Yesterday I took the train to Exeter to see an exhibition in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (ramm) to see an exhibition of early British photographs from the Royal Collection by Roger Fenton and Julia Margaret Cameron. Apart from being slightly disappointed by the number of photographs on show, particularly by Julia Margaret Cameron, I found the photographs quite fascinating.
Most of Roger Fenton’s pictures were commissions of Prince Albert, either of his and Queen Victoria’s family or their homes, i.e. Windsor or Balmoral Castles. It seems that the Queen and Prince Albert had an extensive collection of photographs and very different tastes; the Queen preferring portraits. After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria continued to collect and those by Julia Margaret Cameron were all purchased either through a dealer or from the artist herself. Cameron’s work on display was quite different form the pictures with which I am most familiar; mainly portraits of women and girls. This exhibition, and it seems Queen Victoria’s preference, consisted of photographs of prominent men; Henry Longfellow, Clinton Parry, brother of Thomas Gambier Parry and Hubert Parry and Thomas Carlyle for example.
I found the Carlyle photograph quite strange. As is often the case, the light both highlighted the face and put it partly into shadow but it seemed to me that this image was out of focus. I have since found a blog where the author thought this was a painting and I can see why. From what I have read, it is clear that Carlyle was one of Cameron’s heros and she considered him to be something of a rough diamond and I wonder if this was what she was trying to get across in this picture.
I have seen some of Julia Margaret Cameron’s original work before, at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire, her sister Virginia was the wife of the 3rd Earl and there is an exhibition of Cameron’s work in one of the small galleries.