“Who has a right to say what focus is the legitimate focus?” Tennessee Williams and Julia Margaret Cameron’s Theatrical Portraits of Women
Graduate Degree Type
In the production notes preceding The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams said: “Everyone should know nowadays the unimportance of the photographic in art: that truth, life, or reality is an organic thing which the poetic imagination can represent or suggest, in essence, only through transformation, through changing into other forms than those which were merely present in appearance.” In spite of Williams’s emphasis on the limitations of literal representation, some of his most famous female characters were created in a tradition similar to that of portraits of women by the Victorian-era photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Both Cameron and Williams made portraits of women that encouraged an understanding of and allowance for multiple truths. This thesis explores the parallels between Williams’s theatrical “portraits” and Cameron’s “theatrical” portraits, and demonstrates that both artists empowered women characters with the ability to perform truth that is much larger than (and frequently contradicts) that which is “merely present in appearance.” This discussion examines the visual techniques that Cameron used in her portrait photographs in order to illuminate the ways Williams built similar performances in his scripts, and then tracks women characters from four of Williams’s plays— “Portrait of a Madonna,” A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Sweet Bird of Youth—tracing a progression of their power through their dialogue, Williams’s stage directions, and his writings about the characters and plays.
Klug, Jennifer M., "“Who has a right to say what focus is the legitimate focus?” Tennessee Williams and Julia Margaret Cameron’s Theatrical Portraits of Women" (2018). Masters Theses. 904.