Julia Margaret Cameron was a 19th-century portrait British photographer who took pictures of famous people of the time. She began at the age of 48, in 1863, after being given a camera as a present. After a year of experimenting with basic techniques, she joined the Photographic Societies of England and Scotland. She cited her main influence as David Wilkie Wynfield, who passed on to her his technique of shallow-focus portrait photography. It is these soft-focus techniques which prevail in her best-known work, close-cropped portraits of celebrities and 'fair women'.
Despite little recognition and even considerable criticism from her contemporaries during her lifetime, her style is now widely used by modern photographers.
Between 1860 and 1875, she lived in Dimbola Lodge, in Freshwater on the Isle of Wight. Taking its name from the Cameron family's coffee and tea plantation in Sri Lanka, the house also served as Julia's studio as well as a meeting place for friends and local artists. It was here that she photographed many of her subjects, including maids, local people and her own children. Today, the house is a photographic museum and home to the Julia Margaret Cameron Trust.
Idylls of the King
Her friendship with Alfred Tennyson, who lived next door to the Cameron family at Farringford House, produced many portraits of the famous poet. His appreciation of her work led him to ask her to illustrate his 'Idylls of the King' and Julia Margaret Cameron has become equally well known for these photographs of historical scenes as for her portraits.
Tennyson brought friends to see her at Dimbola Lodge, often celebrities of the time, who also served as subjects for her portraits. Such was their influence and popularity among bohemian artists, poets and writers of the time that the area between Freshwater Bay and Farringford House has since been named the 'Tennyson Mile'.
Other famous subjects include Charles Darwin, Lewis Carroll, the actress Ellen Terry and artist George Frederic Watts. Many of these friendships also came about through an artistic salon run by Cameron's sister at Little Holland House in Kensington. In some cases, Cameron's portraits are the only existing photograph of important historical figures, which makes them all the more exceptional. Her decision to register every one of her photographs with the copyright office, not a common practice at the time, particularly for amateur photographers, means that a great many of her prints have survived to this day.