Thursday 2 July 2009

Camera shenanigans

I have been receiving positive feedback about my research into vernacular photography. This is encouraging, as a decade ago I met with negative responses to my ongoing study of everyday photography.

Here are some more views taken by an itinerant Scots visitor to New Zealand in 1928. This gutsy snapshooter had a natural photographic ability and a quirky affection for personal adventure. She was insistent with her friends and she recorded them using a very directorial approach. The people that she assembled for her images all became performers for her photographic ‘event’.

Here is Hanging Rock Creek. Have you ever encountered a more hilarious way to sit in a tree with your mother and aunt? Notice that they smile but he does not. He is clearly not yet related to her but obviously there is a romantic interest from her perspective.

These two Diamond Harbour snapshots are terrific. The young man previously perched in the tree is again shown at the centre of the shot, but he still remains totally deadpan and smileless. What should we call his bathing costume because it is obviously 'pre-togs'. A colleague called his gear 'pre-ORCA', which is specific and meaningful but not useful as a period descriptor. Swimming costume? Bathers? Probably made of blue serge wool which, when wet, would have felt like wearing knitted slime. An Australian friend told me that 'bathers' is the most accurate terminology.

Maybe this recurring man is actually the photographer’s local boyfriend. Other photographs in the album show that she was really keen on him. Were guys actually called ‘boyfriends’ in 1928? His Mum is again at the right hand side with her sister steadfastly at her right. Is this photographer always telling her subjects where to stand?

She certainly is being bossy in this image but with what a hazing humour. The figures are laid out like a Banks Peninsula version of Édouard Manet’s painting Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Look at how the woman cradles her head. It does not make any sense to ask why they are acting out these wacky poses because they are simply responding to what the photographer is requesting of them. Camera shenanigans.

An even more astonishing example of social buffoonery is the antics they get up to after lunch at Diamond Harbour when four of the picnic-ers go in for some rudimentary handstands. It puts playing up for the camera into perspective - make a fool of oneself and laugh along with the camera’s record. Such an amusing and self-deprecating touch to everyday photography is still charmingly uncommon. In 1928, it was positively rare.

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