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Dèjatch Alámayou & Básha Félika / King Theodore's Son & Captain Speedy

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    Isle of Wight (photographed)

  • Date:

    July 1868 (photographed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Cameron, Julia Margaret, born 1815 - died 1879 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative

  • Credit Line:

    The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A, acquired with the generous assistance of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund

  • Museum number:

    RPS.699-2017

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case XRP, shelf 87

When Julia Margaret Cameron photographed her intellectual heroes such as Alfred Tennyson, John Herschel and HenryTaylor, her aim was to record ‘the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man.’ Another motive was to earn money from prints of the photographs, since her family’s finances were precarious. Within her first year as a photographer she began exhibiting and selling through the London gallery Colnaghi’s. She used autographs to increase the value of some portraits.

Prince Dèjatch Alamayou was the son of an Ethiopian emperor who committed suicide rather than surrender to the British in 1868. Captain Speedy brought the Prince to England and the orphan prince came to live on the Isle of Wight, where Queen Victoria took a particular interest in him, paying for his education and allowing him to be buried at Windsor Castle when he died of pleurisy aged eighteen.

Cameron took this photograph of Alámayou during one of his visits to Queen Victoria at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, in 1868. Probably responding to public interest in the orphan African prince, Cameron has presented her subject as a melancholy and romantic figure. The photograph was initially printed in large format but was reproduced in the form of cabinet cards and cartes de visite.

Physical description

Photograph of a seven-year-old boy (Prince Alámayou), seated, wearing a white shirt and necklace with large pear-shaped pendants. A shield has been positioned in front of him and held by a dark-skinned seated man. He sits on the lap of a bearded man shown in profile.

Place of Origin

Isle of Wight (photographed)

Date

July 1868 (photographed)

Artist/maker

Cameron, Julia Margaret, born 1815 - died 1879 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative

Dimensions

Height: 494 mm mount, Width: 410 mm mount

Object history note

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–79) was one of the most important and innovative photographers of the 19th century. Her photographs were rule-breaking: purposely out of focus, and often including scratches, smudges and other traces of the artist’s process. Best known for her powerful portraits, she also posed her sitters – friends, family and servants – as characters from biblical, historical or allegorical stories.

Born in Calcutta on 11 June 1815, the fourth of seven sisters, her father was an East India Company official and her mother descended from French aristocracy. Educated mainly in France, Cameron returned to India in 1834.

In 1842, the British astronomer Sir John Herschel (1792 – 1871) introduced Cameron to photography, sending her examples of the new invention. They had met in 1836 while Cameron was convalescing from an illness in the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. He remained a life-long friend and correspondent on technical photographic matters. That same year she met Charles Hay Cameron (1795–1880), 20 years her senior, a reformer of Indian law and education. They married in Calcutta in 1838 and she became a prominent hostess in colonial society. A decade later, the Camerons moved to England. By then they had four children; two more were born in England. Several of Cameron’s sisters were already living there, and had established literary, artistic and social connections. The Camerons eventually settled in Freshwater, on the Isle of Wight.

At the age of 48 Cameron received a camera as a gift from her daughter and son-in-law. It was accompanied by the words, ‘It may amuse you, Mother, to try to photograph during your solitude at Freshwater.’ Cameron had compiled albums and even printed photographs before, but her work as a photographer now began in earnest.

The Camerons lived at Freshwater until 1875, when they moved to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where Charles Cameron had purchased coffee and rubber plantations, managed under difficult agricultural and financial conditions by three of their sons. Cameron continued her photographic practice at her new home yet her output decreased significantly and only a small body of photographs from this time remains. After moving to Ceylon the Camerons made only one more visit to England in May 1878. Julia Margaret Cameron died after a brief illness in Ceylon in 1879.

Cameron’s relationship with the Victoria and Albert Museum dates to the earliest years of her photographic career. The first museum exhibition of Cameron's work was held in 1865 at the South Kensington Museum, London (now the V&A). The South Kensington Museum was not only the sole museum to exhibit Cameron’s work in her lifetime, but also the institution that collected her photographs most extensively in her day. In 1868 the Museum gave Cameron the use of two rooms as a portrait studio, perhaps qualifying her as its first artist-in-residence. Today the V&A’s Cameron collection includes photographs acquired directly from the artist, collected later from various sources and letters from Cameron to Sir Henry Cole (1808–82), the Museum’s founding director and an early supporter of photography.

This photograph is part of the Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A which also includes fragments of Cameron's original autobiographical manuscript for Annals of My Glass House.

Descriptive line

Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'Dèjatch Alámayou & Básha Félika / King Theodore's Son & Captain Speedy', albumen print, 1868

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Cat. no. 1114, p. 455.
Cox, Julian and Colin Ford, with contributions by Joanne Lukitsh and Philippa Wright. Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs. London: Thames & Hudson, in association with The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and The National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford, 2003. ISBN: 0-500-54265-1

Materials

Photographic paper

Techniques

Albumen process; Photography

Subjects depicted

Shields; Princes; Portraits

Categories

African Diaspora; Black History; Portraits; Photographs; The Royal Photographic Society; RPS Digitisation Project

Collection

Royal Photographic Society Collection

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