I went to the Julia Margaret Cameron exhibition in the NPG today. It was one of the rare occasions when I’d actually shelled out for an entrance fee. In this case I came out of the NPG rather resentful of the fact that I’d parted with my £6.
It wasn’t that the show wasn’t well constructed and presented – the NPG is great at all of that kind of thing, and Julia Margaret Cameron, 19th Century Photographer of Genius was no exception – but that I was disappointed by the photographs and the photographer. The easy line would be to say that I felt that I’d been misled by the posters, but that’s no justification – how hard is it to go to the NPG website and to find out a bit more about JMC, her life and work? But I’d not done that, and that’s what made me feel miffed, with myself.
So what was it about the exhibition that I didn’t like? I’d hoped for photos showing a spectrum of 19th century people and places, letting me have a glimpse into the real world as existed 150 years ago. Instead, what I got were twee staged compositions featuring family and friends posing in fancy dress tableaux (heh – the website blurb even says that now I look!) from classical tales and mythology, and the rather patronising photographs and comments taken in the later years of her life at the family tea plantations in Sri Lanka.
I know that I shouldn’t condemn Cameron for her attitudes, which are bound to be shaped and reflect attitudes of her era and her class, but they did serve to accentuate my disappointment that the exhibition wasn’t about what I’d thought it was going to be.
That’ll learn me (as my nan used to say).