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Spear or Spare

  • 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 a collodion glass negative

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs Ida S. Perrin, 1939

  • Museum number:

    19-1939

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, shelf X, box 311G

When Julia Margaret Cameron photographed her intellectual heroes such as Alfred Tennyson, Sir John Herschel and Henry Taylor, 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.

With this photograph, Cameron was probably hoping to capitalise on public interest in the Abyssinian Expedition, a conflict in what is now Ethiopia. Captain Speedy, the man with the spear, was a British army officer and guardian of young Prince Dèjatch Aláyamou, whose attendant is seen here. A newspaper advertisement promoted the picture as including ‘Abyssinian trophies’.

Physical description

Photograph of man (Captain Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy) in Abyssinian dress holding a spear over a black man (Casa /Déjatch Alámayou's attendant) who holds a shield.

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 a collodion glass negative

Marks and inscriptions

Below image, on left handwritten: 'From life Registered Photograph', on right: 'Julia Margaret Cameron'. Beneath that, in pencil, 'Spear or Spare' and, below that, 'Báshá Félíka / Captn. Speedy'.
possibly includes signature by Captain Speedy

Dimensions

Height: 31.2 cm, Width: 25 cm

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, others collected later from various sources, and five letters from Cameron to Sir Henry Cole (1808–82), the Museum’s founding director and an early supporter of photography.

Public interest in the 1868 Abyssinian (Ethiopian) expedition by British forces extended to individuals associated with the conflict on both sides. In particular, the figures of the orphaned Abyssinian prince Alámayou and his striking guardian, the six foot five, flame-haired and bearded Captain Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy, caught the public imagination.

A number of objects formerly in the collection of Captain Speedy were donated to the V&A by his goddaughter Mrs Ida S. Perrin (who also donated this photograph) in 1936 and are now in the Metalwork collection (M.440-1936 to M.445-1936).

Descriptive line

Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'Spear or Spare' (sitters Captain Speedy/Báshá Félika, Casa/Dèjatch Alámayou's attendant), albumen print, 1868

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

Photograph featured in V&A web theme 'Treasures from Ethiopia' [http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/periods_styles/hiddenhistories/ethiopia_treasures/index.html]
Cat. no. 1115, p. 454
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
Weiss, Marta. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world. London: MACK, 2015, p.113.

Labels and date

Julia Margaret Cameron
Victoria and Albert Museum

Spear or Spare

1868

With this photograph, Cameron was probably hoping to capitalise on public interest in the Abyssinian Expedition, a conflict in what is now Ethiopia. Captain Speedy, the man with the spear, was a British army officer and guardian of young Prince Dèjatch Alámayou, whose attendant is seen here. A newspaper advertisement promoted the picture as including ‘Abyssinian trophies’.

Given by Mrs Ida S. Perrin, 1939
V&A: 19-1939 [28 November 2015 - 21 February 2016]

Materials

Photographic paper

Techniques

Albumen process

Subjects depicted

Spear; Shield; Armour

Categories

Photographs; Arms & Armour; Black History

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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