Posts Tagged ‘Ellen Terry’

Cameron_Julia_Margaret_Iago_Study_from_an_ItalianA few months ago, I posted one of my favorite photos, Sadness, from the  British Victorian era photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.  I was struck by the contemporary feel and presence of the photo taken of the actress Ellen Terry in 1864.  It had a naturalness that was unlike much of the photography that we think of from that era, making me feel that it could be a photo from any time.

I recently came across another of Cameron’s photos that hit me in very much the same way.  It is an 1867 study of a young Italian man,  Angelo Colarossi, portraying Iago, the betrayer of Shakespeare’s Othello.  With downcast eyes, his unshaven face fills the frame and you don’t see any props to give away his character.  It may be betrayal that fills his face but for me it is more along the lines of Judas than Iago.  There seems to be remorse and even a bit of Christlike genuflection in his downward gaze.

Like Cameron’s Sadness, this piece has a freshness that makes it feel out of time.   It is a document of emotion that crosses time.  Cameron had a real knack for capturing the universal and eternal in her work, when all others were capturing stiff, glassy-eyed portraits in her own time.  For me, I use Cameron’s work as reminder of the quality that I want in my own work, that universal and timeless appeal, even though our methods and materials and eras are so different.

Just a great photo.

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If you are a regular reader, you probably know that I like old photography from the 19th century.  I am constantly fascinated by being able to step into that time period via these images, more so than reading a passage from literature of the time.  There’s something about seeing how the reality of the time is portrayed as well as seeing how our commonality as humans remains over time.  It’s like the difference between picking up a worn book printed in that time, the pages frail and stained with waterspots, and looking through a clear window that somehow takes you back to that moment.  I think this photo shown here is a great example of this.

This photo is called Sadness and was taken by the British photographer Juliet Margaret Cameron in 1864.  Cameron was a Victorian aristocrat who took up photography, in the medium’s relative infancy, at the age of 48.  Over a ten year period she took over 3000 large format images of many of the celebrated figures of the time– Lord Tennyson, Carlyle and Darwin, for example– as well as staged recreations of literary and dramatic scenes.  She moved to colonial India in 1875  at which point her career in photography effectively ended.

Sadness is an image of the legendary British actress Ellen Terry, who became the most celebrated Shakespearean actress of the 19th century and continued well into the 20th century until her death in 1928, a career that spanned 70 years.  You may not have heard of her but her image as Lady MacBeth was immortalized in this  1889 painting  by John  Singer Sargeant .  In Sadness,  Terry was but a girl of 17 and was about to be married to a much older man, artist George Frederic Watts.  Perhaps the sadness portrayed in this image foreshadowed their short  marriage, which lasted less than a year.

History aside, I find the immediacy and presence of the image very appealing.  I don’t feel as though I am looking back in time.  This could be this very morning.  The humanity in it is great and I can easily feel the moment, could feel myself in the very instant that it was set.  I think this sense of  being set in the now of the viewer is a defining quality of  all great visual art, at least in my eyes.  And this image from Juliet Margaret Cameron has that.

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