Posted in Professional Practice

Critical Review

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-76) was a very important photographer of the 19th century. She was introduced to photography in 1842 by Sir John Herschel, a life long friend for Cameron. Her work consisted of portraits, and posed scenes from biblical, historical and allegorical stories. The images often left evidence of her process, with scratches and smudges. She was often criticized for this and her out of focus images but also celebrated for her compositions and art.

Her exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, was a mark of the bi-century of Cameron’s birth and the 150th anniversary of her first museum exhibition held in 1865 in the same venue. As well as a selection of her images, the exhibition help letters that Cameron had sent to Cole over the course of her career showing her development as an artists which is also evident in the images as you walk through the exhibition.

Initially I was inspired by her technique of leaving evidence of her processing on the images as I felt this added age to the images. Particularly with the staged ones demonstrating historical and biblical stories, I felt this fit well as it displays the past in the image – the story being acted from the past but also the history of the image itself through the processes it has been through. I made a connection with this and the out of focus style which Cameron used – being out of focus adds almost a painterly and artistic feel to the images which essentially was the only way to create pieces of art in history until technology had developed to create a camera. These techniques were largely criticized when created but are now appreciated more in modern views of art after the grow in abstraction and surrealism.

I was really intrigued by the lay out of the exhibition – it was almost like a timeline of Cameron’s career, starting from her early work and letters, chronologically to her final bits of work and last letter to the museum. In the middle of the exhibition were some glass cabinets which held some letters and also her bits of work which were produced to go with text in books. This was a great way to see past just the visual outcomes from the artist, and to experience her as a person as she is unable to be with us presently. I felt this was more engaging than just seeing her images as you could interpret her learning process in photography and almost get a sense of her thought process when shooting the images.

Ultimately I found this exhibition very useful to me – Cameron’s style of work, using images that represent a story, are very similar to the current project I am studying so can stand useful to look into further for more inspiration. I also feel that her distortion of her prints is a useful technique to try and experiment with as it could help me create some abstract ideas. exhibition wise, I feel I have learnt from this that it would be good to consider displaying letters, notes, drawings etc. that I do to help myself with ideas to show my development as a photographer and make an exhibition more like a life/career/project journey and development rather than just a set of images.


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