Mrs. Herbert Duckworth, 1867

Julia Margaret Cameron was among the pioneers of artistic photography. She was already forty-eight years of age – and photography was still quite a laborious process – when she first held a camera in her hands in 1863. All the more remarkable is the fact that, from the beginning, she pursued her own ideas with great determination and a marked love for experimentation – regarding what happened in front of the camera as well as her handling of its technology. For example, she reaped quite a lot of criticism from the experts when she made deliberate use of the soft focus as a stylistic device.

In her portraits she was particularly interested in the natural aura radiated by the sitter’s face. She therefore frequently renounced the use of theatrical backdrops, jewellery and elaborate clothing. The subject of this portrait is Cameron’s niece, later to be known as the mother of Virginia Woolf. The young woman seems lost in thought. Cameron has had her turn her face into the light in such a way that the side facing the lens is in shade. At the same time, the result is surprisingly authentic and psychological in nature. The photographer has arranged everything very carefully, but the subject has nevertheless been permitted to be herself.

Albumen print mounted on cardboard
35 × 27.1 cm
Inv. No. ST. F. F7
Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.

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