I’d like to introduce you to Ms. Keene, posing as “The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty” for the lens of Julia Margaret Cameron in June of 1866. You can tell by its distinctive coloration that this an albumen print, in which the light sensitive chemistry is made into an emulsion using egg whites. The title comes from a Milton poem called L’Allegro, which celebrates the pleasures of life.
About Ms. Keene, very little is known. The photographer Julia Margaret Cameron was a British photographic pioneer who was given her first camera as a gift at the age of 48, and learned quickly that she was a natural talent. Although Cameron had no knowledge of the process and confessed that she ruined her first wet plate image by accidently rubbing her hand over its wet, filmy surface, she caught on quickly and came to view herself as a pro. Within her first two years, she sold over 80 prints to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Cameron would enlist friends, neighbors, relatives and even servants as models, dressing them in costumes as though she were producing a play. This image of Ms. Keene is a great example of that. As a connected member of society, she also photographed notables like Darwin and Tennyson, who said Cameron’s models were more like victims. Apparently, holding lengthy poses in her untidy studio was not the most
Even though the Victoria and Albert loved them, her photographs were not well received by everyone. Other photographers criticized her technique, calling her soft focus, blurry images lazy and improper. I’m guessing there may have been some sexism mixed into their reactions too.
At 149 years old, this photo feels very fresh to me. I can almost imagine this on the pages of a modern fashion magazine.
I’ve included links about Julia Margaret Cameron below. I encourage you to seek out and learn more about her pioneering photography work.
Credits and useful links:
Images courtesy of the J. Paul getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and National Gallery of Art
Getty Open Content Program (https://www.getty.edu/about/opencontent.html)
Tons of great resources (http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/j/julia-margaret-cameron)