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RUBY SPOWART: Artist Talk @ Queensland AIPP

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RUBY SPOWART: Art Photographer

Around 30 photographers gathered to hear about the life and photographic art of Ruby Spowart in Brisbane on June 13th. Now in her mid 80s, Ruby has over the years participated in a range of photographic pursuits that have led to some quite substantial achievements. She is a triple Master of Photography, Fellow and Honorary Fellow of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography; in her academic studies she has achieved a Certificate in Art from the Queensland College of Art and also an Associate Diploma of Visual Art from QUT. Recognised for her contribution in visual art she was awarded a Don Fraser Fellowship of QUT and, earlier in her career in the camera club movement she was awarded both an SSAPS and an APR Medal by the Australian Photographic Society. She co-founded Imagery Gallery in Brisbane that showed exhibitions of photography for fifteen years from 1980-1995. Her photographs have won major art photography awards in the 1980s and 90s including the Muswellbrook Photographic Award and the McGregor Prize for Photography and is held in major regional art collections and the Queensland Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia.

SEE Ruby’s curriculum vitae

Ruby has created an immense body of work in the following techniques:

  • Polaroid 10”x8” colour photograms (1980s)
  • Polaroid SX-70 multi-image (joiner-style works) (1980s)
  • Massive pseudo-panorama landscapes (1980s & 90s)
  • Camera toss mosaics  (1980s & 90s)
  • Large-scale photo mosaics  (1980s & 90s)
  • Artists’ books and photobooks (2000-2012)

Her most recognisable works, particularly from the AIPP APP Awards successes, comes from her work with Kodak High Speed Infrared film and a Leica M2. The images are usually of outback Australian landscapes and are heavily sepia toned.  SEE a folio of works in Ruby’s Behance Folio

Jan Ramsay introduces Ruby and Marianne

Queensland AIPP President Jan Ramsay enthusiastically introduced Ruby and Marianne Irvine (recently awarded AIPP Honorary Life Membership) who, we learned was to interview Ruby as part of the evening’s presentation. At first Ruby discussed her life and touched upon the following points;

  • Her mother was a keen artist who painted in oils
  • Her schooling was cut short by World War II, as she had to help out on the farm as her brothers had enlisted
  • She had always done things with art-making; enamelling, ceramics, china painting, drawing
  • Ruby joined the Numurkah Camera Club (in Victoria) and the Australian Photographic Society in the mid-1960s
  • Had served as National Membership Officer in the APS
  • Had participated in all levels of the camera club movement in Queensland in the 1980s
  • Founded Imagery Gallery with son Doug in 1980 and was a director until the gallery closed its doors in 1995
  • Exhibited extensively throughout the 1980s and 90s
  • Founded Imagery Gallery Tours with Doug in 1982 and over 17 years undertook around 40 outback safari tours around Australia, as well as tours to New Zealand, Africa and South-Western USA. It was noted that Imagery Gallery Tours may well be the Australia’s first Photo Tour business.
  • Ruby became involved with the AIPP and the APP Awards in the early 1990s and served as the administrator for many years
  • In the early 2000s Ruby cared for her husband who was in ill health and she moved to the Gold Coast on his passing in 2006.

‘Uluru elevation’ – Infrared film image by Ruby Spowart

This presentation was illustrated by examples of artworks and personal images from these recollections. Marianne Irvine then led a lively discussion around the infrared work and travelling in the Australian outback. The concept of taking photographs with film was commented on as many in the audience did not have a significant connection with infrared film, processing, fine print making on fibre papers and the variations of the toning processes that were employed by Doug, who had printed most of Ruby’s work—although she did hold up for the audience to see an image that she announced as her last APPA Gold awarded print, and said that she, ‘had printed that one!’

Doug explained the infrared film process as it existed 20 years ago and connected his knowledge and skill in the darkroom with the prints before the audience. SEE: Doug Spowart’s infrared film ‘How To’

Ian Poole interjected that the images were masterworks made by the photographer Ruby, and the printer Doug, and that the APPA print scores and labels on the print backs provided a wonderful provenance for the work as high quality ‘vintage’ prints.

When asked about her beginnings in art photography Ruby explained the creative space that was created by Imagery Gallery’s presence within the Brisbane photography scene. During its 15 years of operation Imagery Ruby and Doug showed over 200 exhibitions of photography, they curated major exhibitions of Queensland photographers work, some of which were shown in China, New Zealand and Noumea. She had found, as she believed many others had as well, that Imagery Gallery had provided inspiration for new ideas and directions of photography, exploration of themes and the presentation of photography within the gallery context.  SEE: IMAGERY GALLERY Biog

Marianne asks Ruby a question …

Questions from the floor enabled other insights into Ruby’s process and workflow to be revealed. The presentation concluded with everyone being presented with the Patterns in Time catalogue of Ruby’s work and an invitation to visit her on the Gold Coast to see more work from her extensive practice. Ruby advised that she was making her work available to interested purchasers and many attendees eagerly approached her at the conclusion of her presentation.

It’s not often that we can gather together and meet with photographers who have been a part of the recent history of the discipline and who in some way may have helped create that space and opportunities that we enjoy today—this occasion was certainly one of these. Thank you to Ruby for sharing her story and her art, to Marianne for her chairing the meeting, thanks also the AIPP Queensland Division and in particular Jan Ramsay for coordinating this and other events for the benefit of AIPP members and those interested in photography.

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Doug Spowart with contributions from Vicky

The Spowarts: Vicky, Doug, Ruby and grandson Ted.   Photo: Mark Schoemann

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