Angela Buckland is an established photographer from Durban who often chooses to document social issues and share individuals’ ways of life. Her solo exhibition ‘Block A, Thokoza Women’s Hostel’ that is currently touring South Africa touches on these themes. Angela’s been a photography lecturer in the past and continues to teach others through her business, Photogarage, and speaks of how photography lessons bring about a “visual awakening” and awareness. This wisdom is portrayed in her personal work, which is pensive and perfectly framed. We interviewed her to find out more, about both her commissioned-based work and art photography.
Would you mind telling us a little about yourself and your experiences?
I studied Fine Art in Pietermaritzburg in the early 80s where I was exposed to photography; it was a medium that came very easily to me and I was encouraged to study photography full time. I left Fine Art, changed art schools and studied photography full time for 4 years in Durban. At the end of my 3rd year I was awarded the Emma Smith Scholarship to study abroad. I completed an MA in the UK. While I trained in vocational photography in Durban (Fine Art Photography was a swear word in the 80s), my interest always remained in expressive photography, what I now formally term as Independent Photography (a borrowed term that I adopted when I was studying in the UK).
How did you start out?
When I returned to SA, I settled in Durban and started freelancing and lecturing part-time at Natal Technikon (now DUT). My freelance work was predominantly architectural and editorial photography. I am married to an architect so architectural photography felt like an organic and reasonable way to work. Teaching in the Fine Art Dept at DUT also kept my real interest in art photography alive. However my personal interest in photography was never a full-time occupation as I needed to earn a living and have always juggled these three styles of work out of necessity.
Tell us about your photographic business, Photogarage. How did that start and what’s the best part of teaching others to take photographs?
Photogarage evolved in an interesting way. I set up the photography component in the Fine Art Dept at DUT and taught part time there for 7 years. It was an invigorating time, it was an outstanding and leading art school. When that era came to an end I was constantly approached to teach privately. A group of 8 people organised themselves and so I began teaching in my garage (all good things begin in the garage!). They were smart, educated, mature people who refused to have an end to their photography training. Because this core group would not go away I developed 3 different courses. I’ve been teaching Photogarage for 7 years now, teaching twice a year in Feb and August.
Teaching is a privilege, teaching photography is about bringing about awareness, a visual awakening. When the ‘penny drops’ it’s a very rewarding process.
Where do your photographic interests lie and what do you want your photographs to communicate?
In my personal work I’m drawn to social issues and try to offer an insight into marginalized communities. Two areas I’ve invested a lot of energy in, is disability and hostel dwellers; with my work that explores disability issues, I was trying to articulate the complexities of parenting a disabled child in South Africa which I did in 2002. I am a parent of a mentally challenged child. This toured nationally and culminated in a book entitled ‘Zip Zip My Brain Harts’. The publication was a partnership with the HSRC, a risky experiment between the social sciences and art. It was a fascinating process and complex at the same time! The second project I invested time into, are the two hostel installations I’ve done. These are two large installations about hostel dwellers’ lives. I see these as heritage pieces.
From the ‘Dysmorphic Series’ (analogue photographs)
How is your current work different from your earlier work? What are the similarities?
In my earlier work I gazed outwards at the world in a detached sort of way. My recent work is more personal, based on the ‘lived experience’.
How does your work process differ when working on personal projects in comparison to commissions?
Sometimes it is challenging and sometimes there is a synergy. Ideally one works with synergies and reflecting on my work now, there is more synergy.
In the past, you’ve been a lecturer and external examiner. What is there to learn from student’s work?
That you always have to be one step ahead!
Who are you currently inspired by?
If we are talking photographers: Santu Mofokeng, Martin Parr, David Goldblatt, Sally Mann, Michael Wolf, Chris Jordan, and Pentti Sammallahti.
What do you think of photography in the South African arts scene? Is it valued, hidden, under exposed, etc?
Gosh that’s a big one to respond to! Photography in SA has come a long way but for myself, it still remains incredibly tough and often unsustainable.
You live in Durban, how does this city influence your art?
Durban is a remarkable and underestimated city. Of course it influences me. While it does not have the glamour of CT and the intensity and dynamism of JHB. Durban is authentic and one is forced to, out of necessity, engage with its people and environment. Durban has produced some leading SA artists. The down side, though, is that many of these artists choose to leave for better career opportunities offered elsewhere.
What future projects do you have lined up, or are you planning? Is there a dream project you’d like to do?
I’m always dreaming about projects… which are usually challenging to implement. I am currently working on a small but long-term project about the rights of passage from childhood into adulthood. I document my daughter once a year alongside her friends.
Do you have any advice for aspiring freelance photographers?
Work as an assistant for a well-established photographer, even if it means not getting paid for a while.
From the ‘Sleep Series’
From ‘Block A, Thokoza Women’s Hostel’
‘School Portraits’ (commissioned portraits of teachers and a construction worker)
From the ”Grand’mother Series’, Shayamoya