Most people might not consider hours spent in a dark basement a whole lot of fun. Megan L. Buckingham '03, originally a child of sunny Laguna Beach, Calif., now spends a significant portion of her time in the basement-the one under Sever, to be more precise, the home of Harvard's video and film labs. But for Buckingham, who describes her video sub-concentration in Visual and Environmental Studies as "fun" and "something I just love to do," the subterranean hours are worth it.
Buckingham found her way to video after more traditional sculpture and drawing classes at Harvard. She says, "I knew when I came to Harvard that I wanted to do art, [but]...sculpture and drawing just didn't lend themselves to the stories I wanted my work to tell." Video, then, was a natural choice for Buckingham, whose self-professed inability to "think linearly" swayed her away from film, a medium that requires a much more carefully structured approach to creating a cohesive set of images.
Video, on the other hand, lets Buckingham craft disparate footage and sounds, the laughs of her roommates, shots of her grandmother smoking cigarettes and even pieces of home videos shot by her father of Buckingham and her sister when they were much younger. If Buckingham thought linearly, she would lose what makes her a tremendously talented student of video. Somehow, playing with digital video tools, Buckingham cuts and pastes, extends and distorts time. She retells stories the way she understands them, with images of the past and present rendered with equal importance.
All of Buckingham's footage is shot live, as in a documentary. Her current projects mostly deal with "childhood, growth and family." She says, "I focus on my grandmother a lot, who molested me, and alcoholism, as well as female identity and the ties a family has."
Her videos are beautiful, from a purely aesthetic sense and from the distinct realism woven into the stories she tells. A video from class last year chronicles a trip Buckingham took with her younger sister to visit their grandmother. Buckingham's talented camera work is evident; she uses images shot of passing land along the highway while her car is moving, as well as images of her sister driving. She chronicles the miniscule, from a stop for a cigarette and coffee to her grandmother's demonstration of a vegetable grinder. A shot of a computer screen with a drawing for her grandmother leads into a moment with her sister where the two discuss concepts of beauty.
Buckingham, editing from eight hours of film, manages to keep such lines as "when I get to a door, sometimes when I'm alone, I just stand there. I'm so used to boys opening doors for me." But the video isn't simply about dialogue. Buckingham follows her blind aunt, focusing the camera on a woman who cannot see she is being taped. Her project evokes irony and discomfort, employing a careful combination of images, sound and dialogue.
In Buckingham's red VES video locker, there are also examples of the typical make-you-cringe sort of video. For a minute and a half, she slowed down her roommate's laugher while focusing her camera on a newborn gerbil with a head injury. Videos that make you sick to your stomach are fashionable right now, and Buckingham is certainly accomplished in this genre. The eerie quality of Buckingham's video work is captured in her "Christmas 81-2000," where a dreamy sequence of caroling and light trails fades to her grandmother on the phone, stating, "I've never molested a child in my life." Intense subject matter is matched with interesting video technique, especially in the way Buckingham plays with light and interspersed images from Christmases when she and her sister were children.
Buckingham's big video project this semester will most likely involve editing and expanding her longest piece, a 12-minute sequence that intersperses scenes of her mother, more clips of her grandmother and shots of Buckingham with her best friend at age 13, "more drunk than I've ever been in my whole life," as she says. Editing plans include making her grandmother seem "less of a monster" and more conversation about "eating disorders and feminine identity."
Buckingham wants to make people uncomfortable and to "get them to talk about things they wouldn't talk about otherwise," and she definitely succeeds. Her footage is not just controversial, but artistic; she wouldn't be able to produce such visceral reactions in her viewers unless her editing and her images weren't replete with talented editorial decisions and craftsmanship with her camera.
While future plans include a year in Brazil to shoot a thesis, practice Portuguese and have a lot of fun, hopefully under a Harvard sponsorship umbrella, Buckingham is fine where she is now, mostly in the basement of Sever, recombining the stories in her memory for other people to see.