Friday, 26 August 2011

Bite 137: Julia Margaret Cameron - Iago, Study from an Italian, 1867

Iago, Study from an Italian, 1867, Albumen print
Portraying a man with tenderness and compassion as opposed to lifting him up as a 'Man of Genius', Iago, Study from an Italian is an image unique within Julia Margaret Cameron’s work.

Strongly resembling Domenico Fetti’s painting of Christ with lowered eye, it is possible that Cameron avoided profanity by labelling it instead as the betrayer – more a Judas than a Christ – from Shakespeare’s Othello. But the image of Christ is nonetheless visible, albeit a gloomy or even sinister depiction of the Ecce Homo. As Mike Weaver asks, “Could we not have here a preposterous and beautiful attempt to depict Christ?”
Front-on and close-up, the role, modelled by Angelo Colarossi (probably the only paid professional model Cameron ever used), is portrayed with no props and only the hint of a dark robe. The long, wild hair frames the face along with a strong jaw showing several days of stubble. Even without showing the eyes Cameron again utilises the gaze, dark pits indicating an emotional intensity behind a stalwart exterior. 
The power in the portrait is more in what it withholds from the viewer than in what it gives away, which is decidedly very little. Yet the unmistakable feeling is one of suffering, deep sorrow and concentration. Somewhere between Christ and Judas, strong and fearful, alive and dead, this could perhaps be the most ambiguous image within a photographic project largely defined by ambiguity.