Landscapes, Legacies and Life Stories Through a Lens

 Landscapes, Legacies and Life Stories Through a Lens 


Photographer, tutor and pioneer Jackie Leger talks reprography, scaling obstacles and the Arab world’s cultural heritage, ahead of Artscoops’ live auction on September 19th, which will showcase one of her outstanding works



Like many Westerners from her generation, the award-winning, American photographer and tutor Jackie Leger first discovered the Middle East and its awe-inspiring geographical and historical traits through the 1960s’ epic movie, Lawrence of Arabia.



It is, therefore, perhaps fitting that her piece selected for Artscoops’ upcoming, live auction in Beirut on September 19th features both the central character from the film and his muse, the pioneering archaeologist, writer and political activist, Gertrude Bell.



The work is from a collage series titled History and Culture (2017), which reflects Jackie’s fascination with the region’s rich and layered heritage, undertaken using the reprography technique that involves scanning, cutting and reproducing photos and documents to create a paper collage. The piece is then photographed in its entirety.


 “Those landscape images will always be on my mind,” explains Jackie, who today divides her time between Saudi Arabia and the US.


The collage includes a glorious mix of iconic old and new motifs and memorabilia, which range from forts and camels to detailed maps. Bell’s face appears in one corner, while T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), mirrors her image. 



Jackie explains that she was keen to highlight both Bell’s strength of character and her contribution to Arab history. “Perseverance was one of her characteristics,” she says. “When Arab leaders refused to meet her, she left only to return again! I might be of a different era, but I still photograph the same places she did as a homage to an admirable individual. Bell should be a role model for all women.”



As Saudi Arabia’s first photography instructor, Jackie is something of a regional pioneer herself. Having arrived in the kingdom in 1999, she is credited with introducing numerous students to photography and related fields of study at a time when they were still frowned upon.


Given her achievement and the fact that women’s rights is still a topical and sensitive issue in the country, I’m keen to hear about Jackie’s own experiences in this area.


“Discrimination will always be an issue but not a critical one,” is her response. “I made several dark rooms in the kingdom and taught photography workshops to women from all walks of life, although I was never allowed to teach boys or men, even though I was asked to. I also never had a hijab, but wore an abaya which I liked.”


Significantly, she explains, she was taken to an arts festival at Jenadriya, which formed part of the celebrations marking the kingdom’s 100th anniversary, when she arrived. “This was my introduction to Saudi art, culture, history and music,” she says. “The next day, I discovered Diriyah, a historic ruin and world heritage site which I spent the next ten years exploring and photographing, both alone and with my students.”



Her many subjects, which, she says, sometimes seem to choose her rather than vice versa, include Diriyah, the ruins of Petra and Palmyra, photographed for a project just as the war in Syria broke out that is now nearing completion. She has also taken reams of photos of Riyadh. “My big disappointment is that I didn't go to Yemen when I had the chance,” she confesses. “It is still on my list!”



Born in 1947, Jackie studied at both the Massachusetts College of Art and Yale University School of Art, where she gained a BFA in film and photography and an MFA respectively. Her work, which varies from modern architecture and vernacular buildings to cultural ruins, has been showcased in solo exhibitions in London and Riyadh. During her career, she has undertaken work for several architects and also written extensively on her subject.


Key influences, she says, include an aunt who encouraged her to travel. “Of course, my education also influenced me,” she adds. “I attended the final class of master photographer, Walker Evans at Yale. Later, I had the honour of contact-printing his negatives for the Yale Art Gallery. I learned a lot from this about black and white image-making and composition.”


Perhaps understandably, traditional black and white film remains her preference, although Jackie acknowledges that digitisation in some form is an inevitable part of a project today.



Her favourite work, she says, is a portrait of the late King Abdulaziz bin Rahman Al Saud, taken by Captain William Shakespear, which, she recalls, hung on the wall of the school where she taught. “For me, he is a brave ‘warrior’ or culture hero similar to Che Guevara,” she says. “I do printmaking at a studio in Brooklyn run by one of Andy Warhol’s original printers and Ibn Saud was the perfect subject for a silkscreen collection!”




Watch Artscoops’ interview with Jackie Leger



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