Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history
Creating spectacular images in the face of technical and physical adversity the madcap daredevil Captain Alfred G Buckham (1879-1956) was the foremost aerial photographer of his day. Between 1908 to the early 1930s Buckham risked life and limb to create aerial portraits that are awe-inspiring, poetic and works of technical brilliance. His 1923 photograph of London, The Heart of Empire, was voted by The Sunday Times as one of the world’s greatest photographs and more recently it was included in The Royal Photographic Society exhibition and book, Drawn by Light, highlighting the world's most important photographers.
‘Alfred Buckham was courageous, almost recklessly so, insecurely squeezed with his large plate camera into a flimsy aircraft taking photographs nobody before had even dared. What he captured was a new world, its atmospherics; lost temples in the jungle, cities framed from the air, the wrecks of war, at considerable personal risk. The last crash he endured left him virtually speechless. But his glistening images are things of rare beauty, and Dimbola is proud to be allowed to host the first proper retrospective, and acknowledge Buckham’s genius’ Brian Hinton, Chairman of Julia Margaret Cameron Trust
Spirited artistry with the blood of a risk-taker coursing through his veins, Buckham was a one-off. His first ambition was to be a painter but after seeing an exhibition by Turner he went home and burnt his own work. Those painterly yearnings however did not go up in smoke and they found expression in his aerial photography. During World War 1 he was the first head of aerial reconnaissance for the Royal Navy and later made Captain in the Royal Naval Air Service. However by 1919 he was discharged as one hundred percent disabled, the result of some nine crashes that left him breathing through a tube in his neck for the rest of his life – but did that stop him soaring to dizzying heights risking loss of consciousness to capture spectacular images with his unwieldly large format camera? Definitely not, in fact to add to the drama he would often prefer to go up in stormy weather!
“I always stand up to make an exposure and, taking the precaution to tie my right leg to the seat, I am free to move about rapidly, and easily, in any desired direction; and loop the loop and indulge in other such delights, with perfect safety,” he wrote in 1927!
In an arcane precursor to Photoshop, Buckham also manipulated photographs marrying different cloud formations to landscapes, adding in airplanes and even painting features himself illustrating his aesthetic desires to get the image right.
Among a select group of admirers is Graydon Carter, ex-Vanity Fair editor. Carter, writing for American Photographer, sums up Buckham’s exceptional contribution perfectly, ‘a photographer blessed with a painter’s eye and a hotspur’s heart could only have accomplished what Buckham did, in a body of aerial portraits that are, ultimately, breathtaking.’
When you consider not only the tremendous technical challenges he faced but also the restrictions posed on him by his disability, Buckham’s body of work is unquestioningly a marvel of photographic genius. In romantic tradition, the vast spectacle of land and cloudscape is fixed by the lens of Buckham, the sky traveller, and renders the viewer simultaneously insignificant and potent. As Turner is undoubtedly one of Britain’s greatest painters so is Buckham one of our greatest photographers.
The Sky Traveller will be shown in the Olympus and Charles Hay Galleries 5 October - 16 December 2018.
Dimbola Museum+Galleries is the former home of the pioneering Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and the birthplace of fine art photography. Dimbola now houses the largest public collection in the UK of Cameron’s photographs and an historic camera collection. As well as hosting a programme of regularly changing contemporary photography and art exhibitions Dimbola is also home to a permanent display on the history of the Isle of Wight Festival.
Add a Comment