Thanks to Instagram, and Hipstamatic, terms like ‘sepia’, ‘antique’, and ‘edge blur’ are modern day parlance. Ironically, these apps seem more nineteenth century wedding album than USB cables and pixels. Julia Margaret Cameron’s exhibit at the Hans P. Kraus Jr. Gallery reminds us exactly why these antiquated apps are the rage.
Cameron received her first camera as a Christmas gift in 1863, a time when those brave enough to dabble in the tedious practice had just begun to form societies, hold exhibitions, and establish artistic conventions. While the 48-year-old was quickly taken with the developing medium, its newly formed canon wasn’t exactly her cup of tea. The pioneer saw photography as an art ripe for experimentation.
The photographic societies of the day prided themselves on simple innovations such as clarity of focus and clean lighting, Cameron relished the blur of movement and play of shadow. As, a longtime member of London’s 19th century Bohemian circles, it only helped that her sitters were often the premier poets, painters, and intellectuals of the day— luminaries devoted to Cameron’s unique, discerning eye. Her work is imbued with a type of intimacy, capturing portraits that are bold, expressive, and so closely cropped that it’s possible to see the stubble on Sir John Herschel’s chin, trace the furrows in Charles Darwin’s brow, or the shiny mane of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. During an age when portraits were a series of ceremonious poses in palatial drawing rooms, Cameron sought to capture character.
Though Julia Margaret Cameron’s contemporaries criticized her work as careless and believed it abused photography’s strengths, she paid no note— much in the way that her grand niece, Virginia Woolf, did when critics called her novels depthless. Both were timeless artists ahead of their day, and each demonstrated that there might be no more powerful of a creative force than a determined and visionary lady.
The exhibit will be on view at the Hans P. Kraus Jr. Gallery through November 18th, 2011.