Almost ten years ago in 2007 Howard Greenberg published An American Gallery to celebrate his 25th year in photography. In it he showed 25 photographs drawn from his collection. Howard is a tremendous gallery owner and a really nice person! This book is a marvel and Howard’s comments, which accompany the pictures, reveal his great passion for photography. Every two weeks for the next year we will serialise the book. Today, this is Devotion (c.1865) by Julia Margaret Cameron.
“I always had it in the back of my mind to get a really good Julia Margaret Cameron for my collection, but I never seemed to be able to find the right one at the right moment – I couldn’t find one that really talked to me.
It’s hard not to admire Cameron. Her accomplishments are unique among nineteenth century photographers, particularly the way in which she brought her personal relationships into portraiture. Her work evokes a time and place which are foreign to me, providing entree into this strange Victorian world of the privileged class.
My other hesitancy in getting a Cameron was that all Camerons are not created equal. There are issues with print quality – they are often faded and her negatives were in bad shape so there are all kinds of defects within the print- and I didn’t want a photograph of an old man with a beard. I really wanted a portrait of one of Cameron”s women.
One day I was at a colleague’s gallery and I saw this picture. I was taken with it right away. It was masterfully done with a rich tonality and a finish that passed my test of photographic quality, and, it talked to me. What was the difference at that moment? Well, it was because I had young children. It was perfect, because I had finally found a Cameron I could relate to personally.
The baby in the picture is the main event. The mother is transparent, a spirit figure hovering for protection like an angel over the sleeping child. It is very sweet and mysterious, and given Cameron’s well, known quest to spiritualize photography, appropriately otherworldly. The picture has a kind of sentimental presence about it, one that coincided very much with what I was feeling at the time.
Kids are a great motivator to do a lot of things, including collecting, and for a while I was on a bent about getting kid–related pictures that I could put up on their walls. I thought they might get something out of it, but they were too young and didn’t react in any way that I had hoped for. Was it a silly idea? Perhaps. But then again, why not?”