10 June, 1867: On this day.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson by Julia Margaret Cameron

We can take a photograph on a mobile phone, adjust and enhance it on the same device, print it, and send it all around the world in seconds. All this without setting up a heavy camera with expensive film or glass plates, and only later using poisonous chemicals in a darkroom to develop, print and fix an image that might be blurred if the sitter could not keep still.

Personal photographs were keep-sakes, and portraits. Poor people might be hard-pressed to afford them. The better off were not always keen, perhaps not liking what they saw. Among the pioneers who became famous for their artistic images was Mrs Julia Margaret Cameron, a well-connected woman whose work is still appreciated today. On this day in 1867 William Allingham met her on a train in Hampshire.

Field-path to station, red campions and king-cups. Down train comes in with Mrs Cameron, queenly in a carriage by herself, surrounded by photographs. We go to Lymington together, she talking all the time. ‘I want to do a large photograph of Tennyson, and he objects! Says I make bags under his eyes — and Carlyle refuses to give me a sitting, says it’s a kind of Inferno! The greatest men of the age’ (with strong emphasis), ‘Sir John Herschel, Henry Taylor, Watts, say I have immortalised them — and these other men object !! What is one to do ——- Hm?’

This is a kind of interrogative interjection she often uses, but seldom waits for a reply.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 1Corinthians 13:11-13

Perhaps the bags under his eyes were more difficult to ignore when Tennyson looked at himself in this needle-sharp portrait. Already seeing himself face to face, wrinkles, bags under the eyes, receding hairline, mortal. May I accept myself, imperfect image of God — and indeed of my own true self.

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