Tuesday, 17 September 2013

True Colours

Dear Emily,

Summer is over rather abruptly today. The flip-flops were swapped for Converses, and a sigh as I set off on my bike for the rush-hour ride along the old railway-line to the Bookroom this morning.

I was thinking about your sister's book as I cycled along, and about how Mrs Cameraman is all pale and ghostly, until some things happen, and they breathe colour into her face.

I looked around me, at the beginnings of the autumnal sepias, as the damp leaves on the track began to turn brown. As it's so early in the season though Em, the contrast with the green hedgerows, with blackberries a-plenty, and the beautiful pinks and greens of the rushes- struck me as a photograph that's half-sepia and half in colour.

It's something I've been mulling over recently Em, from our point of view, looking back at history.

Our Julia Margaret Cameron for example- is an embodiment of this particular train of thought.

Here's a lady described as exhuberant, a force of nature, comic, with an 'extraordinary ability to enjoy herself and make others do the same'. Sociable, benevolent, romantic and above all- colouful Em.
Colourful in character, colourful in dress, and a lover of colour around her.

And yet, this lady in particular- makes us think in monochrome, and all too often too seriously...

By the fact that she left us with her voluminous works- all un-edited, and we splash around her images in a way that would make living photographers squirm. How many of their images did they throw away, for the one shot that worked? Yet Mrs Cameron's throw-outs are all up there on the web, on the wall- all her failures amongst her successes.

What is more Em, the serious gazes are there because the aperture took so long. The serious faces, the sepia tones, often give us a sense of her drama, but never what she was all about Em, never her 'colour!'

When you start to think of this lot in that way- it's a whole different view of the previously considered somewhat 'stuffy' Victorians.

Certainly this Bohemian crew. Edward Lear and his singing, and precious nonsense. Tennyson striding around the Down in his wideawake hat and cloak. The Thackeray girls, Tennyson's noisy boys, Ellen Terry et al- whooping, running around- holding dances on the Down. And our Julia, bustling about throwing Balls, photographing or rather 'arresting' beauty as she called it. Dodgson plotting Alices, Darwin pouring scorn on religion- you name it- it wasn't the quiet life!

  • So, lets try and imagine our Julia, from first of all a drawing that G.F.Watts did of her in 1852 when she was in her mid-thirties.

    He has made her look rather mournful I think. Also, she looks very much like her sister Sara, who Watts lived with along with her husband at Little Holland House at the time. Julia was not considered to be a beauty, though her sisters were renowned for theirs.

    I think a combination of the two photographs below, show us a bit more about who she was;

This one is Rejlander, and in her early fifties. Then, one by her son several years later...

Not a traditional beauty perhaps, but a strong and individual character for sure.

For fun Em, let's play with Julia, and draw her in monochrome;

A little bit 'Watts-esque', a bit mournful a touch wan.

Now, let's give her some colour- Daddy's favourite- Modigliani stylee!

That's better.

I think I would have rather liked our husky voiced, excitable, kind and generous Julia. Tennyson adored her, as did most that knew her (the exception was the fussy Mr Lear, who preferred things a little quieter- with the attention mostly upon himself.) As the White Queen in 'Through the Looking Glass' she is a dishevelled, absent-minded 'grotesque'. But, she's a little closer to the colourful character she clearly was, than her legacy allows us to imagine.

The rather vivid Mr Garibaldi, mistook a chemical stained shawl wrapped Mrs C for a beggar, as she flung herself at his feet, pleading for a photographic opportunity.

Not a monochromatic character Em, if ever there wasn't.

Bonne nuit ma petite,

Your ever-loving Grand-mere,

GiGi xxxx

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