Snapshot: ‘Sir John Herschel’ (1867)

Julia Margaret Cameron’s image of Sir John Herschel is one among a series of portraits she took of men ‘great thru’ genius’

This image of Sir John Herschel, an acclaimed mathematician, astronomer, chemist and experimental photographer, was taken in April 1867 by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) for a series of portraits she took of men “great thru’ genius”. Other subjects included the poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the philosopher Thomas Carlyle and the artist G F Watts.

Cameron’s photographic career began at the age of 48 when her daughter gave her a camera as a present. “From the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardour,” she later wrote, “and it has become to me as a living thing, with voice and memory and creative vigour”.

Although Cameron’s unconventional technique was criticised by some, it reflected her primary use of photography for “picture making”, transcending pure documentation. A vigorous promoter of her “art”, she saw her work acquired by the British Museum and what was to become the Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition Portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron, One of Photography’s Early Masters opens on August 19 at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and runs until January 5, 2014.

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