Friday, December 17, 2010

Accurate Fictions of Self: Glimpses of Photographer J.L.Buckland

Coming Through the Rye, c. 1897. (Akaroa Museum)

Jessie Buckland at the window of her Akoroa studio. c.1907. (Macmillan Brown Library)

Jessie Buckland (1878-1939) is notable as one of the few solo and recognised woman photographers of her time in New Zealand. Taught by her aunt Bessie Hocken, she learnt photography alongside her siblings in Dunedin. Buckland continued her practice winning acclaim for her photographs in competitions in Australasia and had a successful professional studio in Akaroa for 30 years after moving there in 1902. From reading one of the few texts about her life and work, Vickie Hearnshaw locates Buckland as a feminist and an individualist within the male-dominated feild of photography. Reading between the lines of this text, I got a sense of closeted conjecture about Buckland's sexual orientation. Buckland never married, but whether she was a lesbian is a purely anecdotal speculation on my behalf. That aside, for me the most compelling aspect of Buckland's work is the strength of the gendered, humorous tongue-in-cheek content visually articulated in some of Buckland's early non-commercial photographic work (perhaps amongst her best) within the context of a male-dominated field at the turn of the century.
Jessie Buckland follows the recognised pattern of early women photographers. She was self taught, working initially in comparative isolation, in association with her family. In her choice of subject matter, she relied almost exclusively on her immediate surroundings and its people: first, the Strath Taieri region in Otago, and after 1902, Banks Peninsula in Canterbury. (p.42)
In 'Coming through the Rye' Jessie, as the man, and Ina Burnett, her friend and neighbour, as the woman, pause momentarily in a field of sun-ripened grain, before the craggy peaks. The activity of 'picture making' as opposed to 'picture taking' was an important part of the whole process, with much time spent in the planning stages of each photograph. An idea had to be thought up, then suitable costumes organised and poses rehearsed with all the camaraderie of an amateur theatrical performance. For the successful outcome, Jessie was reliant on the co-operation of her family for technical assistance. In many cases, after setting up the scene, Jessie would have a 'helper', another member of the family, to release the button, as in 'Coming through the Rye' where Jessie was also a protagonist in the scene. (p.45)
In a carefully composed study of Buckland dating from this period, we glimpse her standing at the open window of her studio, a hand some woman, one who commands our attention. She holds a wooden plate bolder in her right hand as an attribute of her chosen profession. In her dress she reveals her preference was for the less restrictive code adopted by the progressive woman of the period. Older Akaroa residents' most frequent memory of Buckland is of her cycling to and from her borne to the studio, an image consistent with the 'new woman' of the turn of the century. (p.51)

Above excerpts and images from Vickie Hearnshaw 'A Study in Black and White: The Life and Work of Photographer Jessie Buckland'. Women's Studies Journal vol. 13. no. 1 Autumn (1997). Apologies these bad photocopied images sadly don't do her work justice. The Hocken and Akaroa museums hold much of her work but McMillian Brown does have some images for viewing online here.

Rachel, despite the slight difference in age/era from what I can tell, perhaps Buckland is a little like Beatrice? Behind and in-front of the camera at the same time?

In light of Barthes, Hito, Maljkovic, Beatrice, Buckland's collaborative procedures, and our current paradigm of working collaboratively on this project, what does it take to make a picture? create an image? stage a set?

Four Stages of Construction of the Eiffel Tower. Henry Guttmann/Getty.

Clare Noonan, Portrait Card (2009)

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