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The Dirty Monk

Close up portraits of great men by Julia Margaret Cameron curated by her son, Henry Herschel Hay Cameron and friends of Charles Dickens.

Dickens and His Friends is a refreshed exhibition focussing on the friends of Charles Dickens and photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron. The selection was chosen to complement the exhibition Technicolour Dickens: The living image of Dickens, also showing here at Dimbola. Printed in large format, these images demonstrate Julia’s genius for photographing genius.

During her lifetime trailblazing photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron produced over 900 images. The range of her work was diverse from Pre-Raphaelite inspired tableaus to portraits. The images, many taken in her converted hen house on the Isle of Wight, were of leading Victorian stars: Tennyson, Herschel, Darwin, Browning and Carlyle.

Originally these images formed part of an exhibition curated by Julia’s son, Henry Herschel Hay Cameron and features one of Henry’s portraits, actor Henry Irving.

This first exhibition was inspired by a letter written to his mother by F D Maurice, the founder of Christian socialism, in which he praised her photographs of Alfred Lord Tennyson, saying, “Had we such portraits of Shakespeare and Milton, we should know more of their own selves.”  Maurice had keenly seen the double-vision in Julia’s work, how she revealed not just a physical portrait but a spiritual narrative; a blended alchemy which provided insight into the subject’s very nature. Henry felt the truth of Maurice’s words and his edit of his mother’s work gives us an extraordinary insight into the singular and spiritual nature of Julia’s portraits.  Julia sought to arrest much more than a facsimile, she conjured from the shadows and light an illuminated ‘other dimension, elevating photography into fine art. This process is best described in Julia’s own words:

“When I have had these men before my camera my whole soul has endeavoured to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man: The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer.” 

Dickens and His Friends captures the true essence of Julia’s portrait work where its composition, intimacy, lighting, exposure and styling was simply unlike anything seen before. In addition, her subjects were great thinkers, scientists and artists, as a result we have a body of astonishing images of exceptional people who have shaped our civilisation – many of whom were not only Dickens’ contemporaries, but also his friends too.




This exhibition is supported by Natural Enterprise, The Solent LEP and HM Government


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