Categories: Site-specific, Photo-based
This series was undertaken whilst on residency in 2011 at The Julia Margaret Cameron Trust after a period of learning the Wet Plate Collodion process and reviving its use at the museum (Dimbola - her former home and workplace on the Isle of Wight). The series revisits her studies of young women made between 1864-1874.
In works such as ‘Mary, Mother’ 1867, ‘A Study of the Cenci’ 1870, models posed as female figures from a range of narrative sources such as Greek mythology, Romantic poetry and the Bible. Research reading indicated that the social conditions and culture of the day were a time of women’s financial and legal dependence on their fathers and husbands and a high mortality rate for children. The tragic heroine, whose tale was often extreme even by today’s standards, held a great resonance with the Victorian woman. In an age heavily dependent on literature for stimulation and entertainment, these stories provided an outlet in the imagination from the protocols of behaviour and decorum in a time of conflicting female roles and identities. The subtleties of expression found in Cameron’s models would have carried codified signals of the emotions and thoughts experienced beneath.
Julia Margaret Cameron: ‘Mary Mother’, 1867, ‘A Study of the Cenci’, 1870, ‘The Dream’, 1869.
Albumen prints from wet plate collodion negatives.
Above: Julia's Ghosts: Anjelica, Kimberley, Tamsyn, Charlotte, Willow, Shona
Media: Wet Plate Collodion glass negatives (photographed as positives), 10 x 8", 2011
When envisaging Cameron coaxing her models into holding the poses and expressions of the figures in question (for example the narrative of Tennyson’s Enid wrongly accused of unfaithfulness and set a series of cruel tasks), we could presume this would have been reasonably tangible in the model’s mind. If working with the equivalent young women now, those stories would instead perhaps be located in a seemingly irrelevant past. The thought occurred that an interesting experiment could be had by using Cameron’s process of wet collodion, finding local young women for models, but responding instead to the narratives that fill their minds and inform their self image today.
Shooting in the light of the museums upstairs bay window (her former home), each model relaxed for the 3-4 hours required to produce 8 plates, watching their own selection of teen films and TV soaps on a DVD player. Every model was asked to wear a hooded sweatshirt to function as a reference to the contemporary. Rendered in the 'medium' of collodion - the images' smooth, silvery tones evanesce on the clear glass surface of each plate - the crumpled velours, zips and draw strings echo the drapes of Cameron’s Madonnas, Beatrices and Ophelias, drawing the eye through the span of time and back again to converse between the two.
Julia's Ghosts: Kimberley, Willow, Angelica
Media: Wet Plate Collodion glass negatives, 10 x 8" and artist's frames, 2011
Four of the plates had bespoke framing devised mixing contemporary and traditional styles. Rather than contact prints being made which in Cameron's time would have been Albumen prints, the plates were displayed as positive 'Ambrotypes' but with additional spacing behind, mounted in box frames with black velvet backing panels. Under these conditions the negatives appear as positives.
The four framed examples were exhibited at Hotshoe Gallery, London in 2011 and are now in the Photography Collection of the National Media Museum.