During her lifetime, Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) was recognized as one of the leading portrait photographers of her era. Cameron is known for assembling photographic albums as invitations to friends and family to collaborate in her artistic aspirations. This summer the Portland Museum of Art presents one of these albums—a series of 70 photographs taken by this Victorian photographer. Images from “For My Best Beloved Sister Mia”: An Album of Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, a rarely seen and privately owned album, is on view through September 7, 2009 at the Portland Museum of Art.
This album, made for her sister Maria Jackson (affectionately known as Mia) includes family portraits and allegorical works, such as her famous series on Mia’s daughter, who later became the mother of the writer Virginia Woolf. The album also features portraits of some of the most celebrated figures of Victorian England-among them the poet Alfred Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelite painter George Frederic Watts. The pictures range from Cameron’s earliest camera successes to her late mature work. In addition, Cameron collected work by her colleagues including O. G. Rejlander, one of the first to promote photography as an art form, and Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland.
Cameron presented the album, bound in rich green leather, as a gift to her sister Mia on July 7, 1863. The date of the Mia Album is telling, for it coincides with the nascent phase of Cameron’s photographic activities. Although separated by time and distance, the two sisters collaborated in the album’s assembly over the course of a decade.
Ostensibly, the album stands as a record of the sisters’ immediate and extended family, Cameron’s social and artistic circle, and the surroundings of her home Dimbola, at Freshwater, on the Isle of Wight, England. But more importantly, it demonstrates how photographs, viewed either individually or collectively, intertwine reality and illusion, fostering the sisters’ own mythic conception of family life and its traditions. Like any album or heirloom, the Mia Album was conceived to transcend its own time, to assume a place in the hands and minds of succeeding generations.
Julia Margaret Cameron was born in Calcutta, India in 1815. After being educated in Europe, she returned to India, and in 1838 married Charles Hay Cameron, a jurist and member of the Law Commission stationed in Calcutta, who was 20 years her senior. On Charles’s retirement in 1848, they moved to London where Julia became part of Kensington’s artistic community, including poet Henry Taylor, painter G.F. Watts, and Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Cameron moved to the Isle of Wight in 1860 and her career as a photographer began in 1863 when her husband was away on a trip. To cheer her from her loneliness, her daughter gave her a camera and Cameron soon began photographing everyone in sight. In 1875 Cameron and her husband moved back to India. Cameron continued to practice photography until her death in 1879.
The traveling exhibition of this privately owned and rarely seen photographic album is organized by art2art Circulating Exhibitions.
In conjunction with the exhibition, a series of 28 photographs by Joyce Tenneson will be on view on the Museum’s fourth floor. One of the country’s leading contemporary portrait photographers, Joyce Tenneson is in many ways a modern-day version of Julia Margaret Cameron. Joyce Tenneson: Polaroid Portraits, on view July 11 through October 4, 2009, and the catalogue Kindred Spirits: Julia Margaret Cameron and Joyce Tenneson, highlights the connections between these two important figures. The catalogue is available in the Museum Store for $14.95.
Seven Congress Square
About Portland Museum of Art
Museum Information The Portland Museum of Art is located at Seven Congress Square in downtown Portland. The Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday. Memorial Day through Columbus Day, the Museum is open on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Museum admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with I.D., $4 for youth ages 6 to 17, and children under 6 are free. The Museum is free on Friday evenings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Museum Cafe and Store. For more information, call (207) 775-6148. Web site www.portlandmuseum.org.