Annals of My Glass House by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1874, In her own words…

Julia Margaret Cameron wrote an unfinished autobiography, 'Annals of My Glass House' during 1874. Excerpts of it have been included in various hardcover books of plates of Mrs. Cameron's photographs including her London exhibition catalogue in 1881.

I have always wondered what this great woman thought about the subject of photography but here she expresses her thoughts so eloquently about her camera, her family, her sitters, and her amazing friends.  I will include her photos that she references, to accompany her words...Mrs. Cameron, welcome to my blog...take it away...

Annals of My Glass House by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1874,   
"I think that the Annals of My Glass House will be welcome to the public, and, endeavoring to clothe my little history with light, as with a garment, I feel confident that the truthful account of indefatigable work, with the anecdote of human interest attached to that work, will add in some measure to its value.  That details strictly personal and touching the affections should be avoided, is a truth one’s own instinct would suggest, and noble are the teachings of one whose word has become a text to the nations-Therefore it is with effort that I restrain the overflow of my heart and simply state that my first (camera and) lens was given to me by my cherished departed daughter and her husband, with the words, “It may amuse you, Mother, to try to photograph during your solitude at Freshwater.”

The gift from those I loved so tenderly added more and more impulse to my deeply seated love of the beautiful and from the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardour, and it has become to be as a living thing, with voice and memory and creative vigour. Many and many a week in the year ’64 I worked fruitlessly, but not hopelessly-

I longed to arrest all beauty that came before me, and at length the longing has been satisfied. Its difficulty enhanced the value of the pursuit. I began with no  knowledge of the art. I did not know where to place my dark box, how to focus my sitter, and my first picture I effaced to my consternation by rubbing my hand over the filmy side of the glass. It was a portrait of a farmer of Freshwater, who, to my fancy, resembled Bollingbroke.  The peasantry of our island are very handsome. From the men, the women, the maidens and the children I have had lovely subjects, as all the patrons of my photography know. 

This farmer I paid half-a-crown an hour, and, after many half-crowns and many hours spent in experiments, I got my first picture, and this was the one I effaced when holding it triumphantly to dry. 

I turned my coal-house into my dark room, and a glazed fowl house I had given to my children became my glass house! The hens were liberated, I hope and believe not eaten. The profit of my boys upon new laid eggs was stopped, and all hands and hearts sympathized in my new labour, since the society of hens and chickens was soon changed for that of poets, prophets, painters and lovely maidens, who all in turn have immortalized the humble little farm erection.

Having succeeded with one farmer, I next tried two children; my son, Hardinge, being on his Oxford vacation, helped me in the difficulty of focusing. I was half-way through a beautiful picture when a splutter of laughter from one of the children lost me that picture, and less ambitious now, I took one child alone, appealing to her feelings and telling her of the waste of poor Mrs. Cameron’s chemicals and strength if she moved. The appeal had its effect, and I now produced a picture which I called “My First Success.”


 Annie; My First Success by Julia Margaret Cameron, Isle of Wight, England, January 1864
 
I was in a transport of delight. I ran all over the house to search for gifts for the child. I felt as if she entirely had made the picture. I printed, toned, fixed and framed it, and presented it to her father that same day-size, 11 in. by 9 in. Sweet sunny-haired little Annie! No later prize has effaced the memory of this joy, and now that this same Annie is 18, how much I long to meet her and try my master hand upon her.

Having thus made my start, I will not detain my readers with other details of small interest, I only had to work on to reap a rich reward.
 
 Henry Herschel Hay Cameron (Julia's son) by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1864-5

I believe that what my youngest boy, Henry Herschel, who is now himself a very remarkable photographer, told me is quite true-that my first success in my out-of-focus pictures were a fluke. That is to say, that when focusing 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. 

I exhibited as early as May ’65. I sent some photographs to Scotland-a head of Henry Taylor, with the light illuminating the countenance in a way that cannot be described; a Raphaelesque Madonna, called “La Madonna Aspettante.” These photographs still exist, and I think they cannot be surpassed. They did not receive the prize. The picture that did receive the prize, called “Brenda.”

Personal sympathy has helped me on very much. My husband from first to last has watched every picture with delight, and it is my daily habit to run to him with every glass upon which is a fresh glory is newly stamped, and to listen to his enthusiastic applause. This habit of running into the dining-room with my wet pictures has stained an immense quantity of table linen with nitrate of silver, indelible stains, that I should have been banished from any less indulgent household.
 
 Prospero (Sir Henry Taylor) and Miranda (Mary Ryan) by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1865
 
Our chief friends, Sir Henry Taylor, lent himself greatly to my early efforts. Regardless of the possible dread that sitting to my fancy might be making a fool of himself, he, with greatness which belongs to unselfish affection, consented to be in turn Friar Laurence with Juliet, Prospero with Miranda, Ahasuerus with Queen Esther, to hold my poker as his scepter, and do whatever I desired of him. With this great good friend was it true that so utterly and not only were my pictures secured for me, but entirely out of the Prospero and Miranda picture sprung a marriage which has, I hope, cemented the welfare and well-being of a real King Cophetua who, in the Miranda, saw the prize which has proved a jewel in that monarch’s crown. The sight of the picture caused the resolve to be uttered which, after 18 months of constancy, was matured by personal knowledge, then fulfilled, producing one of the prettiest idylls of real life that can be conceived, and, what is of far more importance, a marriage of bliss with children worthy of being photographed, as their mother had been, for their beauty, but it must also be observed that the father was eminently handsome, with a head of the Greek type and fair ruddy Saxon complexion.

 
Maud (Mary Ann Hiller) by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1875
 
Another little maid of my own from early girlhood has been one of the most beautiful and constant of my models, and in every manner of form has her face been reproduced, yet never has it been felt that the grace of the fashion of it has perished. This last autumn her head illustrating the exquisite Maud is as pure and perfect in outline as were my Madonna studies ten years ago, with then times added pathos in the expression. The very unusual attributes of her character and complexion of her mind, if I may so call it, deserve mention in due time, and are the wonder of those whose life is blended with ours as intimate friends of the house. 

When I have had such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavoured to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man.


J.F. W. Herschel by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1867
 
The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer. Most devoutly was this feeling present to me when I photographed my illustrious and revered as well as beloved friend, Sir John Herschel. He was to me as a Teacher and High Priest. From my earliest girlhood I had loved and honoured him, and it was after a friendship of 31 years’ duration that the high task of giving his portrait to the nation was allotted to me. He had corresponded with me when the art was in its first infancy in the days of Talbot-type and autotype. I was then residing in Calcutta, and scientific discoveries sent to that then benighted land were water to the parched lips of the starved, to say nothing of the blessing of friendship so faithfully evidenced. 

When  I returned to England the friendship was naturally renewed. I had already been made godmother to one of his daughters, and he consented to become godfather to my youngest son. A memorable day it was when my infant’s three sponsors stood before the font, not acting by proxy, but all moved by real affection to me and to my husband to come in person, and surely Poetry, Philosophy and Beauty were never more fitly represented than when Sir John Herschel, Henry Taylor and my own sister, Virginia Somers, were encircled round the little font of the Mortlake Church.


 Alfred Tennyson "Dirty Monk" by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1865. 
The top handwriting same is Tennyson's and the bottom handwriting
sample is Julia Margaret Cameron.
 
Meanwhile I took another immortal head, that of Alfred Tennyson, and the result was that profile portrait which he himself designates as the “Dirty Monk.” It is a fit representation of Isaiah or of Jeremiah, and Henry Taylor said the picture was as fine as Alfred Tennyson’s finest poem. The Laureate has since said of it that he likes it better than any photograph that has been taken of him except one my Mayall, that “except” speaks for itself. The comparison seems too comical. It is rather like comparing one of Madame Tussaud’s waxwork heads to one of Woolner’s ideal heroic busts. At this same time, Mr. Watts gave me such encouragement that I felt as if I had wings to fly with."

Comments

What a wonderful article! What an inspiring woman!
Hermes said…
Amazing post Kimberly just beyond interesting, really enjoyed it
Kimberly Eve said…
Thank you both for your comments. I'm so glad you both enjoyed it.
Kevin Marsh said…
Hello Kimberly,

Again a very interesting post and some fantastic photo's.

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