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Be Bold, Be Brave

Photographer Mary Ellen Mark with Marlon Brando on the set of 'Apocalypse Now'

Photography has never been strictly the preserve of the male. Since the dawn of photography, women have sought a place (sometimes against the odds) behind the lens.

Julia Margaret Cameron. Photographed by her son Henry Herschel Hay Cameron

Back in the mid-nineteenth century, Julia Margaret Cameron led the way. Some called her crazy. Some called her, well... Downright impossible. She began photographing in the mid 1860s. And from the first frame, she determined to do things her way. Countering a tidal wave of jeering criticism from her (mainly) male peers - who hated her experiments with soft focus and called her approach 'unrefined' - she endeavoured to persevere and ended up winning her place in the history of photography.

Her pictures have endured because they are pretty wonderful - especially when considered in their historical context. Her idea of shooting portraits in close-up when, as a rule, Victorian convention demanded full figure studies only, was in itself a radical step forward for photography - and is her great contribution to the development of the art.

Cameron recognised the emotional power of the close-up."From the first moment, I handled my lens with a tender ardour,” she wrote, “and it has become to me as a living thing, with voice and memory and creative vigour.”

'Iago' - portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron

Cameron's approach was bold and brave. The technology she was dealing with was as challenging as it was primitive. And she was chasing an idea of photography that, against the received wisdom of the day was entirely her own. She succeeded because she had, as they say, the courage to fail.

"...My first successes in my out-of-focus pictures were a fluke. That is to say, that when focussing and coming to something which, to my eye, was very beautiful, I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon.”

Sir John Herschel - photographed by Cameron in 1867

When looking at Cameron's work from a modern viewpoint, I have to say that her images wouldn't look out of place in the world of modern editorial photography. And it was another woman who arrived on the photographic scene almost exactly one hundred years later who would lead magazine photography to great heights.

Annie Leibovitz rose from humble 'army brat' roots to become a star photographer in the late '60s - and has remained at the peak of her profession almost her whole adult life.