Pioneer Photographers

Julia Margaret Cameron

Our upcoming Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photography auction features the works of some of history’s most loved, and influential photographers. In the run up to the auction specialist, Cathy Marsden, will present a series of insights into the featured photographers.  In this, the first in her series, she takes a closer look at the work of Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879). 

Julia Margaret Cameron certainly regarded her photography as an artform, writing to her friend, Sir John Herschel: "My aspirations are to ennoble photography and to secure for it the character and uses of High Art…"1 To this end, Cameron manipulated her photographs and technique to draw out the pictorialist tendancies in her work. Cox and Ford write: "If parts of an image were unsatisfactory to her, she engraved lines onto the negative, scratched and painted the collodion, and doctored the image as necessary to suit her expressive needs."2



Julia Margaret Cameron Herschel
Lot 295 | Cameron, Julia Margaret
Julia Herschel, 1867?, albumen print, 24.5cm x 19.5cm,
signed Julia Marg to original mount, mount with a photographer's blindstamp, framed and glazed
£1,000-1,500 + fees



This was an unusual approach to photography, but not altogether unknown – in 1853, the amateur photographer Sir William Newton postulated that an off-focus country scene could be more artistic than a sharper image.3 Similarly, Cameron chose to create a slight blur in many of her photographs, by not tightening her lens to the same extent as many photographers of the day, and eschewing devices such as head restraints for her sitters.4 This effect can again be observed in the diffusion of the sitter’s hair in Julia Margaret Cameron’s photograph of Margie Thackeray



Julia Margaret Cameron Little Margie
Lot 293 | Cameron, Julia Margaret
Little Margie [Thackeray] 'Christ Kind', c.1865,
albumen print, 34 x 26cm, laid onto original mount and signed by Cameron, framed and glazed
£5,000-7,000 + fees



Julia Margaret Cameron's photograph of Little Margie, commonly known as 'Christ Kind', or Christ Child, is also an example of Cameron's attraction to allegory in her work. Here, Cameron has recreated the Germanic Christkind - the infant Jesus who delivers presents to children on Christmas Eve. Margie Thackeray, the adopted granddaughter of William Makepeace Thackeray (and his great-niece), is pictured with her hair brushed out, almost to create a halo around her head, giving her an angelic appearance. Cameron's use of strong light catches the crown of the child's head, which is contrasted with the dark behind, again to create the perception of holiness.



Julia Margaret Cameron Christ Family
Lot 294 | Cameron, Julia Margaret
A Holy Family, 1872,
albumen print, 34.5 x 26.5cm, unsigned, framed and glazed
£800-1,200 + fees



"When Julia Margaret Cameron took up photography in 1864, she passionately embraced allegory as her preferred artistic impulse and arranged her sitters in poses taken from classical literature, the Bible, contemporary poetry, and recent history. She called these photographs her 'fancy subjects'…" Jeff Rosen

The South Kensington Museum (now known as the Victoria & Albert Museum) collected an extensive number of Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs during her lifetime, even offering her the use of two rooms in the gallery in 1868. The museum’s website writes that this: “perhaps qualif[ies] her as our first artist in residence.”


1Rosen, p.2, quoting from Ford "The Cameron Collection
2[Cox, Julian & Colin Ford. Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs, 2003, p.50].
3[V&A. A Guide to Early Photographic Processes, 1983, p.42]
4[Cox, Julian & Colin Ford. Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs, 2003, p.50].




Dates for you Diary


Viewing | Friday 15 June 10am to 5pm, Sat 16 & Sun 17 June 12 noon to 4pm, Mon 18 June 10am to 5pm, Day of Sale from 9am
Auction | Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs | 19 June 2018 at 11am
Location | 33 Broughton Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3RR


Recent Articles