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Photograph - 'Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die!'
  • 'Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die!'
    Cameron, Julia Margaret, born 1815 - died 1879
  • Enlarge image

'Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die!'

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    Isle of Wight (photographed)

  • Date:

    1867 (photographed)
    after 1867 (printed)

  • Artist/Maker:

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

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carbon print from copy negative

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs Ida S. Perrin, 1939

  • Museum number:

    15-1939

  • Gallery location:

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

In late 1865, Julia Margaret Cameron began using a larger camera. It held a 15 x 12 inch glass negative, rather than the 12 x 10 inch negative of her first camera. Early the next year she wrote to Henry Cole with great enthusiasm – but little modesty – about the new turn she had taken in her work.

Cameron initiated a series of large-scale, closeup heads that fulfilled her photographic vision. She saw them as a rejection of ‘mere conventional topographic photography – map-making and skeleton rendering of feature and form’ in favour of a less precise but more emotionally penetrating form of portraiture. Cameron also continued to make narrative and allegorical tableaux, which were larger and bolder than her previous efforts.

In this image, Cameron concentrates upon the head of her maid Mary Hillier by using a darkened background and draping her in simple dark cloth. The lack of surrounding detail or context obscures references to narrative, identity or historical context. The flowing hair, lightly parted lips and exposed neck suggest sensuality. The title, taken from a line in the poem 'Lancelot and Elaine' from Alfred Tennyson's 'Idylls of the King', transforms the subject into a tragic heroine.

Physical description

Photograph of a woman (Mary Hiller) in profile with long flowing hair.

Place of Origin

Isle of Wight (photographed)

Date

1867 (photographed)
after 1867 (printed)

Artist/maker

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

Materials and Techniques

Carbon print from copy negative

Dimensions

Height: 35 cm image, Width: 26.7 cm image, Height: 404 mm green card, Width: 320 mm green card

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.

Descriptive line

Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'Call I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die' (sitter Mary Hillier), carbon print, 1867, printed later

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

no.132
Ahlund, Mikael (ed.), The Pre-Raphaelites Stockholm : Nationalmuseum, 2009
Cat. no. 257, p. 208
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 world0. London: MACK, 2015, p. 159.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
In this mystical, dramatically-charged portrait, Mary Ann Hillier, a parlourmaid in the Cameron household, represents Elaine, the tragic heroine of Arthurian legend. The title comes from Tennyson's poem 'Idylls of the King'. The pioneering photography of Julia Margaret Cameron reflects the Aesthetic idea of 'art for art's sake' , that is, beauty as the only real purpose of a work of art. [27/03/2003]

Materials

Photographic paper

Techniques

Carbon process

Subjects depicted

Tragedy; Portraits; Representation; Profiles (figures); Women

Categories

Photographs; Portraits

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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