Saturday, August 24, 2013

195: The Self-Empowered Woman: Julia Margaret Cameron

Dear Followers,

I don't know about you, but when I hear the name "Julia Cameron" I automatically think of the brilliant author of "The Artist's Way," a life-changing book for any creative person. So I was surprised to learn that there was an earlier creative woman of the same name who played a pivotal role in the early days of photography. Currently, 38 of her works are on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, and you all know how much I love Self-Empowered Women who were born before 1900...    
Julia Margaret Cameron was born in 1815, and didn't even begin taking photographs until she was 48 years old. But first, let me tell you a little bit about her life. She was born in Calcutta, India, where her father was a British official of the East India Company. Her mother was a descendant of a man who had been a page at the court of King Louis XVI, and was thought to have been one of Marie Antoinette. Julia was born into a family of celebrated beauties, but she was considered the ugly duckling of her family (6:Life Is Not A Beauty Pageant).
She was educated in France, but returned to India. In 1836, she traveled to Cape Town, where she met the famous astronomer Sir John Herschel, who became a life-long friend. He is considered to be the one who introduced her to a variety of photographic processes, and he also became the subject of many of her portraits (4: Supportive Someone). Julia returned to India, where she met  (and in 1838) married Charles Hay Cameron, a member of the Law Commission, who was 20 years her senior. Ten years later he retired, and the family moved to London where-- thanks to her sister, Sarah Prinsep-- Julia was able to meet a wide variety of artists and writers. After she visited the estate of Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Isle of Wight, Julia fell in love with the location, and she and her husband bought a home near Tennyson's Estate.
In 1857, the photographer Reginald Southey visited their home, and began teaching Julia even more about photography.  When Julia was 48 years old her daughter and son-in-law bought her a camera, and wrote "It may amuse you, Mother, to try to photograph..." During those days Julia often entertained her great-nieces Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell and the rest of the Bloomsbury Bunch. Julia began to get her subjects to sit for countless exposures as she carefully coated, exposed and processed each wet plate (10: The Critic Within). These long exposures led other contemporary photographers to make fun of her work because of the Pre-Raphaelite feel that they had, i.e., far-away looks, limp poses and soft lighting (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest.)
Even though many critics dismissed her work because of her "out of focus" style, Julia's work received a number of honorable mentions, awards, and she even won a gold medal at the Berlin competition in 1866 (8: Turning No Into Yes). Unlike so  many of her era, Julia was smart enough to register each of her photographs with the Copyright office and keep detailed records. She compulsively persuaded her friends and family to pose for photographs, and thanks to her we have many of the only existing shots of historically important people of her era (7: Magnificent Obsession).
In 1875, the Camerons moved back to Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) (14:Selective Disassociation), but she was not able to enjoy photography the way she had before their move. It was hard to get the necessary chemicals and pure water that she needed, and there was no way for her to market or register her work. She was cut off from her family and the large circle of creative friends she'd had in England, and even though she tried to take photographs of posed Indian people, but almost none of her work from those years survived (12: Hard Times). 
Julia caught a bad chill while in Ceylon and died in 1879. Seven years later her niece Julia Prinsep Stephen (Virginia Woolf's mother) wrote a biography of Cameron that appeared in the first edition of the "Dictionary of National Biography, 1886" (13: More Than Meets The Eye). And for those of you who'd like to know more about the premier female photographer of our own era, just click on this link
Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

194: The Self-Empowered Woman: Cyndi Lauper

Dear Followers,

Millions of us danced—back in the 80s—to “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” by the irrepressible Cyndi Lauper. And she deserves to be celebrated as a Self-Empowered Woman for a variety of reasons, but in particular because earlier this year she capped her long career by becoming the first woman to win the Tony Award for Best Score on her own (13: More Than Meets The Eye).

Cynthia Ann Stephanie Lauper was born on June 22nd 1953, and raised in Ozone Park, Queens in New York City. Her parents divorced when she was five years old, and although her mother remarried, she divorced again (1: No Paternal Safety Net).

As a little girl, Cyndi grew up listening to music at home that included Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Billie Holiday and The Beatles. By the time she was twelve, she had begun to write her own songs and play an acoustic guitar that had been a gift from her older sister (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

When young she attended Catholic school (3: Belief In The Unbelievable), but was later accepted at a special public high school for students with talent in the visual arts. She dropped out, but later earned her GED. And when she was 17 years old she left home, moved to Canada, and soon settled in Vermont where she took art classes at Johnson State College (14: Selective Disassociation).

By the early 1970s, she was back in New York and singing with a variety of bands, but she did not enjoy covering other people’s songs. By 1977, Lauper had damaged the vocal cords and had to take a year off—three different doctors told her that she would never sing again, but with the help of a vocal coach she regained her voice (8: Turning No Into Yes). Lauper had several great things going for her: she had a four-octave singing range, perfect pitch, as well as a unique vocal style and stage presence. In 1981, she met David Wolff who became her manager (and later her boyfriend), and he arranged for her to sign with a subsidiary of Epic Records (4: Supportive Someone).

 By 1984-1985, her career was red hot. She won the 1984 Best Female Video at the MTV Music Awards, was on the covers of Rolling Stone, Time, Newsweek and People magazines, and was named Ms. Magazine’s 1985 woman of the year. In 1988 , she made her debut in the comedy “Vibes” (11: Risk Addiction), and since then she appeared in a long, list of documentaries, films and television programs—including NBC’s “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

 Obviously, music would qualify as Lauper’s lifelong magnificent obsession, but her other passion has been supporting LGBT Rights. Her sister, Ellen, who gave her that first guitar, is gay, and Lauper has worked tirelessly through her True Colors Fund to raise money and awareness (7: Magnificent Obsession). Lauper was romantically involved with David Wolff for six years, and was deeply depressed when they broke up. Then she started dating a man who she admitted “was mean as hell to” her. When that relationship also ended she “felt ugly, dull and a mess. I was convinced I was through as an artist” (15: Forget About Prince Charming). In 1991 she married David Thornton, an actor who studied at Yale and Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio. His father taught English at Harvard and at her wedding Lauper told her father in law, “Dad, don’t cry. You’re not losing a son, you’re gaining somebody who don’t speak English too good.” The couple has a teenage son, Declan, and even though she has been named as one of the 100 most important women in Rock ‘n Roll, Lauper routinely woke up at four am to drive her son to his early-morning hockey games (16: Intensive Motherhood).

It would take several long blogs to mention all of Lauper’s achievements over the past 30 years—as an actress, composer, fundraiser, live performer and recording artist! And if you can’t get tickets to see her hit musical Kinky Boots on Broadway, make sure to catch the terrific movie that inspired the play.

Looking forward to your comments…

Sunday, August 11, 2013

193: The Self-Empowered Woman: Women in Our Lives

Dear Followers,

In light of the unexpected challenges I've faced  the past month, the following story (sent by my good friend Donna Agins--who flew 3,000 miles for a long-delayed visit only to see me propped up in a hospital bed recovering from surgery--and slightly edited by me) seems to be a good reminder of how important the women in our lives truly are.

A young wife sat on a sofa on a hot humid day, drinking iced tea and visiting with her mother. As they talked about life, about marriage, about the responsibilities of life and the obligations of adulthood, the mother clinked the ice cubes in her glass thoughtfully and turned a clear, sober glance upon her daughter…'Don't forget your sisters,' she advised, swirling the tea leaves to the bottom of her glass. 'They'll be more important as you get older.

“No matter how much you love your husband, no matter how much you love the children you may have, you are still going to need sisters. Remember to go places with them now and then; do things with them. And remember that 'sisters' means ALL the women...your girlfriends, your daughters, and all the other women in your life, too. You'll need other women. Women always do.”

“What a funny piece of advice!” the young woman thought. “Haven't I just gotten married? Haven't I just joined the couple-world? I'm now a married woman, for goodness sake! A grownup! Surely my husband and the family we may start will be all I need to make my life worthwhile!”

But she listened to her mother. She kept contact with her sisters and made more women friends each year. As the years tumbled by, one after another, she gradually came to understand that her mother really knew what she was talking about. As time and nature work their changes and their mysteries upon a woman, sisters are the mainstays of her life. And after more than 60 years of living in this world, here is what I've learned:

Time passes.
Life happens.
Distance separates.
Children grow up.
Jobs come and go.
Love waxes and wanes.
Men don't do what they're supposed to do.
Hearts break.
Parents die.
Colleagues forget favors.
Careers end.
Illness comes to visit, and sometimes it stays.

Sisters are there, no matter how much time and how many miles are between you. A girlfriend is never farther away than needing her can reach. When you have to walk that lonesome valley and you have to walk it by yourself, the women in your life will be on the valley's rim, cheering you on, praying for you, pulling for you, intervening on your behalf, and waiting with open arms at the valley's end. Sometimes, they will even break the rules and walk beside you....Or come in and carry you out.

Girlfriends, daughters, granddaughters, daughters-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law, Mothers, Grandmothers, aunties, nieces, cousins, extended family and friends—they all bless our lives! The world wouldn't be the same without women, and neither would I….When we began this adventure called womanhood, we had no idea of the incredible joys or sorrows that lay ahead. Nor did we know how much we would need each other. Every day, we need each other still. Pass this on to all the women who help make your life meaningful. I just did.

Looking forward to your comments…

Monday, August 5, 2013

192: The Self-Empowered Woman: Home Sweet Home

Dear Followers,

Wow! How have I ever missed writing about Self-Empowered Women! 

As many of you know, I have just returned home from an unexpected 8-day hospital stay, and I will begin sharing my online love letters to high-achieving women as soon as I dig myself out of my backlogged paperwork.

In the meantime, thank you for you calls, cards and gifts and for being so supportive to Tony--known throughout the hospital as "Mr. Wonderful."

By this time next week I plan to have a new "Introduction" ready to send your way...