The Science Museum today announces a new exhibition of portraits by pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, marking the 200th anniversary of her birth.
The exhibition, which will include the only existing print of her iconic portrait Iago, is drawn entirely from the world’s largest collection of Cameron’s photographs, part of the Science Museum Group’s unparalleled National Photography Collection.
Cameron’s bold portraits of influential artistic and literary friends, acquaintances and family members including Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, William Holman Hunt and several striking photographs of her niece Julia Jackson, mother of Virginia Woolf, both revolutionised photography and immortalised the Victorian age. Her purposefully unconventional approach, using a lack of sharp focus and technical faults to harness photography’s expressive power, instilled feeling and energy into her images and became a hallmark of her style despite fierce criticism from the photographic press.
Exploring the vibrant life and genius of the trailblazing British artist, the exhibition will feature unique objects including a daguerreotype portrait (the first known image of Cameron) and her camera lens (the only piece of her photographic equipment known to survive). Also on display will be handwritten notes from the original manuscript of her autobiography Annals of My Glass House, personal letters by Cameron and others and a selection of extremely rare photographs taken in Sri Lanka during her final years.
A key element of the exhibition will be one of the National Photography Collection’s greatest assets: The Herschel Album, compiled by Cameron in 1864 as her finest work to date and a gift to her friend and mentor, the scientist and photographer Sir John Herschel. Representing for many the finest album of Victorian photography, it was the first photographic item to be placed under an export ban and saved for the nation in 1975. This marked a major milestone in the classification of photography as art and vindicated Cameron’s artistic aspirations for her medium.
The exhibition is co-curated by Colin Harding, Curator of Photography and Photographic Technology at the National Media Museum, Bradford, and Tim Clark, Associate Curator, Media Space.
Kate Bush, Head of Photography, Science Museum Group said: ‘Julia Margaret Cameron is deservedly regarded as one of the founding figures of modern photographic portraiture. The range of her work, from tender, naturalistic observation, to dramatic staged tableaux, anticipates every subsequent approach to the genre. Her closely framed faces, bold, expressive and minimal, are as radical and visionary as the woman who created them.’