Julia Margaret Cameron and Alfred, Lord Tennyson first met in London and became neighbours and close friends on the Isle of Wight. This friendship fostered a collaboration in 1874 when Tennyson asked Cameron to photographically illustrate his Idylls of the King, based on the Legends of King Arthur.

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879)

The Photographer:

Portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron, Harry Ransom Center, Texas, USA.

Julia Margaret Cameron was born Julia Margaret Pattle in Calcutta, India where she lived prior to her marriage to Charles Hay Cameron. Later returning to England and settling in Freshwater on the Isle of Wight in 1860. In 1863 Cameron’s husband was away on business, and her daughter and son-in-law presented her with a camera remarking, “It may amuse you mother, to try photography during your solitude at Freshwater.”

This gift quickly changed Cameron’s life, as photography overtook her home and daily life. Cameron converted her henhouse into a photo studio and her coalhouse into a darkroom. Her passion soon had her grabbing anyone she could, willing or not, to pose in portraits, theatricals, and interpretations of scenes from literature and the bible. Her signature soft focus, intimate, and stylised images drew both applause and derision during her life and made her a prominent figure in the history of photography.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

The Poet:

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron

Alfred Tennyson was born in Somersby, Lincolnshire and began writing poems early in his life. He published his first volume of poems in 1830, and in 1850 he was appointed Poet Laureate by Queen Victoria.

In 1884 he was created Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Freshwater on the Isle of Wight, and it was here that his friendship with Julia Margaret Cameron flourished.

As the pre-eminent poet of the Victorian era, Tennyson produced many works including The Idylls of the King. Victorian society was captivated by this re-interpretation of Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur. Tennyson’s writings inspired many artworks including John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, John Everett Millais’s Marianna, and Gustav Doré’s dramatic wood engravings.