"Certainly Julia Margaret Cameron had grown up an imperious woman; but she was without her sisters’ beauty. In the trio where, as they said, Lady Somers was Beauty, and Mrs Prinsep Dash, Mrs Cameron was undoubtedly Talent.
She doubled the generosity of the most generous of the sistes, and the impulsiveness of the most impulsive. If they were enthusiastic, she was so twice over; if they were persuasive, she was invincible. She had remarkably fine eyes, that flashed like her sayings and grew soft and tender if she was moved… But to a child she was a terrifying apparition ‘short and squat, with none of the Pattle grace and beauty about her, though more than her share of their passionate energy and wilfulness. Dressed in dark clothes, stained with chemicals from her photography (and smelling of them too), with a plump eager face and a voice husky, and a little harsh, yet into some way compelling and even charming,’ she dashed out of the studio at Dimbola, attached heavy swans’ wings to the children’s shoulders, and bade them ‘Stand there’ and play the part of the Angels of the Nativity leaning over the ramparts of Heaven.
Like a tigress where her children were concerned, she was as magnificently uncompromising about her art. Brown stains appeared on her hands, and the smell of chemicals mixed with the scent of the sweet briar in the road outside her house. She cared nothing for the miseries of her sitters nor for their rank. The carpenter and the Crown Prince of Prussia alike must sit as still as stones in the attitudes she chose, in the draperies she arranged, for as long as she wished. She cared nothing for her own labours and failures and exhaustion. ‘I longed to arrest all the beauty that came before me, and at length the longing was satisfied,’ she wrote.”
From Virginia Woolf’s essay on Julia Margaret Cameron
YES, I’m so glad you mentioned Cameron! She’s such an interesting figure to me, both because of the Bloomsbury stuff—for those playing along at home, Virginia Woolf’s mother Julia Stephen was Cameron’s niece; and Cameron photographed a large sub-section of the Stephens’ mid-Victorian social circle, which included some very big names: Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ellen Terry, etc.—but also because she was working at such an odd time in the history of photography. In her later work she would set up all these elaborate Arthurian tableaux, with costumes and backdrops and everything, and the end effect is sort of like a Rossetti painting, in photographic form.
Which—I don’t know why this strikes me as so interesting, since we still do it, or at least we do it again (I’m thinking of, like, Annie Leibovitz’s noir photoshoot), but I feel like there was a long period between Cameron and people like Leibovitz, when art photography really privileged verisimilitude and a certain documentary quality, over anything this painterly or obviously constructed.
I should note that Cameron also did simpler portraiture, like the famous melancholic shot of Ellen Terry—just a lovely image, and one that always reminds me a bit of that omnipresent Beresford shot of the young Virginia Stephen.
Anyway, yes, Julia Margaret Cameron: super interesting early photographer!
James Strachey and Virginia Woolf in 1934
Virginia Woolf in a letter to Vanessa Bell dated 16 October 1928. (via wavingtovirginia)
"Nobody except Leonard matters to me as you matter…" 15 October 1931| Permalink
poesyy said: i love this book so much.
Do you? I wonder if many people do. There are so many singular sentences that just surprise me (I lack a better word). Like the one I posted. How they work on their own with such fierceness. It’s very fragmentary.
Or consider this scene: "Now they were passing the grey stone house where the mad lady lived alone with her peacocks and her bloodhounds."
After reading that I was left inwardly speechless for a moment because.. How dare you not write pages just about that, Virginia. That left me so hungry for what it could have been like, ha ha.
Annual Virginia Woolf Birthday Lecture - ‘To pin down the moment with date and season’ by Hermione Lee
25 January 2014
From a BBC radio segment broadcast on April 29th, 1937. Background and transcript:http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/04/29/craftsmanship-virginia-woolf-speaks-1937/
"If you listen to the only surviving recording of her, you hear a voice from another century, which to us sounds posh, antiquated, class-bound, mannered. She was born over a hundred years ago; she lived through a period of the most rapid and dramatic changes in human history. (…) Virginia Woolf herself looks back, from her fifties to her childhood, with amazement feeling both near to and utterly distant from her own past. If she sometimes feels strange to herself, how much stranger is she to us!"
- Hermione Lee
Unbelievably, this blog is four years old today. Thank you for sticking around!