Best of the Best: Julia Margaret Cameron


"I longed to arrest all beauty that came before me, and at length the longing has been satisfied." – Julia Margaret Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron (11 June 1815 – 26 January 1879)

Julia Margaret Cameron, a British photographer during the 1800s, was recognized for her romanticized, sepia-toned, Victorian portraits. Unlike other famous classic photographers, Cameron started photographing in her late 40s when she received a camera as a gift from her daughter. Taking pictures became her hobby and later on, it transformed into her greatest passion and obsession until the last years of her life.

Another thing which differentiated Julia Margaret Cameron from other photographers was that her pictures had technical flaws. Others were taken purposely out of focus, some were soft and very picturesque, and some were just plainly unpleasant. She did not take photos to earn a living which was why her craft was considered to be experimental and unconventional. In spite of this, she marked a solid place in the history of photography. She had a profound capacity to visualize and her images illuminated her chosen subjects’ personalities.

She made use of large photographic plates, dark backgrounds, and subdued lighting and she required her models to sit for a long time. Her photographs may lack sharpness but their dreamy, emotional, and sometimes almost spiritual, mood compromised the efforts and sacrifices made in order to yield such fancy portraits. The women in Cameron’s photographs imbued tragic heroines whose sadness made them beauteous and pure. Her works were synonymous to tableaux vivants, or living pictures, and they were highly acclaimed for their eccentricity and theatrical artificiality.

Julia Margaret Cameron only had a short spanned photographic career. Her work centered around females but she also took portraits of eminent males such as the poets Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning, the painter George Frederic Watts, and the scientist Charles Darwin, to name a few. She received honors abroad and her work was later popularized in books which, in turn, inspired other photographers, like Imogen Cunningham, to indulge in portrait photography like Cameron did.

Annie, 1864 (Inscribed on the paper: My very first success in Photography)
Ellen Terry, 1864
Magdalene, 1865
Paul and Virginia, 1865
Prospero, 1865
Whisper of the Muse, 1865 (also known as the portrait of George Frederic Watts)
Beatrice, 1866
A Bacchante, 1867
Julia Jackson, 1867
The Rosebud Garden of Girls, 1868
The Kiss of Peace, 1869
A Holy Family, 1872
I Wait, 1872
Venus Chiding Cupid and Removing His Wings, 1872
Parting of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere

All photographs in this article are from The J. Paul Getty Museum. Read more about the Best of the Best Series.

Which of these Julia Margaret Cameron photographs strike your liking the most? What other classic portrait photographers would you like to be written about? Read more about the Best of the Best Series.

basterda is a member of the Lomography team in Manila. She has been dealing with your Customer Service concerns since August of 2010 and is now also contributing to the magazine. Influential Photographs is also one of her ongoing series for the Lifestyle section.

written by basterda on 2011-03-22 in #lifestyle #victorian #sepia #classic #best-of-the-best-series #photographers #soft-focus #portraits #portraitures


  1. michell
    michell ·


  2. caroleor
    caroleor ·

    All of these photographs have a haunting quality, but the one that strkies me most is Whisper of the Muse, though there's also something about Prospero that draws me in. And Ellen Terry is so modern looking, considering it was photographed in 1864. Thanks for sharing these!

  3. lu_bettyb00p
    lu_bettyb00p ·

    I wrote in my blog article about it!…

  4. janette
    janette ·

    Julia Margaret Cameron lived at Dimbola Lodge, Freshwater on the Isle of Wight

  5. jesskat84
    jesskat84 ·

    Totally agree with you Caroleor, the Ellen Terry shot oozes with the ambience of another time.. Ellen Terry was an actress... to me that explains why this photo is appears that way. Ellen Terry was 16 when this photo was taken and she also got married when she was 16!
    My favourite photo is Beatrice I think, I also really like Parting of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere.

  6. rosebud89
    rosebud89 ·

    She's definitely one of my favourite photographers ever. She was very fortunate to have so many famous and talented individuals as models. Alice Liddell also posed for her, aka Alice in Wonderland! :)

  7. diggity
    diggity ·

    I agree- Best of the Best!

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