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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.

Julia Margaret Cameron: Close Up is a new exhibition at Dimbola Museum and Galleries focussing on Julia’s astonishing close up portraits of great men. The selection was chosen by her son Henry for a volume of work he was compiling called Tennyson and his friends. 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. 14 years after her death, her son Henry Cameron published Tennyson and his Friends, which included several portraits taken by his mother. 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. In curating her work, Henry sheds light on the true power of Julia’s revolutionary close-up portrait, providing us with an insight into what makes a person exceptional. 

Henry was inspired to put together this pictorial biography 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.” 

Julia Margaret Cameron: Close Up captures the true essence of Julia’s portrait work and for that we owe Henry a debt of gratitude.  What perhaps is lost over time is just how original and startling these images were. The 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 – a wondrous legacy. 

Julia Margaret Cameron: Close Up also features two of Henry’s portraits, one of American poet and Virginia Woolf’s godfather,  James Russell Lowell, the other of the great actor Henry Irving. The exhibition will be shown alongside the rare volume of Tennyson and his Friends 1893 when Dimbola Museum and Galleries re-open.

CLOSE UP a short film by Julian Winslow
As Dimbola is currently closed due to the Covid19 Pandemic we commissioned photographer Julian Winslow to produce a short film about this exhibition so that we can continue to bring cultural events to you. Narrated by Gail Middleton, it illustrates Julia’s remarkable legacy and her role as the pioneer of the close up. To view this film please click here

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Thank you 

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


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