|Sir John Herschel, 1867, albumen print, 34.9 x 26.1 cm|
“I longed to arrest all beauty that came before me, and at length the longing has been satisfied.”
– Julia Margaret Cameron, The Annals of My Glass House, 1874
Sir John Herschel stares off, glassy eyed, to the right of the frame. What he is looking at is not important, instead it is clear that he is in a kind of meditation – “intently seeing beyond the immediate present” as Carol Hanbery MacKay puts it in her essay The Singular Double Vision of Julia Margaret Cameron.
His hair is wild under his set back beret indicating the mental action going on beneath the hat, which seems to be barely maintaining the activity within it. It is reported that Cameron washed and fluffed up his white hair before the shoot. For, “when I have had such men before my camera”, Cameron reports in her autobiographical fragment Annals of My Glass House from 1874, “my whole soul has endeavoured to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man.”
Cameron waited several years for the opportunity to photograph her old friend Herschel, who had introduced her to the photographic process as early as 1839 – the year the Daguerrean invention was first revealed to the public in Paris by Louis-Francois Arago.
Highly affected by Herschel’s character and intellect she successfully translates this impact in one of her most famous images, effectively harnessing the narrative power of hair and the eyes, emotive elements focused on in many of Cameron’s portraits.