Julia Margaret Cameron
Julia Margaret Cameron (English, 1815–1879) is known for painterly portraits of some of the most celebrated figures in Victorian England and for staged allegorical images drawn from poetry, the Bible, and other literary sources. She began photographing at the age of forty-eight, after being given a camera by her daughter and son-in-law. Reveling in the messy wet-collodion process, Cameron produced technically imperfect pictures that were acclaimed for their dramatic emotional effects. “I longed to arrest all beauty that came before me, and at length the longing has been satisfied,” she wrote in “Annals of My Glass House,” an autobiographical essay. Cameron exhibited during her lifetime, but her artistic reputation grew largely posthumously as she was championed by Alfred Stieglitz and his fellow Pictorialist photographers at the turn of the twentieth century and celebrated in a 1926 book, Victorian Photographs of Famous Men and Fair Women, which featured an introduction by her great-niece, Virginia Woolf.
By the time Hugh Edwards was named curator of photography, Cameron’s reputation as a key figure of nineteenth-century photography had thoroughly solidified. At the same time, American museums continued to pay scant attention to the first decades of photography, and Edwards’s interest in the period—evidenced by purchases of European and American exploration photography and Civil War albums, for example—presents an innovative exception. The curator acquired several of Cameron’s photographs across his tenure, including the 1893 album Lord Tennyson and His Friends in 1961 and an important group of portraits of her young niece Julia Jackson, one of Cameron’s favorite subjects who later became Woolf’s mother. Whereas Edwards often secured photographs from young photographers directly, for Cameron and other nineteenth-century photographers he relied on a small network of booksellers and antiquarians in Chicago, London, and Paris. Although he never mounted a solo show of her work (likely because of the scarcity of available prints), he did include her in the first exhibition he organized at the Art Institute in 1959, Masterpieces of Photography from the Museum’s Collection. That presentation, he wrote in its brochure, would “indicate what rich beginnings we have to inspire us to the building of a collection of those workers of the past and present whom Ansel Adams has so rightly named ‘poet photographers.’” In each of the prints, he continued, “will be found caught, spontaneously and forever, some gesture of the human spirit that could not have been captured by any other means.”
 Julia Margaret Cameron, “Annals of My Glass House,” Photo Beacon 2 (1890); reprinted in Beaumont Newhall, ed., Photography: Essays and Images (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1980), p. 135.
 Julia Margaret Cameron, Victorian Photographs of Famous Men and Fair Women, with introductions by Virginia Woolf and Roger Fry (Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1926).
 Edwards, Masterpieces of Photography from the Museum’s Collection, exh. brochure (Art Institute of Chicago, 1959).