|Mary Mother, c. 1866, albumen print, 34.9 x 27.1 cm|
It is said that all photographs are in a way self-portraits and there is certainly an element of the autobiographical within Cameron’s oeuvre, a product perhaps of her status as (technically) an ‘amateur’ photographer in the sense that she was not bound by commercial interests or economic necessity.
An example of this self-referentiality can be seen in Mary Mother. Pensively, she gazes absently out of the frame, the only indication of the role being played the robes around her neck and over her head; a substitute for the untamed hair in other Cameron images.
We know without explanation that this is Mother Mary following Christ’s death. She is a woman in grief, sacred while at the same time individually human.
Modelled by Mary Hillier, a housemaid to Cameron and her favourite and most frequent model, (depicted separately as both the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene), Cameron explains, “In every manner of form has her face been reproduced, yet never has it been felt that the grace of the fashion of it has perished.”
In this image Hillier can actually be seen as a stand in for Cameron, who herself lost a child. The tenderness of the image betrays a deep understand of the suffering depicted.