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The History of Photography Series, Part 1: Julia Margaret Cameron

The History of Photography is a new series of workshops that explore the work of important photographers and photographic movements of the past.  Our aim will be to acquaint ourselves with styles and approaches that were important in the development of photography as an art form, and to pay tribute to the masters of the past who laid the groundwork and developed the ideas and styles that have come to influence generations of photographers after them, including today’s digital photographers, who often work with similar styles, approaches, and content while often being unaware of who established and developed the visions of the world that we so readily borrow from.

Going back to the 1800s and continuing through the 1900s, photographers worked with completely different materials and equipment, yet their subjects are strikingly similar to the subjects that today’s photographers explore: portraiture, the nude, landscape, fashion, still life, and documentary photography.  Musicians study from the past, painters do, writers, actors, and artists of all ilk use the success and struggle of those that blazed a trail for us to follow with our own work.

Our aim is to teach, to make you aware of what has come before, to open your eyes to a tradition that has a rich and varied history, even while using today’s digital technology to emulate and learn from the past, and to inspire your own ideas and vision.  We will learn from the past while trying to recreate it.  And we will have fun doing so!

The History of Photography is full of heroes and heroines.  To live and work in a vacuum of historical illiteracy is to do your craft, your development as artists, and your vision an injustice.  The past is not a stale laundry list of dead and irrelevant artists.  It is alive in our own work, whether we know it or not.  And it doesn’t mean getting stuck in the past.  It means becoming aware of what has come before us so that we can build upon the successes of those that came before.  We will aim to understand our place in history, as photographers, as models, and as stylists; and explore work that can inform our current and future creative endeavors.

We hope you can join us on a unique and eye-opening adventure as we explore the History of Photography at Studio Without Walls in a series of bi-monthly workshops that guarantee to excite and inspire your own work, now, and for as long as you remain creative.

Julia Margaret Cameron (British,[masked])
Have you ever dressed your models up and had them play the part of fictitious or imaginary characters of the past?  Did you know that in the mid-1800s, an amateur photographer in Britain did this with friends and family, introducing the idea of making photographs with allegorical meaning and intentions?  Her name was Julia Margaret Cameron and in our first installment of the History of Photography Workshop Series, we will explore her style and approach and attempt to learn how she accomplished her conceptual images and began a style of photography that has influenced her contemporaries and is evident in the work of so many “art models” and photographers of the present.  This workshop is for all artists, from photographers to models to HMUA and wardrobe stylists.  It is meant for all levels of accomplishment and all types of equipment.

Saturday, June 7th, 2 to 5pm at Studio Without Walls, 190 Exchange Street, Pawtucket, RI

Models free, but $25 for Hair will be collected prior to the shoot. Makeup is extra and can be paid on site.  Wardrobe is important for this shoot.  Please do a little research and if you cannot find suitable clothing, contact us for referrals. PS: Long hair is the look of most women of this era.

Photographers $50: a long lens can create the type of work that Cameron produced, since she also used long lenses in her portraiture.  There will also be a short demo on Photoshop practices that can be used to approximate the look and feel of Cameron’s prints.

Bio:
Born Julia Margaret Pattle, one of seven daughters of a prosperous British family stationed in India, she was educated in England and France after the death of her parents, and returned to India where she married Charles Hay Cameron in 1838, and soon assumed leadership of the Anglo-Indian colony, working on good-will projects.

After moving back to England in 1848, she embarked on a career in photography, focusing mainly on idealized portraits and allegorical and religious subjects.

Her attitude was that of a typical upper class ‘amateur,’ although she did accept payment for some portrait work, and sold some of her prints through print sellers in London.  Due to her high station, she was able to photograph many of the elite of British artistic and literary circles: Alfred, Lord Tennyson (her brother-in-law), Sir John Herschel, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Darwin, Alice Liddell (the Alice that inspired Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland), and many others.  Her force of personality made her a formidable photographer, capable of bullying anyone, however famous, into submission. Sitting for her could be quite an ordeal. Tennyson once brought Longfellow to her studio, warning him: “Longfellow, you will have to do whatever she tells you. I shall return soon and see what is left of you.”

It has been said that Julia Margaret Cameron was not the best of technicians. Some of her negatives show uneven coating of wet plate collodion, and above all, dust particles. Many images suffer from camera motion or ‘soft’ focus. Many of her prints are faded, due to uneven and/or non-archival processing. Nevertheless, Cameron had a tremendous capacity to visualize a picture, and her portraits show a measure of vitality, which the work of many others of the time did not. Her work represents a search for the ideal type and strong chiaroscuro effects in the treatment of form, a quality that she may have learned from her contemporaries in France, Nadar and Carjat.

Cameron's photographs passed largely into obscurity until twenty years after her death, when they were re-discovered by Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo Secessionists.  Her images were strongly influenced by the English Pre-Raphaelite painters, and nowhere more so than in her costume pieces illustrating religious, literary, poetic, and mythological themes.  Although equally romantic in conception, it is principally her portraits that have entered the canon of art photography.  Unique among contemporary portrait production, Cameron's photographs are notable for the extreme intimacy and psychological intensity of effect achieved by the use of extreme close-up, suppression of detail (sometimes accompanied by peripheral blurring), and dramatic lighting.  The Pictorialist-like effect of Cameron's work in fact was remarkably close in appearance and sensibility to the photography championed in Stieglitz's Camera Work, several decades later.  This certainly was a crucial factor in her rediscovery at the beginning of the 20th century.  Her attempts, and success, at psychological penetration - conveying the “inner spirit” (in her terms) - are recognized today as being decades ahead of their time.

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  • James F.

    Great time, and thanks to all the models. Very informative, looking forward to next meetup

    June 8, 2014

  • John H.

    A great start to the History of Photography Series. Thanks so much to Jessica June, Audrey, Ann, and Jaimie for modeling. And Isabella for doing double duty on both sides of the camera. And a thank you to Heather and Theresa and Kayleen for coming to provide HMUA. Looking forward to some unique photos from this shoot!

    1 · June 7, 2014

  • Tom

    Great time, interesting and informative!

    1 · June 7, 2014

  • Tom

    I'm considering this workshop as it seems very interesting. What lens length would be appropriate to recreate the effect?

    1 · May 31, 2014

    • John H.

      Tom, this one will be the start of a very unique series and is highly recommended. A standard or short telephoto is recommended. She was unique for her time on that she used long lenses for portraits. And the slower the lens, the better.

      May 31, 2014

  • Jameson S.

    I'm very interested in this one. Great topic for a workshop, John. I just have to wait until it gets closer to confirm I can make it. Saturdays are tough for me.

    1 · May 23, 2014

    • John H.

      Jameson, I think this one will be very special for many reasons. And it will be small and intimate, with just a few photographers. I'm looking forward to this one, thanks!!

      May 23, 2014

  • Theresa O.

    I would love to attend this as a MUA for you? I believe after looking at this post and some relevant photos online that my style of makeup application would be relevant here. May I ask how I sign up?

    1 · May 20, 2014

    • John H.

      You are signed up as of now and I will post your services on the Facebook page! Great to have you join us for this!!

      May 20, 2014

  • John H.

    The models for this shoot so far include Holly Lindgren, Jaimie Macari, possibly Marissa Lovely, Kaleighna Wheeler and Jessica Greene. We should know soon as the models confirm. Get excited for this one folks!

    May 19, 2014

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