photographic career.
Photography, 'My first success!'
It was at Dimbola in December 1863, that Cameron, then aged 48, was given a camera by her eldest daughter, Julia, and husband, Charles Norman. Before actually owning what was an expensive and cumbersome piece of equipment, Mrs Cameron had been involved in various aspects of the photographic process - printing negatives and photograms, compiling albums as gifts, posing for photographs and helping to stage compositions. The gift marks the beginning of what would quickly become her all-encompassing application to the 'art' of photography. Setting up the coal store as a darkroom and the glass-enclosed chicken house as a studio, she began her single-handed photographic investigations fervently, annotating a portrait study of Annie Philpot 'My first success' a month later in January 1864. From this time Cameron worked tirelessly - photographing and composing subjects, producing prints, and promoting and distributing her works as widely as possible. She assembled albums which she gave to her supporters and friends, initiated acquisitions of her work by the British Museum and the South Kensington Museum and entered into formal business arrangements to have her more popular images reproduced as carbon prints. She immediately began to register her images at the British Copyright Office, became a member of the Photographic Societies of London and Scotland and started to exhibit and sell her work. In 1865 the print dealers Colnaghi in London became her agent.
Cameron’s techniques (sometimes consciously leaving prints with smudges, printing from cracked negatives and scratching away the emulsion of negatives) and her 'out of focus' effects were often criticized in her lifetime. Yet she received numerous awards, including a gold medal at Berlin in 1866, and honorable mentions at international exhibitions. A major development in her work came in 1866 with the purchase of a new camera that held large glass plates (11”x15”). This camera allowed her to embark on her singular large-format head studies. Mrs Cameron was devoutly Christian and, striving always to achieve high art and idealism, she produced many images portraying religious figures and illustrating sacred legends. She was also interested in literature and poetry and produced two volumes of photographic illustrations for Tennyson’s Idylls of the King at the author’s request.
Last years in Ceylon
In October 1875 the Camerons left Freshwater and moved to Ceylon. Charles Cameron had purchased coffee and rubber plantations on the island, managed under difficult agricultural and financial conditions by three of their sons. Mrs Cameron continued her photographic practice at her new home buther output decreased significantly and only a small body of photographs from this time remains.
After moving to Ceylon the Camerons made only one more visit to England in May 1878. Julia Margaret Cameron died after a brief illness in Ceylon in 1879 and Charles Cameron in 1880.
Article by Magda Keaney, Curator, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra as part of a fellowship in the Research Department of the V&A, March-June 2003.
Fellowship made possible through the generous support of the Australia Council and the Gordon Darling Foundation, Melbourne. This project has been assisted by the Federal Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

Further research

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George Frederick Watts (artist)
Julia Margaret Cameron 
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

John Falconer, British Library 
A Biographical Dictionary of 19th Century Photographers in South and South-East Asia

Amateur, Sri Lanka
Renowned portrait photographer in England; lived in Sri Lanka from 1875 until her death. 

Exhibitions on this website

Theme: Portrait
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Visual indexes

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Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.] Go to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography. Go to website

Internet resources

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Julia Margaret Cameron ... 
Julia M. Cameron ... 
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC: Julia Margaret Cameron ... 
Julia Margaret Cameron, English (b. India, 1815-1879) ... 
Julia Margaret Cameron ... 
Getty images: Masters gallery 
Images of Ceylon 
A wonderful resource for showing the range of 19th and early 20th century photographs of Ceylon. 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.62 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.94-95 
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.210-211 [Includes a well written short biography on Julia Margaret Cameron with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Julia Margaret Cameron.] 
• Weaver, Mike (ed.) 1989 The Art of Photography 1839-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) p.453 [This exhibition catalogue is for the travelling exhibition that went to Houston, Canberra and London in 1989.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.106-107 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.243 
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.72-73 
• Naef, Weston 2004 Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) [For this photographer there is a description and three sample photographs from the Getty collection. p.48-51] 
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron are included in this classic history.] 
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.30 [Analyzes a single photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron.] 


Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 

In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Julia Margaret Cameron was represented in 64 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 


The wit and wisdom.

"From the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardor."
"I longed to arrest all beauty that came before me, and at length the longing has been satisfied."
"When I have had such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavored to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer."
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