JTF (just the facts): A total of 24 photographs, framed in brown wood and matted, and hung against grey walls in the entry, main gallery space and back viewing alcove. The prints are a mix of albumen prints from wet collodion negatives and carbon prints (with one photogram on a side wall), all made between 1858 and 1873. An in-depth scholarly catalogue of the show (Sun Pictures 20) is available from the gallery for $40. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: This ample show of Julia Margaret Cameron’s 19th century portraiture is almost certainly the best near term opportunity to see a large group of her photographs outside a major museum. Like a mini-retrospective, it covers her more standard portraits of sitters both known and unknown, as well as her more romanticized staged scenes, along with a couple of portraits of the artist herself and a surprising photogram of ferns. It’s a well-edited sampler, providing a comprehensive picture of what made her such a standout in 19th century photography.
While Cameron’s ethereal images of Shakespearean stories, Arthurian legends, and allegorical religious scenes are certainly representative of a particular kind of Victorian mind set, with surprising regularity, she was also able to make straight portraits that are jaw-droppingly, shockingly modern, even today some 150 years later. These are the kind of portraits that stare out from the walls with penetrating strength or shimmering grace, that jump out at you and grab your attention with a level of confrontation and confidence unusual for their times. They are tactile pictures to get lost in, where you stand astonished, making an eye to eye connection across time and space, life and death. Both Stella and A Beautiful Vision have this uncanny ability to throttle you from afar, to stop you in your tracks and emphatically require a deeper engagement.
So while there are plenty of bushy beards, formal suits, flowing hairstyles and lilting gauzy frocks on view here, watch out for the few portraits that go beyond the simply elegant, the soberly rich or the mythically uplifting to make a time warp jump to boldly look you in the eye and choke off your air supply.
Julia Margaret Cameron
Through November 18th
Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Fine Photographs
962 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10028