I just found this photograph as I was looking through an old book I had of Julia Margaret Cameron’s photography and, well, I don’t know, I have always loved the strangely self-conscious scenes that this most extraordinary photographer would create. They were often of biblical stories and fairy-tales and were much criticised at the time – “skirting the abyss of ridicule they create” as one critic wrote. This particular photograph is clearly a religious portrait of Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist.
Her great-niece Laura Troubridge describes what it was like to be photographed by her unconventional aunt Julia.
She would be “dressed in dark clothes, stained with chemicals from her photography, (and smelling of them too), with a plump eager face and a voice husky, and a little harsh, yet in some way compelling and even charming”. As soon as they entered Aunt Julia’s home she and her sister would be dressed up as angels complete with swans’ wings fixed to their shoulders, “while Aunt Julia, with ungentle hand, tousled our hair to get rid of its prim nursery look. Once in her clutches, we were perfectly helpless. ‘Stand there,’ she shouted.”
Virginia Woolf was the daughter of Julia Jackson who (I think) is the woman in the photograph above. Virginia Woolf wrote of her Great-Aunt Julia, “Dressed in robes of flowing red velvet, she walked with her friends, stirring a cup of tea as she walked, half-way to the railway station in hot summer weather. There was no eccentricity that she would not have dared on their behalf, no sacrifice that she would not have made to procure a few more minutes of their society,”
I love the eerie feel of the religious tableaux above; the sculpted robes, the distant look of the mother, and the defiant child in her arms as the other child blurs away, so beautiful.