I recently had the opportunity to read two book by Jane Kirkpatrick (and author I had previously never read): A Flickering Light and Aurora.
A Flickering Light is about a young woman, Jessie Gaebele, in Minnesota in the early 20th century, who dreams of becoming a professional photographer. She, along with a good friend, Voe, finds a job working in a portrait studio, and learns much about the art and science of good photography. As the owner and operator of the studio, F.J. Bauer, falls ills on more than one occasion, she learns to handle all the aspects of photography, from posing and developing pictures, to setting up appointments and handling payments on her own. What she does not anticipate is falling in love with the (married!) owner, and tries to deny her feelings, even though they are apparent to everyone who knows her.
I was a little hesitant as I began this book, because I thought the setting and topic seemed a little strange. While I enjoy taking pictures, as well as looking at good photography, I’m not particularly interested in the technical aspects, and I feared the book would be dry and boring. Turn-of-the-century Minnesota also does not hold a lot of interest for me, so I was concerned about what I could take away from the book.
As it turns out, I found it to be a solidly good read. Although I had to work a little to get into the book at the beginning, once I did get involved, I found myself really wanting to know what was going to happen to all the characters–Jessie, boy-crazy Voe, the Bauer family, and Jessie’s own family, especially her younger brother, who suffers from a speech impairment following a fall, for which Jessie carries a lot of guilt.
I also did not find the information about photography to be dry–quite the opposite. Reading about how photographs were taken and developed in that period of time, especially in contrast to today’s digital age, was fascinating. It was also interesting to read about the challenges a woman of that time faced, as she tried to enter a male-dominated field.
Despite my initial reluctance, I am very much looking forward to the next book by Jane Kirkpatrick, Shimmering Grasses, and finding out what happens to Jessie’s career and personal life as she continues her quest to become a respected photographer in her new home in Milwaukee. I was also very interested to discover that this book is at least loosely based on the author’s grandmother’s own experiences as a female photographer.
Aurora is the true story of the same-named Utopian colony in Oregon organized by German settlers in the mid-1800s. While it is a non-fiction book, because of the wonderful array of photographs of the community, as well as some of the handiwork found there, it is more suited as a coffee table book than a book you would just pick up and read from cover to cover. I did find it to be interesting, although it’s not necessarily something I would want to read again. I really enjoyed the photos, especially the ones of the beautiful quilts from Aurora. I also appreciated the directions to make two different quilts at the end of the book (although I’m certain that is a task I could never accomplish!). It is quite a pretty book, and anyone interested in religious settlements in America would find it to be an enlightening story.