Saturday, 27 August 2011

Bite 138: Julia Margaret Cameron - The Kiss of Peace, 1869

The Kiss of Peace, 1869,  albumen print,  34.3 x 27.7 cm
Julia Margaret Cameron's work can be seen as the first example in the history of art of a sustained photographic exploration of women by a woman. Nicole Cooley sees Cameron’s work as decidedly proto-feminist pointing out that “rather than portraying woman’s face as the object of the (male) gaze, Cameron invokes a secret, private world of women together, involved with one another.” Carol MacKay defines it as a “transpersonal” representation in which women represent both themselves and the concept of a higher “collective self.”

In the case of The Kiss of Peace she sees their gazes as providing “a sense of transpersonal dispersion.” Two girls are shown embracing, one laying her lips upon the forehead of the other. But in contradiction to the rather sentimental title she does not appear to be offering any sort of kiss, and the conveyance of the image is more one of melancholy than of a peaceful optimism. Together but alone the figures gaze, in traditional Cameron fashion, towards nothing, one looking up, the other down. 
In what MacKay refers to as “creative negativity” many of Cameron’s portraits, particularly those of women, convey a deep melancholy, a meditation on the plight and hardships of Victorian women. This psychological space, intimate and somewhat claustrophobic, can be seen as a reflection of Cameron’s own confined world, one in which inner creativity becomes a way of escaping imprisonment. 
Her exploration of the photographic medium is inextricably entwined with this transpersonal view of womanhood. The dichotomy of the divine and the human within her work is matched by the paradox of presenting both the personal – photographs of individual woman; and the transpersonal – woman depicted as allegories: metaphors for human (and often uniquely female) experiences.