The 'Coloured' Photographs of Megan Jenkinson


Megan Jenkinson was born in Hamilton in 1958; and is now in her fourth year at Elam art school, studying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography. Her work has appeared in several group exhibitions, the most recent being A Group Show at Snaps in June, and The New Image, at Peter Mcleavey's In August.

Much of Megan Jenkinson's work until now has been handcoloured: although more underplayed than that of others using this same technique - Greg Stevens, Tom Fraser and Gillian Chaplin, for example - and to achieve a .very different effect.

sepia-toned and hand-tinted photograph

Her work possesses a charm that quite transcends the surface of the paper. There is a peculiar refinement of feeling in her choice of subject and the details that embroider it; and an unfailing resourcefulness in the arrangement of the composition. Present is a reverence of feeling, due, perhaps, to a consciousness of the mystery of beauty. The source of expression in the best of her work is her susceptibility to the effects of light. The 'colours' in her pictures (whether they be present through hand-application or by subtleties of paper tone) suggest the vibration of light, and thus unite with one another in completing the rhythm of the whole picture.

The prevailing feeling in her earlier blue photographs, heavily toned and manipulated during printing, is Impressionistic, directly relating to the Photo-Secessionists of the early part of this century, who composed highly pictorial and emotionally-laden pictures, heavily manipulated to achieve the desired effects. Megan Jenkinson has no qualms about cropping a negative in the darkroom to eliminate superfluous information or unnecessary details. This sharply contrasts with what could be seen as the attitude prevalent in the art schools - the purity of the 35mm uncropped image, composed entirely in the camera. Her later work, however, has perhaps been more clearly previsualised, and she has tended to move closer to the person being photographed, concentrating on one area - the face, the drapery, the hands.

blue-toned photograph

Previsualisation, the conceiving and planning of a finished picture before execution, plays a large part in Megan Jenkinson's most personal work, which is often on a particular theme, sometimes drawn from mythologies. For example: a simply-constituted image called Daphne recreates the story of Daphne and Apollo... Apollo pursued Daphne, and when he caught her, kissed her and she turned into the tree we now know as the laurel.

An interest in metamorphosis and anthropomorphosis first developed at school, after seeing the work of Max Ernst and his contemporaries. These themes are sometimes interpreted in the titles she gives: but more usually by the content of the images. The allusions and associations (particularly in those images containing reflections or made up from more than one negative) may escape the viewer unaware of the literary or other associative metaphors in the image. In some cases, titling or colouring may provide further clues. She uses colouring to express a particular idea, or to draw attention to certain areas. This is why it is only rarely that the whole picture is coloured; or if it is (as, for example, in her Makatu Hot Pools series) the colouring is over-emphasised (but not overapplied), and tends toward the surreal.

Regardless of any emotional, literary or philosophic content in her work Megan Jenkinson's pictures are ultimately seen as extremely finely-drawn images, possessing a high degree of visual elegance and refinement. I feel that these other associations will perhaps be more strongly expressed as her work develops: but for me right now it is the visual element which is strongest - together with an almost painful refinement. It is as if the images exist on their own, in a rarified atmosphere, unable to be improved in any way. In this, as in the exploration of classical and literary themes, her work echoes that exquisite body of work by Photo-Secessionists George H. Seely, Alvin Langdon Colburn and Clarence H. White.

Originally published in Art New Zealand 13 1979