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A Q A   CSE, As,  and  Advanced  Level  Photography

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“Julia Margaret Cameron (11 June 1815 – 26 January 1879) was a British photographer. She became known for her portraits of celebrities of the time, and for photographs with Arthurian and other legendary themes.

Cameron's photographic career was short, spanning eleven years of her life (1864–1875). She took up photography at the relatively late age of 48, when she was given a camera as a present. Although her style was not widely appreciated in her own day, her work has had an impact on modern photographers, especially her closely cropped portraits.

Cameron was sometimes obsessive about her new occupation, with subjects sitting for countless exposures in the blinding light as she laboriously coated, exposed, and processed each wet plate. The results were, in fact, unconventional in their intimacy and their particular visual habit of created blur through both long exposures, where the subject moved and by leaving the lens intentionally out of focus. This led some of her contemporaries to complain and even ridicule the work, but her friends and family were supportive, and she was one of the most prolific and advanced of amateurs in her time.”

The above from wikipaedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Margaret_Ca meron

Use of focus

“What is focus and who has the right to say what focus is the legitimate focus?'”

- Julia Margaret Cameron, letter to Sir John Herschel, 31 December, 1864, Heinz Archive and Library, National Portrait Gallery, London

“The pictorial effects and use of focus are among the most discussed aspects of the photography of Julia Margaret Cameron. Cameron made prints from collodion negatives and her images typically have an out of focus quality. She was criticised by some of her contemporaries for what they considered the technical failure of her work given that the collodian negative could produce images of great clarity and detail.

In Annals of my Glass House (1874) Cameron recognised and fuelled early interest in how and why she started to produce prints stopping short of sharp focus explaining:

'my first successes in my out-of-focus pictures were a fluke. That is to say, that when focussing and coming to something which, to my eye, was very beautiful, I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon.'

The works she made in the early months of 1864 involved a process of trial and error through which she developed her technical and aesthetic understanding of photography. Though describing her discovery as a 'fluke', this concession in her biographical statement actually reveals Cameron's confidence and belief in her early aesthetic judgements. It also signals her awareness that it was a quality that made her photographs distinctive and different to the work the work of many of her contemporaries.

Helmut Gernsheim, whose book Julia Margaret Cameron (see bibliography) is a pioneering study of her life and work, makes the point that the 'soft' look of her pictures was largely the result of the camera equipment she was using at the time. Gernsheim points to a chromatic aberration in her Jamin lens which had a large aperture and fixed stop which made it impossible to control depth of field and obtain sharp images at the close range she preferred for her subjects. Also as Julian Cox points out in Julia Margaret Cameron, The Complete Photographs (see bibliography) the plates she used were too large for the size of the lens creating a 'falling off' at the edges of the photograph. Her exposure times of three to seven minutes compounded the soft focussing of her images as her subjects were likely to move during the sitting.”

This from the  V&A

http://www.vam.ac.u k/content/articles/j/ju lia-margaret-cameron-working-methods/

Julia Margaret Cameron, photographed by her brother-in-law Charles Somers Somers-Cocks, 3rd Earl Somers, c. 1860

Wilhelm Vogel reported the stir that her photographs provoked the following year in Berlin, where they won Cameron the gold medal: "Those large unsharp heads, spotty backgrounds, and deep opaque shadows looked more like bungling pupils' work than masterpieces. And for this reason many photographers could hardly restrain their laughter, and mocked at the fact that such photographs had been given a place of honour. … But, little as these pictures moved the photographers who only looked for sharpness and technical qualities in general, all the more interested were the artists … [who] praised their artistic value, which is so outstanding that technical shortcomings hardly count."

This from

http://www.metmuseum .org/toah/hd/camr/hd_ camr.htm#slideshow6

Julia Margaret Cameron (11 June 1815 – 26 January 1879)

I have known and liked the work of Julia Margaret Cameron since my earliest years but it was not until I was working at the National Museum of Photography Film and Television, now the Media Museum, that I saw my first print of this good lady’s work in the flesh, that is to say an actual print from one of her negatives.

Much is made of Julia Margaret Cameron's inability to focus, and her limited understanding of the techniques she was using and the technical problems of such long exposures.

Many critics suggest that the success of her photography was a decision to soften focus; here I cannot agree I rather think that it was the conditions under which the photographs were taken which produced such interesting results.

Julia Margaret Cameron's exposures were sometimes as long as 7 min and rarely shorter than 3 min. I suggest that if you try to keep your head still and your eyelids still for 6 min you will do so with only the gravest of difficulties.

In the 60s when I was a hard up student and young teacher I managed to find some amazingly inexpensive film. It was copying film and you could buy a 50 foot rolls for a pound. The problem was that the film was rated at ISO five which makes it an astonishingly slow film and necessitates excellent light conditions and very long exposures if you are to achieve any results at all.

I am not saying that the exposure times were as long as those used by Julia Margaret Cameron but they could be as long as six or eight seconds. This seemed to have a strange effect on those people who sat for me. When I printed up the results the models no longer look like themselves but had taken on a strange if etherial look which I found quite haunting.

The models would often say, "I looked like some crazy woman!"  

But to me they were quite interesting because, I suppose, I was capturing something that the human eye could not see, that is what happens facially to to your face when it attempts to be in repose for over six seconds.

My suspicion is that this is the effect that Julia Margaret Cameron got with her much greater exposures.

For the purposes of this examination I intend to return to some of these older negatives and print them via Photo shop this time in the manner or style of Julia Margaret herself.

This brings me onto another feature of Julia Margaret Cameron's photographic style that I admired; her work is often quite blemished, blemished in terms of scratches and markings and for us in the 21st-century the effects of time.

These flaws give her images an atmosphere of great antiquity and thereby somehow a certain cachet. It is as if the huge technical difficulties she encountered as an early photographer are written on her work and somehow enhance it.

Looking at the slideshow below will give you some idea of the range and style of Cameron's work. There does not seem to be a consensus as to how her negatives should be printed and sometimes publishers/archivists offer us the negatives in plain greyscale and others show us a range of sepia tone.

There seems to be a wide variation in the degree to which her photographs have been tidied up something which today is very easy to do via Photoshop.

In this slideshow you will see several versions of the same photograph the differences between them are quite striking.

J U L I A   M A R G A R E T   C A M E R O N

J U L I A   M A R G A R E T   C A M E R O N


Clicking the mosaic screen grab below will open a walk through illustrating the effects on spectator perception in Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographic technique.

The slide show below is illustrative of a variety of Photoshop techniques using texture sandwiches, tinting and focus shifts to bring about,hopefully, subtle perceptual/emotional shifts in the observer.

The slide show begins with the original greyscale print (copy film 5ASA, f5.6, 6 seconds) and ends with a close approximation of “a Cameron.”

The effect of these techniques which, in the world of antique dealing, would be called “distressing” is highly subjective. They offers a  range of possible connotations suggestive of great antiquity: a bygone age, the time of the photographic pioneer when light was softer, the found heirloom of a long dead ancestor, the enigma of a possible identity in Life and a sense of distance and mortality.

Certainly it distances itself from the modern  colour photograph or digital image and it often distances or even obliterates the background of the 21st century mundane.

It is popular in that many cameras offer a range of filters suggestive of “early photography” as do most upmarket mobile phones. Even the i pad the icon of 21st century style has one.

Is it a valid aesthetic?

As ever that is a matter of individual taste.

The gallery below offers a range of portraits that have been distressed? or enhanced?



Cameron’s notions of female beauty were heavily influenced by the choice of models used by the PreRaphaelite movement. She was part of this circle and  influenced by the poet Longfellow and his ideas about a mediaeval aesthetic.

There was a great deal of intense,  moody “languishing” which suited Cameron’s photographic process involving long exposures.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

1828–1882  Jane Morris (The Blue Silk Dress)

John Robert Parsons

British, c. 1825–1909

Jane Morris


albumen print