Julia Margaret Cameron’s ‘fancy subjects’

Photographic allegories of Victorian identity and empire

The Victorians admired Julia Margaret Cameron for her evocative photographic portraits of eminent men like Tennyson, Carlyle, and Darwin. But Cameron also made numerous photographs called ‘fancy subjects’ that depicted scenes from literature, personifications from classical mythology, and biblical parables from the Old and New Testament. Julia Margaret Cameron’s ‘fancy subjects’ is the first comprehensive study of these works, examining Cameron’s use of historical allegories and popular iconography to embed moral, intellectual, and political narratives in her photographs. A work of cultural history as much as art history, this book examines cartoons from Punch and line drawings from the Illustrated London News; cabinet photographs and Autotype prints; textiles and wall paper; book illustrations and engravings from period folios, all as a way to contextualize the allegorical subjects that Cameron represented, revealing connections between her ‘fancy subjects’ and popular debates about such topics as biblical interpretation, democratic government, national identity, and colonial expansion.

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‘Rosen has provided an astonishingly interdisciplinary, thoroughly researched study of Cameron's intellectual range and her technical and exhibitionary practices. He coordinates material and philosophical content discursively to raise intriguing ambiguities and to problematize common assumptions about Cameron. In doing so, Rosen reveals Cameron as a deeply intellectually engaged photographer whose works not only embodied but also shaped the philosophical cross-currents of her day.'
Julie Codell
History of Photography (Taylor & Francis)
December 2016

‘Rosen's well-illustrated study represents a valuable resource for scholars and critics alike, and I have already recommended it to my own students. In addition to its appeal to those working on Cameron and her contemporaries, the book contains rich material for those intrigued by the visual cultural history of the nineteenth century more generally.'
Lindsay Smith, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
Early Popular Visual Culture
August 2016

‘The overworked persona of Cameron—a cartoonish figure of Freshwater fame, eccentric, domineering, least-beautiful of the Pattle sisters, forever chasing down Tennyson and his guests with her camera, forcing her servants to participate in long sessions of posing so that the household had to live off eggs and bacon—is put firmly to the side in Jeff Rosen's painstaking, revelatory, and serious assessment of the allegorical photographs. What matters to Rosen, and, it turns out, to the photographs themselves, is history: the political exigencies of the ten-year span in which these images were made, and in which their maker intended them to make sense.'
Jennifer Green-Lewis of George Washington University
Journal of British Studies (Cambridge; Vol. 56, #1)
January 2017

‘Jeff Rosen offers a serious, revelatory assessment of Cameron's allegorical works by situating them within their historical and imperial context... the delight of the book lies in its exploration of the differing ways in which Cameron 'embedded photographs with complex narratives about British colonial history'.
Heather Bozant Witcher, Saint Louis University
British Society for Literature and Science

‘Much more than a standard history, Rosen's expansive text locates, quite forensically, what is perhaps one of the most important functions of Cameron's fancies for viewers today: to trace outward, from her immediate personal, literary, and visual communities, a nexus of contentious religious, colonial and nationalist debates that helped shape, not just Cameron and her work, but the Victorian psyche itself.'
Katherine Parhar, Independent Scholar
Visual Culture in Britain
January 2016

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