Lena Fritsch, the Ashmolean Museum's Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, explores the Ashmolean's collection of works by British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) in this video.

In the transcript of the above video, hear from Lena Fritsch, the Ashmolean's Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, who works on exhibitions, displays and acquisitions of international art. She reflects on the photographs in the Ashmolean's collection by Julia Margaret Cameron, an early pioneer of British portrait photography.

‘Julia Margaret Cameron was born in Calcutta, India, as the fourth of ten children. Her father was a British official and worked for the East India Company, and her mother was a French aristocrat. Her life really reflects British colonial history. She grew up in India and France, where she was educated. And then she met her husband, Charles Hay Cameron, in South Africa. While raising numerous children she became a kind of prominent hostess in the Anglo-Indian society.

'The Camerons had many friends. For example they were friends with astronomy expert Sir John Herschel, who was also a pioneer in photography and who informed them in 1839 about the invention of photography and who also sent them a few very early colour types over to India.

'In 1845, the Camerons moved to England and this is where Julia Margaret Cameron became interested in photography and where she started taking photographs herself, in the early 1860s. She got a camera from her family as a present and she was in her late 40s basically when she started working as a photographer.

‘There are three things about Julia Margaret Cameron's photography that I really like.

‘How she uses light in her photographic compositions. It's often a very dramatic light, and you can really tell how she thought about the light and how it reflects on the sitters' faces. This is most obvious in photographs of women, but also in some of the photographs of men.

‘The soft focus is something that's also quite innovative at the time. She really sees photography as an art form.

'She creates these really dreamy images and the soft focus photographs of women link to her concept of beauty which is, of course, a very Victorian, English concept of beauty, at the time. It's a Christian concept, but it also is inspired by classic mythology.

'And then, the sitters are interesting and she has all these different people in front of her lens. For example, photographs of Julia Jackson are in the Ashmolean collection, who was Virginia Woolf's mother. Very beautiful photographs of her.

‘But then all these different important men. So John Herschel, the dramatist Henry Taylor. Charles Darwin was photographed by her. And it's interesting how she treats the male subjects. They're often close-up photographs, she really focuses on their facial expressions and on their wrinkles, and on their beards.

'The photos reflect her admiration for for the sitters, I think, but they also show that they were comfortable in her company and that they respected her and that they trusted her as a photographer.

'Her photographic career was very, short because she passed away in 1879. So she only worked for 11 years, but she created around a thousand photographs of many famous people and friends of the family.'

NOTE These photographs are not on display currently in the Museum.