When we discussed the photography of Julia Margaret Cameron in class, I was struck by the photograph “Sadness” because of how Hellenistic it is. After learning about the subject of the photograph, Ellen Terry, I couldn’t help but consider how much this photograph made me think of Helen of Troy herself, because of the combination of the context and composition of the photograph.
“Sadness” by Julia Margaret Cameron
Cameron took this photograph when Terry was on her honeymoon, after marrying George Frederic Watts at age 16, who was 30 years her senior. Their marriage was purportedly an unhappy one, which eventually ended in divorce. Terry, a famous actress, very well may have simply been acting for the photograph but even so her expression certainly captures a feeling of sadness.
The visibility of the walls in the photograph lend themselves to a feeling of confinement, as does Terry’s position leaning against one of them. Her state of dress give a feeling of vulnerability, which only amplifies the feeling that the subject is in some way captive.
Similarly to the feeling of confinement in the photograph, sources are unclear on Helen. In some accounts she was kidnapped by Paris and physically held prisoner while in others she was trapped in her marriage to Menelaus. Helen was considered to have been quite young during the events of the Trojan War (and as such her marriage and kidnapping, which were precursory events) making Terry a fitting shadow of the captive queen.
Whether imprisoned through marriage or actual physical confinement, Terry is the picture of Helen, beautiful and trapped.