At Jeu de Paume, British photographers are the stars

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Julia Jackson, 1867, BNF, she is the future mother (in 1882)  of Virginia Woolf

Two very different British photographers are exhibited at Musée du Jeu de Paume: 19 th century portraitist Julia Margaret Cameron who is a great example of a later bloomer in life (she became a photographer at 48 after having had 6 children) and conceptual artist Victor Burgin (b.1941), who shows fifty years of work, including phototextuals and videos. The title of the show “ça” comes from Roland Barthes’ “La Chambre Claire”. There are no cartels and no explanations and the visitor is invited to interpret the works as he wishes. I have to admit I felt more comfortable with the way Cameron uses her camera to tell stories. She was born in 1815 in Calcutta, the fourth of seven girls,  from a French mother and a senior officer in the East India Company.

“The Whisper of the Muse”, 1865, The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A

This is the largest retrospective of Julia Margaret Cameron in France in forty years and it is largely thanks to the loans from the V&A in London who was represented at the opening by Lisa Springer and Duncan Forbes, its director of photography. Characterized by her close ups of characters and her “soft focus” shots, Cameron delivers a uniquely romantic style which will produce more than a thousand photographs over a 12 year period. She is influenced by religion, when she repeatedly photographs her cleaning lady, Mary Hillier, as a Madonna. But literature (Shakespeare, Tennyson) also inspires her as well as Italian Renaissance painters when she photographs a “Sibyl after the manner of Michelangelo”. Her niece Julia Jackson is one of her favorite models: she will become the mother of Virginia Woolf born in 1882, which explains the similarity of both women in the portraits.

Quentin Bajac, director of Jeu de Paume with Lisa Springer curator of photography at the V&A

She also photographs pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt, the scientist Charles Darwin, the poet Alfred Tennyson and painter George Frederic Watts, whom she met at her sister Sara Prinsep‘s salon. At first, when she lived on the Isle of Wight, she enlisted friends and family members to pose in front of her camera in her tiny studio. There she shot the son of King Theodore of Ethiopia with Captain Speedy who had saved him and brought him to the Isle of Wight when his father committed suicide rather than surrender to the British army in 1868. She, from the start, sold her portraits in order to make money to support the family. Her husband had retired and their only means of support came from their plantations in Ceylan.

St Agnes, 1864, The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A

In 1865, she exhibits with Colnaghi in London and sells 80 photographs to the Kensington Museum (now the V&A), gives some to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and to Victor Hugo. When she returns to Ceylan in 1875, she makes a few portraits of workers from the family’s rubber and coffee plantation. She will die there in 1879.

Victor Burgin, “Office at Night”, 1985-1986

Julia Margaret Cameron and Victor Burgin until 28 January at Musée du Jeu de Paume.

From 14 to 26 November, Ben Rivers films will also be shown. Next Year, Musée du Jeu de Paume will celebrate its 20 th anniversary during which time, Jaeger-LeCoultre has been their main sponsor.

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2 Comments on “At Jeu de Paume, British photographers are the stars”

  1. JMC is a wondrous photographer, bridging pre-Raphaelite sentimentality and “new technology”. Bravo!
    Woolf wrote a comedy called Freshwater about her aunt and the artistic circle around her. Worth reading!

  2. Thank you for this! I’ve long loved JMC, and was delighted to the work ‘in person’. What was surprising was that although she’s a ‘romantic’, the expressions on the faces of her woman models are extremely contemporary: penetrating, melancholy, fierce in their way…

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