Julia M. Cameron--The Complete Photographs

by Alex Novak


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There has been a cornucopia of photography research book riches lately. First we had the over 20-pound, two-volume Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set, then the new books on Le Gray and the Mission Heliographique. And now Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs--a monster research project that has been in the works for years, which has just been published by the J. Paul Getty Museum in association with the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford, England.

Written and researched by Julian Cox and Colin Ford with contributions by Joanne Lukitsh and Philippa Wright, this 560-page catalogue raisonné is a must for any collector, curator or lover of the art of photography. Many of the images, including 1,222 by Cameron herself, have never been published anywhere before and the research and accompanying text adds much to our understanding of one of the artistic giants of early photography.

The seed for the book began over 25 years earlier with Ford's early research and the germ of an idea. In 1995 while visiting the Getty during the preparation of a Cameron exhibit and another book on her work by Cox, Ford managed to infect Cox with his mad virus. The two joined forces and convinced their respective institutions to provide the resources for this important but certainly daunting project.

As with any such project, so much of the emphasis is on the pictures themselves. Well printed and thoroughly documented, the book's photographs will provide rich fodder for researchers, curators and collectors for years to come.

But please don't give short shrift to the accompanying articles, which are well researched and entertainingly written by the four authors. While all four are excellent writers and their articles are very good reads, I particularly liked Cox's go-for-the-jugular style. He portrays Cameron not only as a formidable woman, which by all accounts she certainly was, but also as "a woman of unexpected contradictions." The directness of Cox's prose left me craving for the next sentence, the next paragraph and so on. This is a good book indeed.

Even the sidebars and appendixes were interesting and useful. For instance, I found to my own chagrin that Cameron's carbon prints were indeed made from the original negatives (into positive transparencies) under her direction, and not after she died from copies of her prints, as I had always heard. She, in fact, had a major dispute with Autotype Company, which made her carbon prints. This is well documented under Appendix B "Inscriptions, Stamps, and the Business of Photography."

As you may realize by now, I am very enthusiastic about this book and can recommend it hardily, even at the $150 asking price.

Novak has over 42 years experience in the photography-collecting arena. He is a long-time member and formally board member of the Daguerreian Society, and, when it was still functioning, he was a member of the American Historical Photographic Society. He organized the 2016 19th-century Photography Show and Conference for the Daguerreian Society. He is also a long-time member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers. Novak has been a member of the board of the nonprofit Photo Review, which publishes both the Photo Review and the Photograph Collector, and is currently on the Photo Review's advisory board. He was a founding member of the Getty Museum Photography Council. He is author of French 19th-Century Master Photographers: Life into Art.

Novak has had photography articles and columns published in several newspapers, the American Photographic Historical Society newsletter, the Photograph Collector and the Daguerreian Society newsletter. He writes and publishes the E-Photo Newsletter, the largest circulation newsletter in the field. Novak is also president and owner of Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, a private photography dealer, which sells by appointment and at exhibit shows, such as AIPAD New York and Miami, Art Chicago, Classic Photography LA, Photo LA, Paris Photo, The 19th-century Photography Show, etc.