Please note these posts below might be updated from time to time
You might need a whole day @ the V&A if you want to visit these three exhibitions, and you could also include the Shoes: Pleasure and Pain (ends 31 Jan 2016).
Lady Elcho as the Cumaean Sibyl
Julia Margaret Cameron, 1865
(c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Julia Margaret Cameron (ends 21 Feb 2016)
The first thing you learn on a photography portrait course is “beware of profiles” “don’t do profiles” “leave profiles alone”. Unless you use Photoshop, profile is indeed an acrobatic stunt that can ruin you portrait series. Unless someone’s profile is full of character... which is quite rare! Viewing a single profile portrait can simply be a mentally boring exercise to survive to.
In 1986, Herb Ritts dared shoot Madonna on that particular angle, who admittedly has a pretty ugly profile, mixing textures to spice up his angular exercise: skin versus leather; rounded shoulders versus wavy platinum hair versus a speckled wall. In 1992, Jill Furmanovsky won first prize when she entered the Observer’s Jane Bown Portrait award with her picture of Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts “half face”. Jane Bown herself might have been a master of the subject as she got her first Observer’s commission photographing a portrait of Nobel Prize in Literature Bertrand Russell in 1949. Over two decades later, she cleverly portrayed Dennis Hopper whose face reflected his profile on a mirror.
In 1863, Julia Margaret Cameron’s daughter said: “It may amuse you, Mother, to try to photograph during your solitude at Freshwater”. Mrs Cameron had lived on the Island of Wight for three years and was offered a camera as a present for her birthday by her daughter and son-in-law. At 48, she was a beginner in photography but on 31 December 1864, she declared: “My aspirations are to ennoble Photography and to secure for it the character and use High Art by combining the real and ideal and sacrificing nothing of Truth by all possible devotion to poetry and beauty”.
The V&A celebrates the bicentenary of the birth of Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), by showcasing 100 photographs that entered the South Kensington Museum’s (now called the V&A) collection in 1865. The exhibition offers a retrospective of Cameron’s work and examines her relationship with the V&A’s founding director, Sir Henry Cole, structured around an epistolary’ correspondence from Cameron to Cole, from her development as an artist to her early ambition; her growing artistic confidence and innovation; her concerns as a portraitist and desire to earn money from photography; and her struggles with technical aspects of photography.
One of the XIX century most celebrated women in the history of photography, Cameron became perhaps the first ‘artist-in-residence’ in 1868 as the museum granted her the use of a couple of rooms as a portrait studio.
Born in Calcutta of English and French aristocratic descendents, Julia Margaret Cameron (née Pattle), married 20 years her senior Charles Hay Cameron in 1838. The family moved to London 10 years later and bought a house in the Isle of Wight in 1860.
After taking up photography, she quickly developed an interest in compositions and dramatic lighting – light/shadows - while her sitters (friends, family and servants) posed as characters from biblical, historical or allegorical stories. Cameron might have found difficult to keep her sitters steady for a few minutes, time required at the time, to focus for a sharp image but the slightly ethereal effect romantically immortalised her Victorian age subjects. Profile portraits like Charles Darwin in 1868 were her strength while gaining admiration among her contemporary peers but she also triggered ferocious criticism for her unconventional techniques. The photographer was highly influenced by Renaissance painters such as Raphael and Michelangelo as well as her friend David Wilkie Wynfield (a painter who photographed himself in Renaissance costumes).
A devout Christian and mother of six grown-up children, she photographed a series Madonna Groups where each photo should be a study in their own rights as she staged women and children.
Apart from a numbers of profile portraits, the image that stood out is (from my personal interest) the Cumaean Sibyl Lady Elcho where her sitter is looking both deeply absent and sad. Upon looking at the picture, Lord Elcho would say: “The finest thing ever done in Art”. Another striking portrait is A Sibyl After The Manner of Michelangelo, depicting a prophetess from classical mythology based on Michelangelo’s fresco of the Eritrean Sibyl on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Julia Margaret Cameron seemed to have a taste for beauty, science, poetry and politic as her sitters included her niece Virginia Woolf’s mother Julia Jackson, the son of Ethiopian Emperor Dèjatch Alámayou and so on. She might have been a very persuasive photographer to dress her sitters in theatrical outfits posing for long minutes when photography was still in infancy and not yet regarded as an art form, nor as a science tool either...
Writing archive = Film, music, exhibition, low-brow/street art, interviews, perf/danse/theatre, social issues, around London
Julia Margaret Cameron @ V&A, London SW7
28 November 2015 – 21 February 2016
www.vam.ac.uk/juliamargaretcameron | #JuliaMargaretCameron
Julia Margaret Cameron is free to attend and is curated by Marta Weiss, Curator of Photographs at the V&A; The V&A holds over 250 of Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs, including 88 that the Museum acquired directly from her.
The V&A will host a one-day Julia Margaret Cameron conference on 15 January 2016
This free exhibition celebrating the 200th anniversary of Cameron’s birth will present her bold and expressive portraits, including the only existing print of her iconic Iago (1867), alongside unique objects from her archive.
Also @ the V&A: The Fabric of India until 10 January 2016 (ends 10 Jan 2016)
Title: Installation view of The Fabric of India at the V&A
Credit line: (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
From fast food to fast fashion while living the life on a four lanes motorway, it’s hard to think about slow food, or worse... cooking the “beasts”. Imagine for a second what actually happens within a saucepan full of vegetable. I am telling you: lots of things are happening between carrots and leeks and broccoli and sweet potatoes. Uplift the lid and a new wonderful world is waiting for you.
This is exactly what the V&A is doing with fashion. More precisely focusing on fabric and its significance of clothing. The great challenge to lift the lid and look into the history of fabric in India from around 4000 years ago. You are embarking into a giant weave in the meanders of a “silk” trip, from dyeing to religious observance to the European industrialisation that threatened to eradicate Indian hand-making skills in the 19th century, to Mahatma Gandhi’s symbol of freedom and revolution, to Indian fashion maestros of today. A social history through fabric that has defined India’s identity.
The exhibition The Fabric Of India offers a vast survey of items, mini documentaries of processes and fabrics and more fabrics... a cavern of textiles.
In ancient Greece and Babylon, the very name India was shorthand for “cotton”. We are welcomed by an impressive floorspread that was once housed in a Mughal palace. Its poppies are typical of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1628-58). The room is filled with samples of natural dyeing material as well as printers, weavers, embroidery, fibers, plants that India has benefitted through millenniums due to its varied geographical regions and climates.
Did you know that Indigo takes its name from India? Or that it takes 4000 cocoons to produce 450gramms of silk?
India is home to Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists and Christians. Each religion make widespread use of textiles in their worship whether worn for rituals or offered to sacred spaces: Krishna or Jesus’ lives are told on cloth. The words of the Qur’an are written on undershirts to protect its wearer: look out for the Talismanic shirt (1480-1520) with Qur’an verses on display.
Up until the arrival of the Portuguese in 1498, who were the first European to reach India, Indian textile makers exported cloth to the Middle East, Africa and the rest of Asia. In the late XVIII century Tipu Sultan spectacular tent room, fine garments are on display mixing the influence of India’s traditional dressing onto the British upper class society, soon to invade the sub-continent.
Further down the road, a several minutes documentary shows the peaceful revolution led by Gandhi who influenced his people to produce their own clothing instead of buying from the British Empire. He focused on hand made and used the spinning wheel as a symbol of his battle that is still in the middle of the Indian flag today.
The road ends with a “catwalk” of Indian fashion makers using ancient techniques in a speedy world. Take a time to stop over in this marvellous exhibition. Surely, you will look at yourself twice before dressing up.
The Fabric of India- Part of the V&A India Festival - 3 October 2015 – 10 January 2016
www.vam.ac.uk/fabricofindia | #FabricofIndia
Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection (ends 28 March 2016)
Title: Installation View of Bejewelled Treasures
Credit line: Photo (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
A small exhibition but a sparkling one.
If you want to be in tune with planets, the cosmos, the universe, wearing precious gems will just do the job. All you need is a bit of cash.
If you don’t happen to possess the odourless rectangular paper, head over to this exquisite “boudoir” displaying jewels, swords and other luxurious items.
The talk of town is the diamond Turban jewel made for the Maharaja of Nawanagar: fine white feathers with white gold and diamonds weighing 152.64 carats. It does welcome you posing with some sort of austerity and it is quite hard to move forward. The piece is an attention seeker.
Turban jewels were emblems of royalty throughout the Indian subcontinent from at least the XVI century.
The little story of the Timur Ruby is quite a funny one. It’s like the floppy disk of the 90’s (replaced now by a USB): it was actually a hard and square “USB”. The Timur Ruby was actually owned by the Mughal emperors Jahangir and Nadir Shah of Iran liked it and... simply took it from the Mughal treasury (as you do) in 1740. By some other mysterious reason, it belonged to an Afghan ruler until the Brits removed it in 1849 in Lahore from the Sikhs treasury who had possessed it... Oh, and it’s not a ruby but a spinel.
Did you know that in Iranian culture, the legendary huma bird bestows sovereignty on anyone over whom it casts a shadow? The Jewelled Bird (1787-93) is there, magnificent, and I’m still waiting for my sense of queen-ness to happen. Iranian traditions influenced many courts of the subcontinent where Persian was often the official language.
To be continued...
Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection - Part of the V&A India Festival; 21 November 2015 – 28 March 2016
www.vam.ac.uk/BejewelledTreasures | #BejewelledTreasures