Julia Margaret Cameron and Nadar
b. 5 April 1820; d. 1910
real name was Gaspard-Felix Tournachon was a colourful French caricaturist,
writer, portrait photographer and balloonist, and flamboyant showman. Nadar
was derived from his nickname ("tourne a dard") meaning "bitter
sting", which he earned for his caricatures. He owned a portrait studio
with his brother Adrien, from 1853, in the Rue St. Lazare, Paris.
In many ways Nadar typifies the best qualities of the bohemian circle of writers and artists that settled in Paris during the Second Empire.
Born into a family of printer tradespeople of radical leanings, young Nadar became interested in many of the era's most daring ideas in politics, literature, and science.
After an ordinary
middle-class education and a brief stab at medical school, he turned to journalism,
first writing theater reviews and then literary pieces.
Although a career in literature seemed assured, he gave up writing in 1848 to enlist in a movement to free Poland from foreign oppressors, an adventure that ended suddenly when he was captured and returned to Paris.
There followed a period ot involvement with graphic journalisms during which he created cartoons and caricatures of well-known political and cultural figures for the satirical press. This culminated in the Pantheon Nadar a lithographic depiction of some 3oo members of the French intelligentia.
Only mildly successful financially, it made Nadar an immediate celebrity; more important, it introduced him to photography, from which he had drawn some of the portraits.
In 1853, Nadar set up his brother Adrien as a photographer and took lessons himself, apparently with the intention of joining him in the enterprise. However, despite the evident sensitivity of Adrien's portrait of the sculptor Emile Blavier , his lack of discipline is believed to have caused Nadar to open a studio on his own, moving evennually to the Boulevard des Capucines , the center of the entertainment district.
He continued his bohemian life, filling the studio with curiosities and objets d'art and entertaining personalities in the arts and literature, but despite this flamboyant personal style he remained a serious artist, intent on creating images that were both life-enhancing and discerning.
Ever open to new ideas and discoveries, Nadar w as the first in France to make photographs underground with artificial light and the first to photograph Paris from the basket of an ascendant balloon. Even though a proponent of heavier-than-air traveling devices, he financed the construction of Le Grant, a balloon that met with an unfortunatc accident on its second trip.
Nonetheless, he was instrumental in setting up the balloon postal service that made it possible for the French government to communicate with those in Paris during the German blockade in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
by this brief but devastating conflict, Nadar continued to write and photograph,
running an establishment with his son Paul that turned out slick commercial
work. Alwavs a rebel, at one point he lent the photo studio to a group of painters
who wished to bypass the Salon in order to exhibit their work, thus making possible
the first exhibition of the Impressionists in April, 1874.
Although he was to operate still another studio in Marseilles during the 1880's and 90's, Nadar's last photographic idea of significance was a series of exposures made by his son in 1886 as he interviewed chemist Eugene Chevreul on his forth birthday, thus foreshadowing the direction that picture journalism was to take.
During his last vears he continued to think of himself as "a daredevil, always on the lookout for currents to swim against." At his death, just before the age of ninety, he had outlived all those he had satirized in the famous Pantheon, which had started him in photography.
Combining his interest in balloon flying, in 1858 he received a patent for this, and became the first to take pictures from the air. His balloon was enormous, had a two-story gondola, capable of carrying up to fifty men. The balloon had its own darkroom, the process at the time requiring exposure and development whilst the plate was still wet.
Nadar becomes the first Aerial Photographer in 1859
Nadar, was became
famous as a photographer as well as a daredevil balloonist who carried bulky
cameras aloft. His goal was to make land surveys from aerial photographs. Although Nadar set the stage for the future of remote sensing as we know it, he was not a success at aerial surveying. His photographic observations did, however, catch the attention of the military.
By 1862 the US
Army Balloon Corps used Nadars idea quite extensively. Prior to this, Iin April
1861 Professor Thaddeus Lowe had been the first American to alight in a balloon
near Cincinnati, Ohio, to make a weather observation. Unfortunately, strong
winds carried him all the way to South Carolina, where he was arrested as a
Union spy. Eventually released, he believed that tethered balloons could be
useful for reconnaissance. After viewing a
demonstration, President Lincoln agreed and authorized the U.S. Army Balloon Corps, with Lowe in charge. Despite its advantage to the North during the American Civil War, the unit was deactivated in 1863. Balloons had a not-surprising tendency to draw enemy fire.
the Sewers of Paris
Nadar descended to the sewers of Paris and,using electric light made the first photographic records of these underground caverns.
He photographed many famous people, including Liszt, Balzac, Delacroix, and Rossini.
A signature style Nadar portrait of Pierre Petroz, 1855-65
It is said that he preferred not to photograph women (we only know of two portraits, one of a nun, the other of Sarah Bernhard). According to Nadar:
"the images are too true to Nature to please the sitters, even the most beautiful".
Four stories high, a self -contained flat next to the portrait studio on the top level with a huge window facing the Boulevard de Capuccines. His studio became the meeting place for great artists of the day, and in 1874 it housed the first Impressionist exhibition.
In 1857, when establishing his right before a tribunal to use the name "Nadar" he made the following observation:
"The theory of photography can be taught in an hour; the first
ideas of how to go about it in a day. What can't be taught... is
the feeling for light - the artistic appreciation of effects
produced by different...sources; it's the understanding of this or
that effect following the lines of the features which required
your artistic perception.
What is taught even less, is the immediate understanding of your
subject - it's this immediate contact which can put you in
sympathy with the sitter, helps you to sum them up, follow their
normal attitudes, their ideas, according to their personality, and
enables you to make not just a chancy, dreary cardboard copy
typical of the merest hack in the darkroom, but a likeness of the
most intimate and happy kind...."
Julia Margaret Cameron
One of seven daughters of a prosperous British family stationed in India, Julia Margaret Pattle was regarded by friends as generous, impulsive, enthusiastic, and imperious—"a unique figure, baffling beyond description."
Educated in England and France after the death of her parents, she returned to India and in 1838 married Charles Hay Cameron, an eminent jurist and classical scholar, who invested his fortune in coffee plantations in Ceylon.
In the ten years prior to their return to England, Mrs. Cameron assumed the social leadership of the Anglo-Indian colony, raised money for victims of the Irish Famine, and translated the well-known German ballad, Lenore, but her boundless energy craved greater challenges.
in Freshwater on the Isle of Wight, Cameron, using a camera given her by her
daughter in 1863, embarked on a career in photography, concentrating on portraits
and allegorical subjects. Models, at times paid, but mainly importuned, were
drawn from among her family, the household staffat the Cameron residence, DimboZa,
and from the households and visitors to the homes of Tennyson and Sara Prinsep,
Mrs. Cameron's sister. These embraced many of the most famous figures in British
artistic and literary circles, including Tennyson, Carlyle, Darwin, Herschel,
Marie Spartali, Ellen Terry, and Watts, but the photographer also was interested
in portraying the unrenowned as long as she found them beautiful or full of
Besides hundreds of idealized portraits, she created allegorical subject groups that led eventually to a series commissioned by Tennyson for Idylls of the King.
Because of her
disappointment with the poor quality of the woodcut transcriptions that appeared
in the 1874 edition of this work, Cameron raised money to issue two editions
that were photographically illustrated.
Cameron's attitude toward photography was that of a typical upper-class "amateur" of the time. She refused to consider herself a professional although the high cost of practicing the medium led her to accept payment on occasion for portraits and to market photographic prints through P. and D. Colnaghi, London printsellers.
They often bore the legend: "From Life. Copyright Registered Photograph. Julia Margaret Cameron," to which she sometimes added that they were unretouched and not enlarged. Her work was shown at annual exhibitions of the Photographic Society of London and in Edinburgh, Dublin, London, Paris, and Berlin; at the latter it was acclaimed by Hermann Wilhelm Vogel and awarded a gold medal in 1866. In 1875, the Camerons returned to Ceylon, where for the three years before her death she continued to photograph, using native workers on the plantations and foreign visitors as models.
In July 1863 JMC sends her invalid sister a large album containing mostly blank pages. The gesture is an ancient one. "Alba" bespeaks whiteness, clarity and light: traditionally, an album is a clean slate. JMC inscribes the first page "...with a blessing on the New Years and the old." Her benediction marks a new beginning, a dramatic change that she wants to share.
Cameron wrote in
her autobiographic Annals that in 1863 her only daughter, Julia, and son-in-law,
Charles Norman presented her with a camera. She reported her daughter as saying,
"It may amuse you Mother, to try to photograph during your solitude at
Freshwater Bay." Upon this memory, Cameron constructed an "origin
story"of her initiation into photography. As the Mia Album suggests, family
played an integral role in sustaining and defining Cameron's view of her photographic
A year or more
later, she began using a large box camera. With great humility she struggled
with this instrument and the mysterious alchemical procedures making successful
pictures entailed. She discovered that she entered this struggle not as a pastime
but obsessively, as a kind of madness. She has never experienced anything so
compelling. She is excited because she realizes that she will be good at photography.
She has a clear vision of the strange, antiquated beauty her photographs will
the same time, she is fearful. Her clarity of purpose isolates her, threatens to separate her from the fabric of life she understands.
A signature style JMC portrait of Sir J.F.W. Hershell, April 1867
Julia Margaret Cameron is accustomed to the comforts and consolations that women offer, for she is one of nine sisters. Consumed by photography's black magic, she turns for safety to sisterly commonalty. she engages the attention of her "best beloved" Maria (Mia) Jackson with an album. Despite the "new years" of photographic disruption she is determined to maintain what is precious in the "old." Led towards an uncertain artistic future she plots guaranteed communion. Her gift to Mia is an invitation that might have said: I find I am taking a new road; it is not like yours, and I don't know where it will lead. I need you to be part of this. Come along with me. Let us do it together.
...From the onset,
the album proclaims antecedents and extols connections that are artistic, and
as important, matrilineal. If the older sister senses isolation in her photographic
struggle, she clearly shows that her initial
conceptions were formed in community. In July 1863, she happily reveals her inspirations. Her album means to say: her are my first steps, my subjects, artistic sources and guides. They are not only technical; they are what they must be, spiritual.
Reijlander and Carroll
Cameron presented the Mia Album originally without her photographs, in fact, as a collection of images by other photographers, including the Swedish painter-turned-photographer Oscar Gustave Rejlander, and one photograph by the Victorian author of children's books, Charles Dodgson, who is better known by the pseudonym, Lewis Carroll. The majority of Cameron's images in the Mia Album date within the first few years she began to photograph.
Several of these images are lesser known but significant works, including The Three Graces ...one of eight photographs that appear in both the Mia Album and another family collection, the Virginia Somers-Cocks Album. This book, which I discovered in 1993 in the collection of James and Sarah Hervey-Bathhurst of Eastnor, appears to be the only other album Cameron gave to a sister. She presented the Virginia Somers-Cocks Album to her younger sister in December of 1863, just a few months after Mia received her gift.
Its inscription, written in Cameron's flowing script, gives conclusive evidence that the photographer was involved in photographic activity before January 1864: "For My Beloved Sister Virginia (Photographs of my own printing) with every fond Xmas wish from Julia Margaret Cameron, Xmas Eve 1863." Though Cameron makes no overt reference to printing photographs for the Mia Album, the probability is quite evident given the pictorial similarities between the albums.
Life and Career
The connection between the Mia Album and the Virginia Somers-Cocks Album raises important questions regarding Cameron's life and career, as it has been (mis)understood in the history of photography. Foremost, this information strongly suggests that Cameron made photographs prior to January of 1864, thereby challenging the date she set forth in her autobiographical essay of 1874, The Annals of My Glass House as being that of her "first success" in photography. Additionally, Rejlander made many of the photographs that the two albums have in common, some of which suggest that his collaboration with Cameron prior to January of 1864 was of far greater significance than previously assumed...
The Mia Album
...The Mia Album, like most family "histories," is a selective account. The two Pattle sisters assembled their story by projecting their moral and religious beliefs upon photographs of husbands and children...The collective portrait of Julia Jackson epitomizes the manner in which her mother and aunt projected their idealized conceptions onto photographs. Cameron made all but one of her niece's portraits, photographing Jackson at the peak of her youthful beauty and just a few years prior to her first marriage in 1867--at
the height of her presumed "connubial aptitude," to borrow a phrase from the popular poet Coventry Patmore, a close family friend. With her eyes raised heavenwards, or glazed over, as if in a cloud of contemplation, appears as a symbol of divine pulchritude and divine purity. Cameron depicted her niece against an ambiguous, often darkened backdrop so that Jackson appears as an icon for adulation, sequestered from all secular presences. In another portrait, Cameron suggested more directly that heaven and earth coexist in
her niece's persona, when she scratched a religious scene into the photograph's shadows. Her Jackson emerges as a "Madonna Purissima," removed from worldly contemplation and "earthly possibilities."
Symbolism and the Virgin Mary
By equating Jackson with the Virgin Mary, Cameron and Jackson perpetuated the Mariolatry of the time. Their adoration of the Virgin fused conveniently with contemporary social sobriquets that saw women as rulers of the domestic sphere, as prescribed in John Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies (1865) and Coventry
Patmore's The Angel in the House (1854-56). The immense popularity of these writers' works epitomizes how ideological stereotypes of Victorian women were embraced by middle and upper class society.
About the Victorian
Albums are books with blank pages for inscribing autographs and mounting the photographs, prints, letters and other objects-such as pressed flowers--which can conform to the two-dimensional surfaces of their pages. Albums, as a means for display, organization, and preservation of their objects, are, themselves, invariably shaped by their social and cultural contexts. Yet, because the activity of looking at an album is such a commonplace act, we may not consider looking at an album as an activity with a history which changes to realize different purposes and desires. Instead of regarding an album's contents as attached--literally and figuratively--only too its pages, we can consider the meanings of an album's
contents as bound to activities of looking.
...Before it was
disassembled, the Mia Album was a double-faced book, with two distinct sections.
With the exception of two works by O. G. Rejlander, the first section consisted
entirely of Cameron's self-proclaimed "High Art" photographs, dating
largely from 1864 to 1869 . The second section contained images by Oscar Rejlander
and other photographers in Cameron's circle, commercial photographic portraits
and commercial art reproductions, many also dating from the mid-1860s, and several
images variously attributed to Cameron. As mentioned earlier, Cameron assembled
her albums with a great deal of thought about how they would be viewed and by
whom. Her "High Art" photographs were deliberately restricted to the
first section of the Mia
Album, where they dominate numerically and appear as both a distinct and cohesive group. Yet photographs in the second section do not easily settle into a subordinate position to her work. Had the bifurcated arrangement of the album--as described in previous essays--been continued to the point where the two sets of images overlaped, it would have made practical use of both sides of all the pages. It also had another effect: when viewing the album, Rejlander's portraits and his tableaux vivant, the commercial portraits and art reproductions--all become less prosaic, while Cameron's "High Art" photographs become less distant. Ultimately both parts of the Mia Album are integral in substance and function to one another, united through
the meaningful activity of viewing.
of JMK's albums
The Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron assembled photographic albums as invitations to friends and family to join her in her artistic aspirations.
The majority of these albums, including the Herschel, Overstone and Watts Albums, were presentation albums she gave to powerful and influential people to secure moral and creative support.
Of fewer number are Cameron's family albums which, in contrast to her more public-oriented presentation albums, are poignantly intimate in their familial character.
In these unique collections, relatives collaborated in the album's assembly over the course of a decade.
Ostensibly, the album stands as a record of the sisters' immediate and extended family, Cameron's social and artistic circle, and the surroundings of her home, Dimbola, at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight. But more importantly, it demonstrates how JMC's photographs either individually or collectively, intertwine reality and illusion, fostering the sisters' own mythic conception of family life and its traditions. Like any album or heirloom, the Mia album was conceived to transcend its own time, to assume a place in the hands and minds of succeeding generations.