But upstairs, in her little room, she worked with colloidal silver, and there, Clover was queen of her domain.
She started taking photographs as a side hobby in 1883 (Henry would never let her go pro with it), collecting pictures of her friends and family and the politicians that flowed through her house, the ones she wasn’t really supposed to talk to all that much.
This is why they sneer at her like she is masturbating.
I think even in these moments of silent communion with the camera, Clover was trying to grapple with how unseen she was, how little she felt she deserved to show herself.
For a socialite, she didn’t have much of a social network of her own.
I think about the ones who never got to use front-facing cameras, that technological ease and excess that we have so quickly taken for granted.
I think about Julia Margaret Cameron, who got her first camera as a gift, in 1863, when she was 48 years old. We know this from her great-niece, Virginia Woolf, who wrote that Julia was an ugly duckling in a family full of cameo complexions; her nickname was “Talent,” where her sisters got to be called “Beauty.” Cameron became instantly obsessed with photography and dove into her second act.
She copyrighted her technique, sold prints to museums, and wrote myth-making prose about her process in her memoirs: Julia took only a few pictures of herself, and in them she looks far less imposing than her subjects, who were usually stoic, grizzled male intellectuals or creamy-cheeked actresses and debutantes.
In her own portraits, she looks glum, dejected, staring at the ground or into the lens with a withering squint, as if she cannot believe she is doing this. Vintage cameras had long exposure times, requiring the sitter to hold the same expression forever.hot One: Open on a woman snapping a picture of herself, by herself.Maybe she is sitting at an outdoor cafe, her phone held out in front of her like a gilded hand mirror, a looking glass linked to an Instagram account.Maybe they are a group of chattering women, who have internalized a societal shame about taking pleasure in one’s face in public, who have learned to be good girls, to never let their self-regard come off as a threat.Maybe they are lonesome and hungry for connection, projecting their own lack of community onto this woman’s solo show, believing her to be isolated rather than expansive.After her death, Henry would destroy all of Clover’s letters and write her out of his autobiography; he almost managed to make her disappear. If I could go back and climb upstairs to her studio, I would tell her to show her face.