The Photography Collection at the Harry Ransom Center holds 261 albumen photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879). While the majority of the prints are loose, there are also five bound volumes containing mounted prints. Highlights include a notable series of seven prints previously owned by the poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and albums associated with Cameron’s neighbor on the Isle of Wight, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. These albums include a two-volume set of selections from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, produced in 1874-1875, a variant and unique third volume of the same, and a rare copy of her Miniature Edition of the work. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the Photography Collection holds the unique presentation album of 61 prints given by Cameron to her close friend Annie Thackeray, Portraits and photographic studies all from life. By Julia Margaret Cameron. Fresh Water Bay, Isle of Wight, commenced year 1864.
Cameron took up photography at the age of 48 after receiving a camera as a gift from her family. Over the next decade and a half, she created photographs ranging from strikingly large portraits that revealed the character of her sitters to genre studies that, heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite sensibilities of her artistic circle, were imitative of paintings or illustrative of scenes from literature. Her subjects for these treatments were friends, household staff, or the “handsome folk” who populated the Isle of Wight where she made her home.
All of the Cameron photographs held in the Photography Collection were acquired by the collectors Helmut and Alison Gernsheim, who purchased their first Cameron prints in February 1945. Over the years they collected hundreds of her distinctive photographs, retaining many while trading some with other collectors. They made Cameron the subject of their first biography, publishing Julia Margaret Cameron: Her Life and Photographic Work in 1948.
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