Press Room Search

Current Press Releases
Archived Press Releases

News Home Current Press Releases

The Getty Spotlights Pioneering Photographer Who Defined Victorian Portraiture

Julia Margaret Cameron, Photographer
At the Getty, October 21, 2003-January 11, 2004

August 6, 2003

Los Angeles—One of the acknowledged great pioneers of early photography, Julia Margaret Cameron, will be the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the Getty Center, October 21, 2003 through January 11, 2004. The exhibition will display more than 100 images by Cameron and coincides with the Getty's publication of the first catalogue raisonné of her works.

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879) is noted not only as one of the few female photographers of the Victorian age, but also as a bold innovator and entrepreneur who tirelessly campaigned to raise the new science of photography to a higher realm. "My aspirations are to ennoble Photography and to secure for it the character and uses of High Art," she declared.
 Cameron is now regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of photography. She was one of the earliest photographers to consciously reject meticulous detail in favor of a luminous, dreamlike soft focus, evoking feelings rather than showing facts. Cameron also rejected the confines of conventional darkroom work and gloried in the chance nature of photochemistry. She was untroubled by dust spots and other irregularities in her work. Sometimes her prints ranged in color from sepia to purple-gray, depending on the particular toning formula she used. In the course of just 16 years, with limited technical resources, this remarkable artist created more than 1,200 images—an astonishing number considering the amount of care and labor then required to process and print each photograph. 

 "This retrospective is the Getty's first opportunity to show the full scope of Julia Margaret Cameron's talent,” says Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and vice president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. "Four galleries will be devoted to her enduring work, including rare prints from the Getty's impressive holdings of this influential artist."

 Cameron's subjects included many of the most famous people in the cultural hierarchy of Queen Victoria's England, in strikingly intimate portraits charged with insight. Her home, a gathering place for the cultural intelligentsia of the day, welcomed such luminaries as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, England's Poet Laureate and the Camerons' neighbor on the Isle of Wight; poets Robert Browning and Henry Taylor; painters George Frederic Watts and William Holman Hunt; scientists Charles Darwin and Sir John Herschel; authors Lewis Carroll and William Makepeace Thackeray; art collector Lord Overstone; actress Ellen Terry; historian Thomas Carlyle; and explorer William Gifford Palgrave. Many of these friends would be immortalized through Cameron's lens in expressively posed portraits, as the photographer created a pantheon of the famous of her day. An 1866 review of her work in Macmillan's Magazine noted that Cameron's "position in literary and artistic society gives her the pick of the most beautiful and intellectual heads in the world."

 In addition to her many portraits of the gifted and powerful, Cameron also created elaborately staged photographic tableaux—often starring her esteemed guests—that evoked scenes from famous works of literature, mythology and the Bible. Cameron's husband Charles, with his white beard, became for her a perfect Merlin or King Lear. The painter G.F. Watts became a pensive violinist, personifying music, inspired by two angelic figures.  Children of various friends were drafted to pose as cherubs or the Christ Child. Cameron's strikingly handsome housekeeper, Mary Hillier, became the Virgin Mary, as well as the angel at Christ's tomb. To modern eyes, these theatrical scenes may seem artificial, but they pleased her Victorian audience and were an essential part of her quest to secure photography's position as a fine art. Cameron was ceaselessly ambitious, lobbying her friends to review her work in prestigious journals, taking part in numerous exhibitions, having her photographs printed up for the buying public as popular cartes-de-visite and "cabinet cards."   

 Cameron picked up a camera for the first time in 1863 when she was 48 years old. Cameron, who had already applied her abundant energy to raising her family of six children, received the camera as a Christmas gift from one of her grown daughters, with the wish that "it may amuse you Mother to try to Photograph during your solitude." At the time, her beloved husband was traveling abroad and her adult children had established homes of their own. 

 Cameron was not simply a proper Victorian housewife who suddenly turned artistic. An unconventional streak ran deeply within her. Born in Calcutta to a well-to-do British family, she experienced the colors, romance, and exoticism of India as a young child. One of seven sisters renowned in Anglo-Indian society for their intelligence and beauty, Cameron remained a bit of an eccentric throughout her life, often donning flowing robes that made her stand out even within her circle of artistic intellectuals.

 In 1838 she married Charles Hay Cameron, some years her elder and a distinguished jurist and legal reformer. They enjoyed what was by all accounts a happy and fulfilling marriage. The family lived for a time in Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka), where they purchased a number of coffee and rubber plantations before returning to England in 1848 and eventually establishing themselves on the Isle of Wight, a quiet seaside enclave.

 Cameron's photographic career ended at its peak in 1875, when the family fell on hard times. Her husband Charles decided he wished to spend his autumn years living with their sons on the plantations in Ceylon, where expenses were fewer. Cameron took her cameras with her, but few of her images have survived from this period—just a few portraits of the local plantation workers and domestic help. She died in 1879 at the age of 63; her husband outlived her by one year. They are buried together in the churchyard at Glencairn, Ceylon.

 The Julia Margaret Cameron exhibition is organized by the National Portrait Gallery in London in collaboration with the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford. The Getty is the third and final venue on the exhibition’s tour, after showings at the other two museums.


All events are free and are held in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium unless otherwise noted. Seating reservations are required. For reservations and information, please call 310-440-7300 or visit Tickets are available on-site or by phone.


Process Revealed: Julia Margaret Cameron and the Art of Picture Making
Sunday, October 26, 4 p.m., Harold M. Williams Auditorium

Julian Cox, associate curator of photographs, J. Paul Getty Museum, discusses the working methods of the pioneering Victorian photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, and her penchant for employing unorthodox techniques in the service of her artistic goals. Free event; parking $5. Seating reservations required. Call 310-440-7300 or visit


Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, November 14, 15 and 16, 7:30 p.m.
Harold M. Williams Auditorium

The Long Beach Opera presents Virginia Woolf's Freshwater in a contemporary light. The performance is based on Virginia Woolf's hilarious and only play, which takes a comical look at the life and times of the great Victorian photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, who was Woolf’s great-aunt.

Talks are held at 6:00 and 7:30 p.m. in the Museum galleries. Sign up at the Museum Information Desk beginning at 4:30 p.m.

Ruth Weisberg, Friday, November 14
Dean of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California, whose work deals with narratives and life cycles that are often inspired by art history, literature, and myths, discusses the exhibition.

Stephen Berkman, Friday, December 5 
A photographer who uses the wet-collodion process to create his work and who recently created tintypes for the movie Cold Mountain, discusses the exhibition.

Publications are available in the Bookstore, by calling 800-223-3431, or online at

Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs
By Julian Cox and Colin Ford, with contributions by Philippa Wright and Joanne Lukitsh
Reveals the life and works of the renowned British photographer living at the height of the Victorian era. For the first time, all known images by Cameron are gathered together in this 576-page catalogue raisonné.
Cloth: $150.00

Julia Margaret Cameron: A Critical Biography
By Colin Ford
This 212-page biography casts new light on the artist’s links with the leading cultural figures of her time and on the techniques she used to achieve her distinctive style.
Cloth: $50.00

In Focus: Julia Margaret Cameron
Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum
The first volume in the In Focus series to examine the work of a 19th-century photographer, In Focus: Julia Margaret Cameron examines her passion for the "divine art" and "deeply seated love of the beautiful" that are clearly revealed by her compelling pictures.
Paper: $17.50  


Recent Acquisitions: Eugène Atget, Brett Weston, William Garnett, Milton Rogovin
February 3–May 30, 2004
This exhibition features four photographers whose work the Museum has recently acquired by gift or purchase. Included will be Atget's haunting garden views and Parisian street scenes, modernist cityscapes by Weston, abstract landscapes by Garnett, and Rogovin's documentary survey of the world's coal miners. These four major figures of 20th-century photography are also exemplars of the Museum's active and varied program of collecting photographs. While providing insight into the working methods of these important and influential photographers, the exhibition will simultaneously highlight the diverse manners in which their work entered the Getty's collection.

Photographers of Genius at the Getty
March 16–July 25, 2004
Photographers of Genius at the Getty presents the work of innovative photographers who profoundly influenced their contemporaries and succeeding generations of artists. Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the department of photographs, the exhibition will include selected prints by three dozen photographers whose work is held in depth by the Museum, among them William Henry Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Carleton Watkins, Eugène Atget, Alfred Stieglitz, Walker Evans, and Diane Arbus. The photographs date from the earliest years of the new medium in Europe to America of the 1960s. Many of the individual photographs are icons, widely reproduced in histories of art and photography, while others have exerted a more subtle influence. The exhibition, drawn entirely from one of the Museum's newest but richest collections, illuminates how art moves continuously forward as photographers of one generation stand on the shoulders of their precursors, thus advancing pre-existing visual ideas to a new level of expression. 

Points of Synthesis: Photographs by Edmund Teske (working title)
June 15–September 19, 2004
This will be the first comprehensive retrospective of the photographs of Edmund Teske (1911–1996), one of the unheralded alchemists of 20th-century American photography. Over a 60-year period Teske created a diverse and influential body of work. The majority of the approximately 115 photographs on view have never been published or exhibited, including a series of exquisitely crafted contact prints from the 1930s that reveal Teske's artistic origins as a social documentarian. Also featured are richly evocative figure studies, rhapsodies on nature, views of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture, studies in abstraction, and portraits of Hollywood actors and musicians. The exhibition is accompanied by a 225-page publication, with more than 100 illustrations, which should become the standard monograph on the artist.

Note to Editors: Images available upon request. 
For more information, the public can call 310-440-7300 or visit

# # #

About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

Sign up for e-Getty at to receive free monthly highlights of events at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa via e-mail, or visit our event calendar for a complete calendar of public programs.

Visiting the Getty Villa: The Getty Villa is open Wednesday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed Tuesday and major holidays. Admission to the Getty Villa is always free. A ticket is required for admission. Tickets can be ordered in advance, or on the day of your visit, at or at 310-440-7300. Parking is $15 per car, but free after 5pm for evening events. Groups of 15 or more must make reservations by phone. For more information, call 310-440-7300 (English or Spanish); 310-440-7305 (TTY line for the deaf or hearing impaired). The Getty Villa is at 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, California.