Victorian woman photographer Cameron celebrated at NY museum show

Mon Aug 19, 2013 7:15pm EDT
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - With a camera meant to amuse her in her solitude and some famous friends, Julia Margaret Cameron managed to forge a body of work focused on Victorian portraiture that is still celebrated a century and a half later.

"She was one of the greatest portraitists in photography, and one of the great portraitists in any medium," said Malcolm Daniel, curator of a new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which features 35 pristine 19th-century photographs.

Cameron, who was British and died in 1879, was "eccentric in manner, spiritual in sensibility and unconventional in technique," Daniel told Reuters on Monday before the opening of the show, which runs through January 5.

"She was not really interested in the documentation of how people looked. It was about finding the inner spirit and soul of a person," said Daniel, senior curator at the Met's Department of Photographs.

As such, he added, the pioneering photographer's work has seen "waves of popularity and dismissal" for generations, with Cameron's soft focus, long-exposure works deemed variously "treacly, or celebrated as an artist."

For her part, Cameron dismissed documentary portraiture as "map-making and skeletal rendering of feature and form."

Cameron received a camera as a Christmas gift in 1863 from her daughter with the idea that "it might amuse you, mother, to try to photograph during your solitude."

With no training in art, she eschewed professional models, instead shooting friends, family, neighbors and household staff.   Continued...

A woman looks at photographs displayed during an exhibition of Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York August 19, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson