Monday, 29 August 2011

Bite 140: Julia Margaret Cameron - The Echo, 1868

The Echo, 1868,  albumen print, 27 x 22.6 cm
“Photographs state the innocence, the vulnerability of lives heading towards their own destruction, and this link between photography and death haunts all photographs of people.”
                                                                                 - Susan Sontag, On Photography
Part of what draws us to Julia Margaret Cameron’s images is that, coupled with the exquisite melancholy of her figures and the originality of her technique, is the knowledge that none of their subjects could be alive today. 
Considering the relative youth of the invention of photography this is a fairly recent development, and in the inevitable death of their subjects the conceptual cycle of her images is completed. 
This combination of the theme of mortality along with that of the photographically unique that-has-been adds profound theoretical interest to a modern reading of Cameron’s images. One of Cameron’s most haunting portraits in this respect is The Echo, modelled by the tragic actress Ellen Terry. 
With her particularly piecing yet absent gaze, and pale skin she almost resembles a corpse, the title referencing Greek mythology and perhaps also the inherently reflexive nature of the photographic medium.