Julia Margaret Cameron and the Contemporary Madonna and Child ;)

Julia Margaret Cameron, Infant Samuel, 1865. Albumen print, 24.7 x 20 centimeters.

Polly Nance, Lennon Cameron, 2011. Digital image, 5 x 7 inches.

Julia Margaret Cameron is another photographer I was drawn to particularly because of her ability to construct a sense of spirituality and purity within her photographs.  Inspired by literature, Cameron composed her photographs of children for the purpose of creating studies for her actual compositions.[1]  The Infant Samuel depicts a young boy in prayer and looking off into the distance.  Cameron’s soft lighting upon her black and white photographs is the element I paid most attention to while trying to mimic her style in my photograph, Lennon Cameron.  I dressed Lennon in this gown my mother dressed me in when I was a baby and I chose to closely crop the photograph so that the focus would be upon her sucking on her thumb with her head tilted downwards.

Käsebier, The Manger, 1902.

Morisot, The Cradle, 1872.

I was unsatisfied with this composition so I attempted a photo shoot with my friend Josh as my sitter.  For this photograph, I purposefully selected a homosexual male (and good friend) to pose with Lennon, because I believe he will be a fabulous father one day (if he wants to be a father 😉 ).  I made Josh dress in pseudo drag with a blonde wig and sat in my bathtub with Lennon.  Hanging from above and draping over the two of them, is my wedding veil.  I decided to use this prop because I thought it would add an allegorical allusion to what Kasebier was attempting to achieve in her photograph The Manger, a reconstruction of Morisot’s The Cradle.  I also wanted to still allude to Cameron’s use of soft lighting and I thought the veil would construct the perfect atmosphere within my photographs.  While Morisot’s painting refers to the death of an infant, my photograph is meant to represent the death of a stereotype.[2]

Julia Margaret Cameron, The Communion, 1870. Albumen print, 32.7 x 27.2 centimeters.

Polly Hoyt, Madonna in Drag and Child, 2011. Digital image, 5 x 7 inches.

Additionally, Cameron positioned white flowers within her composition to frame and separate her figures, alluding to their purity, as she demonstrates in her photograph, The Communion.[3]  Josh and Lennon, together, photographically represent a juxtaposition of Cameron and Kasebier’s works as they represent the religious and iconographic image of a mother and child.  This photo shoot was somewhat unsuccessful but I managed to capture a few tender moments in the photographs Madonna Drag and Child and Death of Allegorical Stereotypes.  I feel as if these photographs pronounce a sense of spirituality and purity, while appropriating this iconographic imagery into an updated context for contemporary and non-religious purposes.

Polly Nance, Death of Allegorical Stereotypes, 2011. Digital Image, 5 x 7 inches.


[1]In Focus: Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum, edited by Naef, Weston (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996): 38.

[2]Class notes.

[3]Weston Naef, In Focus, 84.

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