Soft Focus: Julia Margaret Cameron at the Met

Thomas Carlyle, 1867

Thomas Carlyle, 1867

A delightfully small photography exhibition up at the Met displays early photography from a woman who cut a decidedly aesthetic path. Julia Margaret Cameron began taking photographs in 1863, about a decade after the wet-plate collodion process had been introduced and in the midst of contemporary debate about whether photography could be a form of fine art akin to painting or sculpture. Cameron inscribed a print of the powerful portrait above: “Carlyle like a rough block of Michelangelo’s sculpture,” claiming an artistic lineage not popularly given to photography at the time. At the same time, the great virtue of photography–it’s presumed truthfulness–was eschewed by Cameron for an aesthetic of soft focus and artful composition.


Pomona, 1872

Seemingly a dauntless personality, Cameron’s led a rich and intrepid life as a women in Victorian England and was connected to many cultural figures–from her grandniece Virginia Woolfe to the PRB –who appear in her portraits. Pomona, above, is an allegorical scene modeled by Alice Liddell (as a little girl, Liddell was Lewis Caroll’s Alice for Alice in Wonderland). Allegorical scenes, elaborate tableaux, and soft focus portraits were as uncommon as a woman wielding a camera at the time, and regardless are well-worth seeing in their own right. Julia Margaret Cameron is up at the Met through January 5.


Circe, 1865


Fit the LAST

Something drastic has occured: I’ve suspended delivery of Confessions of an Opium Eater. I always finish books I start, even if it’s terrible. But I could suffer no longer, and went to DailyLit (a service that emails installments of a selection of books) and suspended it. You know what–I feel great. Light as a feather. Free.

Why do I feel a compulsion to finish? It’s gives a sense of completeness to my negative judgement, but why else? If it’s really terrible, why woudl I care about the end? It’s as if I had a duty to finish anything I pick up. If only that extended past my reading habits! It is much easier to quit a DailyLit subscription–they cater to a variety of tastes if you want to fit some literature in your workaday lives.

However, this is not quite Fit the Last. I’m still reading the Hunting of the Snark, which never ceases to bring a smile to my face. The beaver and butcher (or is it the bellman?) have become friends, and the company has discussed means of catching the Snark. Mostly the traditional ones, such as hunt it with a thimble and care and such stuff. Recently, the barrister had a dream, attempting to prove that lace-making would not help to find the Snark. The Snark took over the courtroom.

I would totally buy a Snark suffed animal. I wonder what it would look like. Would it make me vanish? No, that’s the Bojum. Now that’s a nasty beast.

Fit the Second: Styles and Times

Some authors are in step with their time; others seem to write worlds outside of it. One way is not inherently better than the other. However, in Carrol one greatly enjoys his departure from Victorianism in his childs poem. While I keep reading de Quincey, I am not enjoying the way he exercises the style of his era, using it as an excuse to tell the most dull details of his childhood as a wordy confession of–nothing!
Carrol’s musical nosense is so much more than Sussical. It’s really brilliant, topsy-turvy–fun–but with harmonious internal order that extends to the logically played-out rules of his world, even if the world he depicts is going snark hunting. In some ways, his language is very caught up in the Victorian culture of his day, but his subjects and the made up vocabulary he uses to match it are outside of what we typically think of as Victorian. The stories he tells are children’s stories, and his work can be seen as a method of escape. Despite the trappings of Victorianism, it’s hatboxes and tea ceremonys and mannerly insistence on order, Carrol uses fiction as an escape valve, with the joy of a child throwing his mother’s clothes on the floor and writing on the walls in red lipstick.
Thomas de Quincy can go shove it. I slogged through another installment, and like Sysphis have slight concerns I might have to repeat the effort tommorow all for naught. This long-winded autobiography should not be entitled “Confessions of an Opium Eater”–he does not confess. I wish he would. I am distinctly uninterseted in his excellent command of Greek and his views on the manners of bishops. However, if one wants insight into the typical style of Regency England, it’s quite appropriate. It’s all Jane Austen avoided in her social satire–de Quincy would have been a tiresome bore who fancied himself quite the revolutionary. In some way, his novel inspires me. I’m going to come up with a very sensational title, then write a weather report. Maybe posterity will keep getting tricked in to reading me.