Eavesdropping, Essay Example
Not too long ago, I decided to pay a visit to my favorite cafe for a late afternoon cup of steaming hot coffee. The cafe was empty of customers which I thought was rather strange because of its popularity, but within a few minutes, the front door opened up and in walked three individuals that I recognized almost immediately, due to a lifelong interest in early photography and photographers–Julia Margaret Cameron, Henry Peach Robinson, and Timothy O’Sullivan. These three early giants of the art of photography then sat down at a nearby table, ordered some tea, and began talking amongst themselves on their favorite topic, being of course photography.
At first, I could not make out much of what they were saying, so I moved to another table close to them and listened in on their conversation. Miss Cameron, born in British India in 1815, was the first to speak up to her fellow photographers at the table. She related that while living on the Isle of Wight off the coast of England in 1860 that she came into close contact with “visionary artists like Lewis Carroll, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Alfred Lord Tennyson” (Marsh, “Julia Margaret Cameron”), all of whom influenced her photographic career by encouraging her to pursue artistic excellence despite being a woman in a male dominated field in the mid 1800’s.
“I see myself,” said Miss Cameron, “as a mirror reflection of the great injustices done to women over the last one thousand years through the power of a patriarchal society” (Marsh, “Julia Margaret Cameron”). “I also feel that my personality,” added Miss Cameron after taking a sip of her tea, “resonates in the somber gaze of my Hypatia, the great ancient Greek scientist and physician that was killed by a Christian mob for attempting to insert herself in the male-dominated realm of science and medicine” (Marsh, “Julia Margaret Cameron”).
Miss Cameron then smiled and looked at Henry Peach Robinson who firmly believed that photography must follow the artistic rules of composition created for the canvas (Marsh, “Julia Margaret Cameron”), a reference to the artistic styles and principles of Western painting. Since Mr. Robinson was a great influence upon Miss Cameron as a photographer, she felt that she could express her deepest artistic desires to him, and when he smiled back at her, Miss Cameron said,
“My photographs often show women in sharp contrast to objectified female images previously represented in photography. All of my women subjects emanate purity through lighting, and the fact that many of my figures appear out of focus suggests the emancipation of women from a rigidly discounted identity” (Marsh, “Julia Margaret Cameron”).
It was then Mr. Robinson’s turn to discuss his own photographic career. Of course, Miss Cameron was all ears. Henry Peach Robinson, born in 1830 in Ludlow, Shropshire, England, has long been recognized as a pictorialist photographer, making him “one of the most influential photographers of the second half of the 19th century” (“Henry Peach Robinson”). Mr. Robinson told Miss Cameron and Timothy O’Sullivan who was also seated at the table, that “I have longed to create photographs that imitate the themes and compositions of anecdotal genre paintings” that were popular in Europe some three hundred years ago during the so-called Age of Enlightenment. “One of my best examples,” added Robinson, “is my Juliet with the Poison Bottle (1857), my earliest-known work that was created by combining separate negatives into a composite picture,” a process often referred to as combination printing. Robinson then added that “Although I sometimes use natural settings, I prefer to imitate the out-of-doors inside my studio with the help of costumed actors or society ladies serving as models for my many bucolic scenes” (“Henry Peach Robinson”).
“Another of my examples,” continued Mr. Robinson, “is called Fading Away which was printed from five different negatives. This work depicts the peaceful death of a young girl surrounded by her grieving family, and although the photograph is a product of my own imagination, many people felt that such a scene was too painful to be tastefully rendered by such a literal medium as photography.” However,” added Robinson with a smile, “This controversy made me the most famous photographer in England and the leader of the Pictorialist movement that advocates achieving painterly effects in photography” (“Henry Peach Robinson”).
Then, Timothy O’Sullivan made some astounding comments about his own work as a photographer. Born in Ireland, O’ Sullivan emigrated with his parents to New York City during the Irish potato famine of the early 1840’s and began his photographic career under the apprenticeship of none other than Mathew Brady, most famous for his photographs of the American Civil War (“Timothy O’Sullivan: A Portrait”).
“I must admit,” said O’Sullivan, “that I do not possess a personal style. That would have been contrary to the purpose for which I originally took my photographs, meaning that they were meant to be sold.” O’Sullivan then added, “I have always believed that the meaning and reality of a subject is dependent upon the perspectives from which it is viewed. Therefore, my subjects ring with truth and accuracy through the use of perspectives, both visual and conceptual” (“Timothy O’Sullivan: A Portrait”).
This fascinating conversation between Cameron, Robinson, and O’Sullivan continued late into the evening, but because I had other responsibilities to tend to, I left the cafe amid dark rain clouds overhead and headed home, knowing that my knowledge on photography had just been greatly expanded.
“Henry Peach Robinson.” Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2012. Web. 7 Jul. 2012.
Marsh, Katherine. “Julia Margaret Cameron.” Camelot Project at the University of Rochester. 2012. Web. 7 July 2012.
“Timothy O’Sullivan: A Portrait.” The University of Virginia Online. 2012. Web. 7 July 2012.
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