Wednesday 11 June 2014


Born on this day in 1815 - in Calcutta, where her father was an East India Company official - was the great (in the eyes of posterity) photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. In her own day she was not highly thought of by other photographers and her work has little impact, but today her portraits (if not her more fanciful attempts as 'high art') seem to among the most astonishing images of her times. Close-up, tightly cropped, carefully composed and painstakingly lit, they aimed deliberately for a soft-edged look, akin to the Italian painters' 'sfumato'. This was achieved by a combination of long exposure and soft focus - and, while her sitters were pleased and often came back for more, Cameron's fellow photographers geekily  regarded her efforts as technically incompetent. The portrait above is of Thomas Carlyle, and it surely tells us more about the man, and gives us a more vivid experience of his physical presence, than any of the painted likenesses of the Great Man.   

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