The fantastic thing–though also possibly overwhelming–about being an artist today is the accessibility we have to so much inspiration. The internet, along with dedication of those who work to preserve our culture’s consciousness in museums, archives, and beyond, has given us a chance to engage with the artists that came before us in a beautiful way. The fact that I can simply type “Julia Margaret Cameron” into my search bar and come up with a beautiful array of images makes me so thankful for the age in which we live. I can compile a blog post like this and say, “Look look at this!” and then carry that inspiration with me.
This ease of accessibility is certainly a blessing, but often I get nostalgic for a time when art had a little more mystery. Before social media, self-promotion happened with a little more effort. Pursuing a new art form didn’t come from dabbling, but rather from an “all-in” mentality. For instance, my girl Julia Margaret Cameron here put her life into marketing, showing, and copyrighting her work. Within 18 months of the start of her career, she had sold 80 prints to the V&A. Her dedication to her craft is something that has been sitting with me, and for that reason she is my muse this week.
Julia Margaret Cameron began her career in photography at the age of 48. That’s right! This badass lady didn’t become famous at a young age, wasn’t an It-Girl (well she did run in a circle of elites like Tennyson and Charles Darwin). Instead, she made her name simply by doing the damn work. She figured out her own style and perspective by experimentation. In the face of much doubt, she strived to make her photography akin to the artists of the Italian Renaissance. While photographers of the time were concerned with technical skills, Cameron preferred to imbue her work with a certain spirit rather than perfection. Other photographers accused her photos of being out of focus with incorrect shadows or coloring. While she wished to bring mythology and history to life, other men in her field found her work to be worthy of mockery and derision. I can’t help but wonder, dear readers, if perhaps her subject matter and style were seen by male photographers as trivial and unstudied only because she was a woman. Ah, the age-old question. Still, I cannot travel in time to convince their sorry (and uncelebrated) asses of her brilliance. I can only admire her here.
A bit about her subject matter: she brought in only her friends to sit for her. She didn’t do commissioned portraits, but preferred to stage her portraits in order to evoke a character or feeling specific to her work. Her subjects complained about the amount of time they had to hold their poses, often in romantic and dramatic outfits. She brought to life Arthurian legends and mythic archetypes. I love work like hers because it proves the eternal fascination that mankind has with stories. There are some things that never die, and it seems that the stories she has tapped into are some of them. And what better way to make them true than by photography?
Julia Margaret Cameron is an inspiration to me both because of her dreamy subject matter and her devotion to the craft. She is proof of the fact that one really can start a new art (or career path/hobby/life/personality/whateverrr) at any age. She rarely took no for an answer. She inspires me to be fearless in the things I love, and to listen to the things I am drawn to.