Julia Margaret Pattle was born in British India, on June 11, 1815, the daughter of an official in the Bengal Civil Service and a descendant of the French aristocracy. After her early years she received an education in France and England, returning to India in 1834. Four years later, in 1838, she married Charles Hay Cameron, twenty years her senior. In 1848, after Charles retired, he and Julia returned to England where they raised five children, adding a sixth in 1857 when they adopted Mary Ryan. Through Julia’s sister, Sarah Prinsep, the new arrivals cultivated a wide circle of elite, intellectual friends. It is this company of friends, family, and servants that Cameron used as models for her “tableux vivants”.
Cameron’s practice of photography began relatively late in her life, at age forty-eight, when her daughter gave her a sliding wooden box camera. Her “very first success in photography” came in January 1864, with a portrait of Annie, daughter of a neighbor.
Cameron used the wet collodion process, making prints with albumen printing-out paper, and worked with large negatives in order to avoid having to enlarge. In 1864 she began to register her work at the British Copyright Office, became a member of the Photographic Society of London and of Scotland, and prepared photographs for exhibition and sale through the London print dealers P. and D. Colnaghi. Most of her work was made between 1864 and 1875, before she left for family coffee plantations in Ceylon.
From the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardour,” she wrote, “and it has become to me as a living thing, with voice and memory and creative vigour.” Condemned by some contemporaries for sloppy craftsmanship, she purposely avoided the perfect resolution and minute detail that glass negatives permitted, opting instead for carefully directed light, soft focus, and long exposures that allowed the sitters’ slight movement to register in her pictures, instilling them with an uncommon sense of breath and life. FROM http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2013/julia-margaret-cameron