Geraldine Moodie, granddaughter of Susanna Moodie, was the first woman to own photography studios on the Canadian prairies and create an extensive oeuvre. Geraldine owned three photography studios (Battleford, Maple Creek, and Medicine Hat), raised six children, and followed her husband, J.D., to eight different Northwest Mounted Police postings from the Prairies to Northern Canada. The one constant in her peripatetic life was her art—drawing and photography—and what she accomplished is remarkable. This collection of poetry casts light on Geraldine’s life, using her photographs and biographical details available through letters, newspaper articles, and family interviews collected by curator Donny White. With those fragments, the poet imagines the woman behind the lens, considers possible motives for her decisions and actions, and celebrates her life and work.
“With exquisite and taut detail, Rebecca Luce-Kapler’s poetry takes us into the life of Canada’s first female photographer. Was Geraldine Moodie’s lens drawn to the exotic in the Canadian West? Or did her singular approach to photography disrupt her generation’s romantic and colonizing notions of the ‘noble savage’? These compelling poems are a result of Luce-Kapler’s deep research and her skill in capturing the illuminating moments that reveal a life. The Negation of Chronology is the untold story of a remarkable woman.”
—Lorri Neilsen Glenn, poet and essayist
“Sustained attention lit by flashes of brilliance—the poems in The Negation of Chronology exhibit the same assurance and artistry as the photographs taken by their remarkable subject, Geraldine Moodie. Historically precise, deeply imagined, and multi-focal, this is a sequence to study and savour.”
—Susan Olding, author of Pathologies: A Life in Essays
“The Negation of Chronology captures the spirit of a remarkable woman in remarkable times. In these stunning, evocative poems, we are offered a portrait of Geraldine Moodie as both fluid and fixed in time, a female photographer grappling with objectification and the struggle for agency, filtered through the lens of her private and professional selves. Rebecca Luce Kapler renders a complex daguerreotype: a visual interplay of the shadow and light of a marriage, the Canadian prairie and northern landscapes, and the unspoken inner life of a woman artist.”
—Gail Sidonie Sobat, author of How the Light is Spent
“Red-haired, courageous Geraldine Moodie, granddaughter of Susannah Moodie and great-niece of Catharine Parr Traill, was a pioneering Canadian photographer, preserving images of Cree and Inuit life and of the far North. Rebecca Luce-Kapler’s The Negation of Chronology reclaims one of our foremothers, while catching the sweep of a remarkable life and the stillness and stopped life of enduring photographs This is a beautiful book.”
— Elizabeth Greene, editor of The Dowager Empress: Poems by Adele Wiseman, author of A Season Among Psychics
powered by Crowdcast
Evening Primrose, Calgary, 1886
Lamp lit and fire dampered,
Geraldine scrubs the supper crumbs
from the table, lays out
her brushes and colour,
brings down her sketches from the shelf.
She feathers paint along a faint pencil line,
a hint of pink shadow on the underside
of a flower that does its work after sundown,
its blossom a siren call for moths.
Agnes has invited her to show
at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition
Now there is a purpose to transpose
summer drawing into watercolour.
These are no fanciful
parlour paintings, but the botanic
of a prairie flora
that moves imagination westward.
She brushes stages of budding into flowering,
a plant just past
the first burst of spring,
lobed leaves spiraling out of a rosette,
She paints moonlight catching
white veins, silvered pathways
of blossoming, deepens
the gold of the stigma,
fecund hearts invisible
Here is where
the real work begins,
of delicate, deliberate business.
Creating Light, 1896
After following the light, courting it into her studio, opening
and closing curtains like filters, she wishes to create it,
summon it at her will and not have sitters linger in the dim
until their visages imprint the glass plate. She knows
the warnings about flash powder, but the sun can be unreliable.
Just when she wants an abundance of light, the day is grey and rainy,
another sitter is lost, unwilling to be frozen for so long again.
A small shake of powder in a pan, a spark, a burst
of light before her subject even takes a second breath.
Just to be certain, she invites J.D. for a portrait to keep
her reputation intact should things go awry.
He will not startle at the noise and is level-headed
in a crisis. She chooses the brocade backdrop
and his favourite captain’s chair, a regal setting.
She measures the flash powder, checks that it is dry, prepares
the flint, calls J.D. Dressed in his finest uniform, she sees
how handsome he’s become, how the clothing offers dignity.
She sets a bucket of water off to his right, just out
of the frame, reassures him that it is a precaution
for something unlikely. The aperture is set, powder
in its pan, and she opens the shutter, strikes the flint, lights the flash.
It startles them both, but there is no fire and she laughs
in relief, J.D. joining after a pause. You are quite
the woman, he says, but the compliment hardly registers
for she is thinking he might have jumped with the light,
that she needs to develop that photograph today,
she needs more than managing the dangerous,
she needs to know she has created the sun.
Closing the Studio, 1899
I have been here before, J.D. deciding
our lives need to change. Overnight
he sells our Maple Creek holdings,
except the studio, which I own.
He presents the papers to be signed, angry
I will not acquiesce. He argues
I will have to sell it from Lakefield,
that it will be troublesome, financially ruinous.
But I have decided. I shutter
my studio, certain I will return, somehow.
The next posting, the next adventure,
J.D. will find his acclaim, but I
just want time to go deep into a place,
find all the angles with my camera,
watch the pattern of light and shadow, different
every day and season. I long to map
a place onto glass plate until it seeps into my skin.