Author Interview with Bob Cotton and his book Julia Margaret Cameron & The Allure of Photography

Julia Margaret Cameron & The Allure of Photography (ebook)  
About This Edition:
ebook (iPad iBooks format), 135 pgs
Publish Date:

This book attempts to answer the questions: Why did Julia Margaret Cameron become so besotted with Photography? What did she bring to the art? Why is her work important? Julia Margaret Cameron and the Allure of Photography is an introduction to, and an overview of Julia and her work, and provides the art historical and technological context for her work.

Author Biography

 Bob Cotton is a media historian. He is currently a visiting senior lecturer at Arts University Bournemouth, visiting practitioner professor at University of the West of England, co-director of the Visioneca Festival of Experimental Film, and a trustee and chair of the Development Committee of the Julia Margaret Cameron Trust. He was recently Research Fellow at University of the Arts, London, and has written several books on the media arts, including Understanding Hypermedia (1993), The Cyberspace Lexicon (1994) and Futurecasting Digital Media (2002).

His media website, 

I am delighted to welcome, Author and Professor, Bob Cotton, to my corner of all things nineteenth-century and the Victorian era. I first met Bob, online, as he lives on the Isle of Wight and I am in New York City. He contacted me regarding my article I wrote on May Prinsep and a bit of it is quoted in one of the chapters in Julia Margaret Cameron & the allure of Photography.  Here's a sample page with my article quoted below. There are forty sample pages available on the book website Blurb where you can purchase it in ebook format, so don't worry, if you're cautious, you can read a sample first! I will link to Blurb at the end of this interview.

Why did you choose Julia Margaret Cameron as the subject of this book and how much of her life and work have you included in ‘Allure of Photography’?
First of all, I have been interested in the history (and current developments and future projections) of media for over twenty years. I was elected a trustee of Dimbola Museum and Galleries two years ago, and began to research Julia Margaret and early photography in much more detail than before. Like all research projects, the work was non-linear - some of the events that influenced the research were:  talking to the researcher/practitioner Karen Grainger about her wet collodion experiments, recreating the photographic processes that Julia used at Dimbola; talking to the JMC expert Colin Ford (the founder of the National Media Museum, Bradford,  lead researcher of JMC, author of catalog raisonne and other core volumes; Talking to Brian Hinton, chair of JMC Trust, who has written several pamphlets and booklets on JMC and the Freshwater Circle. Brian was one of the founder members of the Trust, responsible for saving Dimbola from demolition, and a fund of local knowledge; absorbing the life and atmosphere of Dimbola and the friends, trustees and volunteers working there; the attraction that Dimbola has for interesting people - students, researchers, fans - and my personal friends; reading Victoria Olsen’s biography of JMC - this helps enormously in building a picture of her as a woman, as a portrait photographer, as a mother and as a saloniere. Studying the archive prints we have at Dimbola, browsing the Dimbola library. All these components of research informed my task of developing a forward plan for the Trust. This forward plan focused on looking at the way in which we communicated our knowledge of JMC and her contemporaries (the ‘Freshwater Circle’), and it became obvious that there was a huge gap to be filled between our ‘local history pamphlets’ and the specialist academic volumes intended for the research and curatorial community. It also became apparent that we needed an overview - a work that would place JMC in context, place the technology she adopted in context, and that at least tried to describe the impact of photography on the world and especially upon the arts - and tried to describe the enormity of this impact.
In terms of how much of her life and work? - really, this book is an overview. About 40% of the book is directly about JMC, there are hardly any biographical details. The function of an overview in this case is to provide an introduction to JMC’s work - to answer the question of why she became so absorbed and inspired by photography - and to ‘situate’ her work in the cultural-aesthetic-technological continuum of the mid-19th century. It is also necessary to draw attention to the historical conditions of the time - sunlight the only useful light-source, water from the well the only solvent, (etc), and importantly to try to recreate the impact of this miraculous invention - the first automatic image-making machine in the world.
 How long was your research process and did you discover anything about Mrs. Cameron that surprised you? 
 The most interesting things that I discovered (for myself as it were), included: How much ‘photography’ JMC did before she was given her own camera (lessons and collaborations with Rejlander, Dodgson, Southey, Wilkie Wynfield etc); how Idylls of the King (1875 edition) was a real innovation - the first time photographs were used to illustrate a literary text; JMC’s use of contact prints of flowers as embellishments to some of her early work; her mammoth attempt at illustrating the 1874 edition of Idylls (and her disappointment with the product); her close friendship with John Herschel - and how he solved the problem of ‘fixing’ an exposed photograph as early as 1820; her range of friends, family and advisors from Little Holland House; the extent of her role as a saloniere at Dimbola; and the beauty and innovation in terms of variegated focus, posing and composition of her work.The book took three months or so, with a lot of time spent comparing and testing the various design tools for print and for ebook (InDesign for print version, Blurb ebook Creator for ebook). I had to process three different catches of the digital images, ready for desktop pdf, printer's high-res edition, and low-res online and ebook edition, Finding tools for annotations, indices, picture sources etc (still not properly interactive). I constructed the book as an illustrated pictorial essay, trying to develop a format that is readable for students and others who are frightened by long texts, - and a format suitable for web-reading. Ebooks will develop their own aesthetic and ergonomics, but this is still (like early interface design), still in its infancy. The ipad and similar tablets are an ideal vehicle for hands-on reading and looking. There's still a lot to do in the evolution of the ideal ebook. Bob Stein's Voyager 'Expanded Books' of the early 1990s were a great landmark in the evolution of ebooks.
As someone who has read ‘Julia Margaret Cameron and the Allure of Photography’ and is quoted in a chapter, can you tell me what your impression is of her ? Has it changed once you wrote the book?
Building an image of JMC - her character, her manner, her sensibility is, as you know, a kind of non-linear process of absorbing and synthesizing  descriptions, comments, allusions, images, reminiscences, reported conversations, comments and anecdotes... and what has emerged for me (my own intuition about Julia) is of a hugely empathic, highly cultured, socially and interpersonally skilled lady who is a minor aristocrat, natural bohemian (her and her sisters, with their Calcutta, Versailles and Little Holland House upbringing - they used to converse together in Bengali, sported flowing multi-coloured saris and robes , they made a huge impact on the social cultured elite of the age. Julia’s personal enthusiasms and charm made it possible for her to draw-in and entrance even shy and socially-reticent scientists (thnk of John Herschel - who became a lifetime correspondent and friend), think of Darwin. She was the kind of charming, eccentric character who would stage-manage her soirees, engage her guests in amateur dramatics, tableaux-vivant, party games - yet also engineer brilliant dinner-party intellectual discourse (Taylor, Watts, Tennyson - as reported by Annie Thackeray). The image of her in purple robes, with silver-nitrate-blackened hands chasing after passersby (potential models) and nabbing and cajoling neighbor’s children to pose for her. Her bedroom overlooked the main road (Gate Lane) so she could espy likely sitters from her bay window. She was a character, an artist, socially adept but not always socially proper, setting styles in what became known as the aesthetic dress, a proto-modernist in her photographs, an innovator with her photographic illustrations, her albums, her hands-on practice, her theatricality, and her practicality.
Will you continue to write about Mrs. Cameron and those in the Freshwater Circle? What are you writing next? 
The next project will try to provide an overview of her work in the context of the Freshwater Circle - a kind of pictorial essay on the F.C.
You have a background in Film and Media and ‘Allure of Photography’ goes into great detail about the medium and history of photography and other photographers. This impressed me very much. Can you please speak about that aspect of the book?  
The research sector of Media History is still in a fledgling state, so one is carving out territory that is still mostly virgin. I’m especially interested in the role that technological innovation plays and the effects of technology upon the human sensorium - the development of an aesthetics of the machine age, and the effect of technologies like high-speed shutters, responsive photo-sensitive agents, multi-camera and multiple-exposure, immersive audio-visual environments (from The Phantasmagia of Philipdor and the Dioramas of Daguerre to modern Happenings and virtual realities) - and many more such instances . My longer term objective is a complete history or ‘back-story’ of our contemporary media - tracing all the media-arts-technology roots of 21st century media, and the ideas and innovations that inspired them.

Here is a link to Blurb where you can purchase the ebook of Julia Margaret Cameron and the Allure of Photography 

 You can also enquire about purchasing Bob's book at Dimbola Museum and Galleries, as proceeds from the book are a part of the Julia Margaret Cameron Trust.


Maggie Peters said…
Congratulations, Kimberly! Great interview. How nice to be able to read the author's opinion and experience about his book. I'll be buying this one!
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Maggie,
Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hope you enjoy the book and I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview.
Hermes said…
A fascinating book and what a great interview, really enjoyed it
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Hermes, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview. I learned a lot more myself!

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