The Passing of King Arthur.
Albumen print from glass-plate negative, 13¾ x 10¾ in.
The greatest of Victorian photographers and arguably of all nineteenth-century photo-portraitists, Julia Margaret Cameron is a model to women professionals. Given a camera at age forty-eight, she dedicated herself to mastering the taxing wet collodion process in order to portray the “Great men and Fair women” she felt privileged to know. Among them was Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who invited her to illustrate his 1874 edition of Idylls of the King. Cameron made two dozen prints from a purported 245 negatives, using a short focal-length lens to achieve her signature selective focus, a photographic evocation of Old Master painterliness. Her goal was “to ennoble photography and to secure for it the character and uses of High art by combining the real and ideal and sacrificing nothing of Truth by all possible devotion to Poetry and beauty.” Did she do all that? In retrospect—perhaps!Her sitter for Camelot’s betrayed, doomed monarch was William Warder, a porter at dockside near Freshwater, the Camerons’ Isle of Wight home. This print is the oldest and dearest in my modest collection of photographs by women.