CAMERA, ACTION, JULIA MARGARET CAMERON– by Juliet Coombe
Norwood is full of pioneering characters and to learn more about the people living in the area, it is worth studying the work of the most significant 19th century female British photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, who was totally bewitched by Sri Lankan plantation life. Leaving Norwood Ceylon Tea Trails Bungalow behind you, with its fine views of the eastern end of the Bogawantalawa valley, head along the trail to the next valley to find St, Mary’s Church and the grave of one of the worlds most famous female 19th century photographers that captured the spirit of the Sri Lankan people working at first in coffee and later tea. She was buried here in 1879, at the age of 63, having spent six years producing wholly original portraits of the islanders that decorate the rooms of the most elite bungalows in the area and in particular Tiensin Bungalow, part of the Ceylon Tea Trails collection. Cameron originally went to Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, to help manage the family coffee plantation, which was badly damaged by the blight, but was soon mesmerised by the ancient traditions, mental and physical strength of the people whose daily life she would capture on camera.
Julia Cameron’s grave
Her black and white photographs, already well known in London high society, showed a new level of respect for their knowledge of plants, creativity and resourcefulness, which are unmatched even to this day by other portrait photographers. Always supported by her coffee farming husband, Cameron wrote: “My husband, from first to last, has watched every picture with delight, and it is my daily habit to run to him with every glass upon which a fresh glory is newly stamped, and to listen to his enthusiastic applause.” Her obsession, to capture the beautiful people of the hills as she walked through the plantations daily, amused guests to her home, who would say, “if she took a fancy to the back of one of the people she was photographing, she insisted on her son retaining him as her gardener, though she had no garden and he did not even know the meaning of the word garden.” Cameron’s dramatically lit black and white pictures, with soft focus and angles that looked up at those she captured, instead of down like most of the other image producers of the period uniquely caught the inner strength of these inspirational people whose descendants still live in these remote pockets.
Ask about Cameron inside Saint Mary’s Church and you will be taken on a little tour to her grave and be told many fascinating things about the area including the best spot to have a refreshing cup of tea. The stain glass inside the church was provided by the Cameron family and the people who come to Sunday service have lots to say about her and her religious like depictions of their ancestors.One old lady told me she could even make sinners look like saints and gave ordinary folk like tea pickers mythical in status in her photographs. Sadly you can only see her best work by taking a trip to her home Dimbola on the Isle of Wight.
Thuppahi's Blog · This web site presents the interventions of MICHAEL ROBERTS in the public realm with reference to Sri Lankan political affairs. It will embrace the politics of cricket as well. ROBERTS was educated at St. Aloysius College in Galle and the universities of Peradeniya and Oxford. He taught History at Peradeniya University and Anthropology at Adelaide university. He is now retired and lives in Adelaide.