Julia Margaret Cameron, 1870 by Henry Herschel Hay Cameron. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 41.21.10
Julia Margaret Cameron
Date: British photographer, 1815–1879
Biography: Julia Margaret Cameron, née Pattle, was born in Ceylon [Sri Lanka], the daughter of an East India Company official. Her early years were spent abroad in France; in 1838 she married and settled in London, at first in the heart of the Little Holland House social circle in Kensington, presided over by her sister, Sara Prinsep. In 1860 she and her family (now comprising six children) moved to Freshwater on the Isle of Wight, a kind of artists' community. Cameron's neighbors were the poet Alfred Tennyson and later, for a short time, the artist George Frederic Watts.

In 1864 her daughter, who hoped to supply her mother with a hobby, gave her a camera. Photography, though still in its infancy at this time, had been featured strongly in the Great Exhibition in 1851. Cameron began experimenting with wet collodion negatives printed on albumen paper, a difficult and messy process. She was influenced and encouraged by her friend and mentor, the astronomer Sir John Herschel; the painter George Frederic Watts; and David Wilkie Wynfield, a successful photographer of the era. Whether Cameron was shooting portraits of famous figures of the day or "tableaux vivants," theatrical stagings of moments in history and literature, she utilized a soft-focus technique. Many of her subjects involved women and their roles in contemporary life. Her most important work was a series of photographic illustrations for Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Beginning in 1874, she produced approximately 180 photographs in preparation for this work.

Although Cameron began her photographic career as a hobby, it became a method for supplementing her family's dwindling resources. She sold her work through Colnaghi and Company in London and participated in numerous exhibitions both in England and abroad. In 1875 she and her family moved back to Ceylon. After leaving England, she produced very little photographic work, leaving the illustrations for the Idylls as the culmination of her work. She died in Ceylon in January 1879.

From "Biography of Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879)" by Stephen Wildman, in 'Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites from the Delaware Art Museum' (Alexandria, VA: Art Services International, 2004), p. 360.