Julia Margaret Cameron's women are, in a word, lovely. The 19th-century photographer was best known in her lifetime for her portraits of such major figures of the era as Robert Browning, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Darwin, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Alfred Tennyson--many of whom were her friends and neighbors on England's Isle of Wight. But her rich images of women, which convey a wide range of real emotion and experience rarely openly expressed during the Victoria era, are arguably her strongest, most important works. Taking themes from the Bible, mythology, literature, and Renaissance painting, Cameron modeled the women around her--friends, servants, relatives--as Ophelia, Juliet, Queen Esther, Rachel, A Bacchante, Guinevere, and Mary, among others. Julia Jackson, the photographer's niece and future mother of Virginia Woolf, was Cameron's favorite model--and the one woman Cameron always cast as herself, titling one 1867 image My Favorite Picture of All My Works. My Niece Julia. Cameron's softly lit, unsmiling women with unpinned hair are full of sensuality, longing, sadness, and beauty. Their powerful emotions fill the dark shadows and diffused backgrounds of their portraits.
The plates for the book were borrowed from collectors around the world and reproduced on creamy, heavy stock that does fair justice to the original albumin prints. As Cameron was less concerned with technical exactitude than the essence of the image, the blurring brought on by a model's movement or insufficient light is faithfully maintained, serving to heighten the mystery and allure of the images. Three essays by noted art historians place Cameron and her work in historical and social context. And appendices offering biographical data on the models and a reproduction of Cameron's original price catalog are a substantive complement to the photographs. Julia Margaret Cameron's Women is an excellent example of an expertly conceived and beautifully executed artist monograph. --Jordana Moskowitz [via]