At a time when contemporaries did mostly full body portraits with ornate props and backgrounds, JMC did close-ups with minimal props that look modern and timeless as you can see in the examples below taken from Gerry's slide presentation. JMC was unusual in other ways. Women photographers were rare. Those who took up the art in their late 40s rarer still!
JMC was born Julia Margaret Pattle In Calcutta, India where her father was in the Bengal civil service. Gerry tells us that she married Charles Hay Cameron in 1838 when she was 22 and he 44. The Camerons moved to England in 1848, settling 11 years later in Freshwater on the Isle of Wight.
The Camerons converted two cottages into an estate called Dimbola after one of their estates in Ceylon. There they entertained many of the famous people of the day, names known world wide. JMC was strong willed and outgoing, enjoying the intellectual stimulation of these poets, actors, and scientists.
Her life changed forever in 1864 when she received the gift of a wet-plate camera from her daughter and son-in-law. She took to photography with a passion. Gerry reminded us that photography in 1864 meant making your own plates and processing them before the emulsion dried and the plates lost their sensitivity. Exposures where made by guess and experience. Prints from the contrasty slow speed wet-plates were made on printing out paper (salt paper) that used bright sun to bring out the image with no developing step. Suitable images were fixed with hypo.
She took portraits of the famous people of the time seeming to show their inner strengths and character. Alternately she pressed servants and neighbours into dressing and posing individually and in groups, often creating a tableau reminiscent of a painting or scene in a play. She entered her images in many exhibitions and was delighted when they were praised and furious when they were criticized.
The Camerons returned to Ceylon in 1875. JMC died a few years later in 1879. Indifferent about her negatives, few if any have survived to this day. Her decade of photographic artistry received attention once again in the early 1920s through the efforts of her great-niece, Virginia Woolf.
If you missed Gerry's presentation or would like more information on JMC, there are many books (e.g. The Magic Image by Beaton and Buckland) and web sites available (Wight Online, JMC Trust, Masters of Photography, etc.). Search Google for other sites.