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Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

ANNOUNCEMENT: The 2016 Australian Photobook of the Year Award

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The Finalists...

The Finalists…

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Momento Pro and UNLESS YOU WILL joined forces to present the 2016 Australian Photobook of the Year Awards culminating with a presentation in Melbourne on February 17, 2017.

The awards were open to unpublished, self-published or trade published photo books by Australian citizens and residents. The Australian Photobook of the Year Awards celebrates excellence and innovation in photobook creation and also showcases the work of Australian photographers to a growing local and international audience.

 

THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE WINNER

Libby Jefferies talking about the Award

Libby Jeffery talking about the Award

 

A group of around 70 photobook makers, collectors, commentators and others interested in the discipline attended a presentation of the finalist books and the announcement of the overall winner at Magic Johnston in Melbourne on February 17, 2017.  Brief speeches were presented by UNLESS YOU WILL’s founder Heidi Romano and MomentoPro’s Libby Jeffery were followed by the announcement of Katrin Koenning & Sarker Protick’s Astres Noirs as the winner. The Commended awards were also announced and attendees were able to experience the finalist’s books first-hand.

 

 

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THE WINNER: Astres Noirs by Katrin Koenning & Sarker Protick & Chose Commune

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APOTY WINNER: Astres Noirs by Katrin Koenning & Sarker Protick & Chose Commune

APOTY WINNER: Astres Noirs by Katrin Koenning & Sarker Protick & Chose Commune

 

THE 2016 APOTY FINALISTS

  •  Astres Noirs by Katrin Koenning & Sarker Protick & Chose Commune Winner
  • Elsewhere by Fuad Osmancevic Commended
  • J.W. by Clare Steele Commended
  • Memorandum by Ana Paula Estrada Commended
  • Some Want Quietly by Drew Pettifer & M.33 Commended
  • Surface Phenomena by Bartolomeo Celestino & Perimeter Editions Commended
  • Bird by Gary Heery
  • Courts 02 by Ward Roberts & Editions
  • Elemental by Rohan Hutchinson
  • Golden Triangle by Hannah Nikkelson
  • Kinglake by Jade Byrnes
  • Two Pandanus Trees Side by Side by Aaron Claringbold

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A detailed report and images of the winner and commended books can be seen on the Australian Photobook of the Year Website – HERE

 

ALL photographs ©2017 Doug Spowart

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ZINES IN MELBOURNE: Sticky Institute’s Festival of the Photocopier

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Town Hall foyer sign

Town Hall foyer sign

 

On Sunday 12 February the Melbourne Town Hall and was packed with sellers, lookers and buyers attending the Sticky Institute’s Festival of the Photocopier Zine Fair. At a guess, there could have been around 100 zine tables with a variety of zine-makers: both showing their own work, or representing other zinesters. For the visitor to the Fair there was an opportunity to see and handle almost any kind of communication that could put onto a sheet of paper, or into collated pages – folded, stapled, glued, stitched and sewn. Each ‘publication’ representing a personal approach to what the medium “zine” means to the author. And, as the ‘Zine’ is a slippery medium those within the discipline keep pushing the limits by integration of opportunistic technologies and ideas gleaned from contemporary media.

 

PHOTO: Doug Spowart - Stickies Festival of the photocopier zine fair 2017

PHOTO: Doug Spowart – Stickies Festival of the Photocopier Zine Fair 2017

 

The content of the zines presented to us were from a broad church of visual and written media including: text as prose, poetry or as visual typographic forms, and calligraphy. There was a rich diversity of illustration from photo-realism to comic flat field work, photographs and even, in one sighted example – the ancient art of marbling. The narrative forms in these publications ranged from concrete poetry, prose, comic stories and disjointed stream of consciousness curated visuals.

In keeping with the tradition some zine makers aired their political opinions while others shared a fascination of contemporary everyday life. There were groups that concentrated on gender issues, music and issues of the street, while others presented dreamy naive and whimsical scenarios, adventures in suburbia, the road and outer space, nonsensical ghoulish and vampire episodes.

Our specific interest were zines based on or utilising photos sometimes referred to as photozines, as well as others that use photomontage in their narrative or conceptual work. Examples seen dealt with topics like the destruction of traditional family homes in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, skateboard stories, and a faux streetscape made up of photos of distressed buildings.

The Fair was a place to network. Greetings were made with like-minded people across the display tables and discussions took place about zines, life and art. We caught up with a few people we knew – David Dellafiora, Gracia and Louise and Glen Smith – Queensland’s zine hero Jeremy Staples was in the building somewhere but we didn’t get to meet. Zine-makers, or sellers, were keen to engage with us to tell the story of the work and where it fits with their practice and their life.

But did anyone sell anything? Many visitors were seen toting quite a few brown envelopes and calico bags filled with new additions to their personal collections. Perhaps a personal experience might shed some light on how success for such an event could be measured. It was right at the end of our shop, we had spent our budget and were talking to two young zinesters who were actually making their little photo zines on demand at their table. Their selling price was $3 and we wanted one of each but could only scrape together $5 in coin. One of the zinesters said ‘that’s fine, I’ll take the $2’, and stated that, ‘it’s important to have my zine out there…’

Being out there with your work. That is what zines are all about … your message in print as a democratic multiple … telling your story, was always what zines were about. That tradition it seems, continues…

 

Doug Spowart

February 13, 2017

 

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SOME ZINES ADDED TO OUR COLLECTION

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Trudi Treble at the Fair

Trudi Treble at the Fair

Trudi Treble: united states of america – october 2017 – november 2017, my diary.

Trudi Treble: united states of america – october 2017 – november 2017, my diary. #6/25.

Trudi Treble  Instagram: trud.i

 

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Johanna Ng at the Fair

Johanna Ng at the Fair

 

Johanna Ng: carlingford twitter poetry

Johanna Ng: carlingford twitter poetry

 

 

 

Glen Smith at the Fair

Glen Smith at the Fair

 

Glen Smith: Constructed Landscape

Glen Smith: Constructed Landscape

Glen Smith: https://nofrillsart.net/

 

 

Gracia and Louise

Gracia and Louise

Gracia Haby: Under the water with a two-colour eye-glass, something similar (2014) #49/100

Gracia Haby: Under the water with a two-colour eye-glass, something similar (2014) #49/100

Gracia and Louise: www.gracialouise.com

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martinpf: At least we’re not your kids – a photozine. #81/100. Published by Russian Glue Press

martinpf: At least we’re not your kids – a photozine. #81/100. Published by Russian Glue Press

martinpf@hotmail.co.ukRussiangluepress@gmail.com

 

 

David Dellafiora Field Studies

David Dellafiora Field Studies

Field Study (David Dellafiora): Wipe No.88

Field Study (David Dellafiora): Wipe No.88

Field Study – https://daviddellafiora.blogspot.com.au/

 

 

Alice Fennessy at her table

Alice Fennessy at her table

Alice Fennessy: Blood Vessels – A collection of poems about me memories

Alice Fennessy: Blood Vessels – A collection of poems about me memories

Alice Fennessy Instagram: @alicefennessy

 

 

Claire Wakeford and her zine

Claire Wakeford and her zine

Claire Wakeford: Untitled

Claire Wakeford: Untitled

Claire Wakeford: www.clairewakeford.com

 

 

Ning Xue: An Urban Village

Ning Xue: An Urban Village

 

Ning Xue: http://www.xuening.me/me.html

 

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UNTIL NEXT YEAR …

 

PHOTO: Doug Spowart - Sticky Institute's Festival of the Photocopier Zine Fair 2017

PHOTO: Doug Spowart – Sticky Institute’s Festival of the Photocopier Zine Fair 2017

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Copyright in the zines is retained  by the authors. All photographs + text + video ©2017 Doug Spowart

 

 

 

 

 

THOMAS OLIVER’s ‘Disconnection’ exhibition & essay

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Thomas Oliver - image from the series 'Disconnection'

Thomas Oliver – image from the series Disconnection

Thomas Oliver - image from the series Disconnection

Thomas Oliver – image from the series Disconnection

Thomas Oliver - image from the series 'Disconnection'

Thomas Oliver – image from the series Disconnection

Thomas Oliver - image from the series 'Disconnection'

Thomas Oliver – image from the series Disconnection

 

Disconnection is a solo show by Brisbane photographer Thomas Oliver. The series consists of work that has been captured in London, New York, Toronto, Paris and (of course) Brisbane. The exhibition is accompanied with a catalogue essay written by Dr. Doug Spowart.

Artist’s Talk: Interview with Dr. Heather Faulkner, 11am-1pm Saturday 25th February

Full Exhibition Dates: Tuesday 13th – Saturday 25th February

Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10am – 4pm

Address: Project Gallery – QCA South Bank Campus, 226 Grey Street

 

OLIVER’s Artist Statement

Experiencing the ebb and flow of life in a capital city, it is easy to become consumed by the gurgling hum of activity. It sparks and pulses like an amped-up generator. We slip from one task to the next, leaving ourselves behind in the process. The lights flicker and the air vibrates warmly around us. And like a mad hive, our cities swarm with ghostly forms, smoothly transparent and faceless.

 

 

 

My Words for Thomas …

What makes photography a strange invention – with unforeseeable consequences – is that its primary raw materials are light and time.[1]

John Berger died last week. But his work will continue to reveal insights on how we perceive photographic communications. Even now I continue to hear his words in my head as I write. Most of the time his voice inhabits my writing, saying the words that I have just typed. His writing and critical thinking offered new ‘ways of seeing and looking at photographs’ – as ‘quotes’ from appearances, photos and memory. The photograph presents to us information that has connections to a reality as in Berger’s assertion, ‘A photograph arrests the flow of time in which the event photographed once existed’.[2]

 

But what happens when the photographic moment is slurred by slow shutter-speeds, movement of subject and camera panning? In this approach Thomas Oliver creates visual documents that could never have been seen by the photographer or an observer of the scene. These are documents of not a moment but of time passing. They transcend the instantaneous moment and suggest a visual concept of the subject’s spirit seemingly extracted by the act of photography–a tear in temporality ‘arrested’.

Francis Bacon: Three studies for a portrait of Lucian Freud 1969

Francis Bacon: Three studies for a portrait of Lucian Freud 1969

Oliver’s images also have a resonance with Gilles Deleuze’s discussion on Francis Bacon’s[3] work in his 1981 book Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Deleuze highlights how ‘chance’ and the expressiveness of the random and indiscriminate effects of vigorous brush strokes inform Bacon’s painting. Deleuze proposes that: ‘there is no chance except “manipulated” chance, no accident except a “utilized” accident.’[4] In making his photographs Oliver has no way of knowing what each slow shutter release will reveal. He relies on his understanding of technique during the process of exposure to realize the potential for an evocative outcome.

For me Oliver’s photographs are based on the ‘manipulated chance’. He is ready to respond with the tools photography to capture the phenomenon of light and time in everyday places frequented by people. His work seems to also rely on his acceptance of ‘utilized accidents’. It is from this principle that his moments of strange and powerful visual poetry come into being.

But are they his photographs? My favourite Berger quote also relates to Oliver’s spontaneous street images. That there are things beyond us, I’m not talking about God or Gods, but rather more about the involvement of the ‘other’ in the making of art. Berger said it beautifully for me – his voice echoes in my mind:

The modern illusion concerning painting [I read photography here]. . . is that the artist is a creator. Rather he is a receiver. What seems like creation is the act of giving form to what he has received.[5]

I respectfully present to you – Thomas Oliver’s Disconnection photographs of simulacra from the street.

 

Doug Spowart PhD

 

[1] Berger, John. “Appearances/the Ambiguity of the Photograph.” In Another Way of Telling: A Possible Theory of Photography, 47-52. Malden, MA, USA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2002.
[2] Ibid
[3] I refer also to Francis Bacon’s paintings based on Diego Velázquez’s Pope, Portrait of Innocent X (1650) and his portraits of friends, for example Three studies for a portrait of Lucien Freund (1964).
[4] Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Translated by Continuum. Continuum Edition ed. London: Continuum Books, 1981. Editions de la Difference.
[5] Berger, John. The Shape of a Pocket. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2001.

 

Written by Cooper+Spowart

February 18, 2017 at 9:04 pm

DIGGING FOR GOLD: Nocturne Castlemaine+Chewton

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The memorial cairn celebrating the discovery of gold at this place in 1852

The memorial cairn celebrating the discovery of gold at this place in 1852

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For about a month now we have been house-sitting in Chewton in the midlands of Victoria – the locality includes Castlemaine and Bendigo with Daylesford and Ballarat just down the road.

The region is famous for gold that was discovered in 1851 – with three months 30,000 diggers were working the alluvial gold fields. While initially a tent city very quickly buildings for every purpose where built many of which still stand today – although, some could be considered barely standing… Just up the street is The Red Hill Hotel that was built in 1854, the Chewton Town Hall in 1858 and the local post office was first opened in 1857.

By the end of the 1800s underground mining and dredging became the preferred methods to extract the precious metal. Companies that could undertake the industrial, technical and financial backing required replaced the independent digger. Populations shrunk and the architectural legacy of the boom times remained.

We have been out doing some night photography work to extend our Nocturne project further. Our nocturne photographs follow our usual methodology although we have added in the Day/Night duo image concept explored in the recent Nocturne Armidale project.

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Castlemaine: Downes Road industrial scene

Castlemaine: Downes Road industrial scene

We have found that the Castlemaine and Chewton are thriving creative and cultural communities bolstered by artists, academics, writers and adventurers who have moved to this region. You can be surprised who lives around the corner…

 

Chewton Post Office

Chewton Post Office

The Chewton Community & Senior Citizens Centre. At the gate is an amazing life-sized sculpture of Alice Dennis by sculptor Richard Yates.

The Chewton Community & Senior Citizens Centre.
At the gate is an amazing life-sized sculpture of Alice Dennis by sculptor Richard Yates.

Pyrenees Highway and moon rise, Chewton

Pyrenees Highway and moon rise, Chewton

 

Elevation of the Old Castlemaine Jail...

Elevation of the Old Castlemaine Jail…

The 9.35pm to Melbourne leaves the Castlemaine Station...

The 9.35pm to Melbourne leaves the Castlemaine Station…

Castlemaine station detail... Poster says "When it's hot – Trains slow down". It was 41 degrees C max today - the train was running late. It was still 34 degrees when the train left the platform.

Castlemaine station detail… Poster says “When it’s hot – Trains slow down”. It was 41 degrees C max today – the train was running late. It was still 34 degrees when the train left the platform.

 

 

St Mary's Church with shadows

St Mary’s Church with shadows

TOTAL FIRE BAN TODAY - Chewton CFA, Mount Street.

TOTAL FIRE BAN TODAY – Chewton CFA, Mount Street.

You know when you hit the 50kph zone coming into Chewton when you pass the Shell servo ...

You know when you hit the 50kph zone coming into Chewton when you pass the Shell servo …

Just down the side of Mo's Antiques Chewton

Just down the side of Mo’s Antiques Chewton

Castlemaine Post Office – Telstra telephones... who uses them now...?

Castlemaine Post Office – Telstra telephones… who uses them now…?

The Old Castlemaine Jail...

The Old Castlemaine Jail…

Castlemaine Town Hall – lights all out 9.30pm.

Castlemaine Town Hall – lights all out 9.30pm.

Phone Box DUO at the Chewton Post Office

Phone Box DUO at the Chewton Post Office

You could almost write a novel about this Chewton scene...

You could almost write a novel about this Chewton scene…

PHOTO: Cooper+Spowart ©2017

Antique, antique shop Castlemaine

Castlemaine Midland Hotel just over the road from the station. The lights are out ---- Is anybody home...?

Castlemaine Midland Hotel just over the road from the station. The lights are out —- Is anybody home…?

The Chewton Town Hall...

The Chewton Town Hall…

Castlemaine Presbyterian Church

Castlemaine Presbyterian Church

Opposite the Red Hill Hotel DUO

Opposite the Red Hill Hotel DUO

Under the veranda of the Red Hill Hotel

Under the veranda of the Red Hill Hotel

 

Cooper+Spowart – on the nocturne street, Chewton

Cooper+Spowart – on the nocturne street, Chewton

 

 

 

Written by Cooper+Spowart

February 14, 2017 at 5:24 pm

UPDATE-SKOPELOS WORKSHOP: Join us on a Greek Island

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PHOTO: Steph Bolt Cyanotype: Cooper+Spowart

Skopelos jetty …….PHOTO: Steph Bolt Cyanotype: Cooper+Spowart

 

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IMAGINE – the inspiration for PHOTOGRAPHY on an Aegean Island

CONSIDER – exploring photodocumentary, cyanotypes and books

AND ENJOY –  Greek food and wine, experience the blue of the Aegean Sea, Greek lifestyle and its mythical landscapes – All shared with fellow workshop participants with similar interests.

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Skopelos landscapes PHOTO: Steph Bolt

Skopelos landscapes ……..PHOTOs: Steph Bolt

Greek women and men talking PHOTO: Steph Bolt

Greek women and men talking ……..PHOTOs: Steph Bolt

 

In May 2017 we will be presenting a 12 day workshop on the Greek island of Skopelos with Australian artist and printmaker Steph Bolt.

 

We plan to work with participants to capture the experience of ‘being there’ and to tell stories about ‘place’ in books and photographs.

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The workshop topics will include:

  • The cyanotype process to produce prints on paper and cloth to reference the Aegean blue
  • Working with found objects and inkjet negatives from photos made on excursions
  • Making bespoke photobooks that you will handcraft during the workshop
  • Aspects of documentary ‘placemaking’
  • Using online photobook making services to design books
  • A sharing of our techniques to optimise and enhance digital photographs.

What is included in the fee:

  • Tuition for 12 days
  • 12 breakfasts
  • Opening & closing dinners
  • 2 lunches
  • Morning tea – on the days we are in the studio
  • Excursion days – transport included
  • The odd drink on the terrace overlooking the Aegean

Workshop specific materials included:

  • Cyanotype chemistry
  • Some printing papers and cloth
  • An allocation of inkjet negative material for photographic images
  • Basic book-making materials: threads, needles, glue
  • Air conditioned studio access

 

Vicky+Doug presenting workshops

Vicky+Doug presenting workshops

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A detailed website:  SKOPELOS WORKS ON PAPER

Contact Steph Bolt at skopelosworksonpaper@gmail.com

 

Vicky and Doug

ABOUT THE TUTORS

We have been involved in the arts as practitioners, teachers, critics, commentators and allied professional activities for many years: Doug Spowart, from the 1980s and Victoria Cooper, from 1990.

Our individual and collaborative book works have been acquired for the artists’ books, rare book and manuscript collections in Artspace Mackay, State Libraries of Queensland and Victoria, Mitchell Library (Doug), the National Library of Australia. Our wall based artworks are held in numerous public collections.

Our artists’ books have also been exhibited in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America and are held by private and public collections in these countries.

We have both completed individual PhD studies based on philosophical and theoretical considerations in our practice. Since completing these studies we have continued our research activities and have each received separate Siganto Foundation Artists Book Research Fellowships in the Australian Library of Art at the State Library of Queensland: Doug in 2014 and Victoria in 2015.

Victoria Cooper  PhD and has holds the following AIPP  credentials –APP.L, M.Photog, Hon.FAIPP.

Doug Spowart  PhD and has holds the following AIPP  credentials – APP.L, M.Photog, Hon.FAIPP, FAIPP.

 

app_licentiatelrg

AIPP APP Log

 

This workshop is recommended by the AIPP for its members for their Continuing Professional Development as a Third Party CPD Event.

aipp-cpd-2017-01-17-at-2-25-13-pm

 

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Some hand-made photobooks/artists books we have made

Some hand-made photobooks/artists books we have made

Super Nova a cyanotype by Victoria Cooper

Super Nova a cyanotype by Victoria Cooper

Wooli Beach Junk a cyanotype by Doug Spowart

Wooli Beach Junk a cyanotype by Doug Spowart

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FIELD STUDIES INTERNATIONAL 2016: Our contribution

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Signing the Field Studies 2016 contribution

Signing the Field Studies 2016 contribution

 

We have been busy the last few days completing our contribution to the 2016 Field Study International report project. Led by David Dellafiora in Geelong the Field Study project is now in it’s 22nd year. Field Study Report contributions are called emanations and can include all kinds of things including: ‘documentations of performances, actions and exhibitions, tracts, rants, instructions, manifestoes, reflections and experiments.’ They are a mashup of Fluxus, DaDa, Surrealist inspired, zine-ish paste-up, rubber stamps, torn up letter ransom notes and concrete poetry. The Field Study Report becomes a snapshot of artistic, social and/or political commentary at the time of its publication.

 

Our submission for 2016 is a commentary on our present nomadic lifestyle. Since moving from Toowoomba 2½ years ago we have been house-sitting, doing artists in residence projects, staying with friends and renting – we have lived in approximately 15 places.

For our submission we made a diptych of original cyanotype images recently while staying on the beach at Wooli. One print represents a starry night above a line of houses. The other print is a selection of of different keys –referencing all the houses we have stayed in. The two cyanotype prints were copied, scaled and arranged on the one sheet with the captions: ‘Keys to the homes where we have lived …’ and, ‘A Field Study Emanation for 2016 by Victoria Cooper + Doug Spowart’.

Each A5 print is numbered and signed and the edition is 100. Each contributor gets a copy of the assembled works and some copies are sold to support the project and the group that helps make it happen.

 

Cooper+Spowart Field Studies 2016 contribution

Cooper+Spowart Field Study 2016 contribution

 

Submissions for 2016 are now closed however, get ready for 2017. For more information about Field Study and other projects see: https://daviddellafiora.blogspot.com.au/

About Field Study:

Field Study began in 1993 as a way of reclaiming the negative spaces between art and life. Activities stemming from Field Study are emanations and group emanations are manifestations. Field Study sees each work as a manifestation of a collective spirit. Everyone is welcome to become a member of Field Study, irrespective of their arts practice, and contribute to the Field Report. Field Study also produces the assembling publications WIPE and ReSite, and, in collaboration with Karingal, KART.

 

An earlier WOTWEDID Blog post has more detail… Check it out:

https://wotwedid.com/2013/01/05/field-study-international-our-contribution/

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BOOK DUMPING: Clearing the library shelves

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Simulated Americans dumped

Simulated Americans dumped

 

I found Robert Frank’s Americans in my cornflakes packet today. Yesterday I found bits of Irving Penn’s Passage: a work record and Cartier Bresson’s Decisive Moments in my Epson inkjet paper box. And the black and red flecks in the Mercury Cider carton I’d just purchased from Dan Murphy’s where from Trent Parkes’ Dream Life and Robert Holden’s Photography in Colonial Australia: The Mechanical Eye and the Illustrated Book respectively. Whether we like it or not books are slowly and systematically being slipped off the shelves in public libraries and research libraries in institutions across the nation to end up as recycled pulp for new books and boxes and cartons as well as landfill.

 

In 2014 the University of Sydney Medical School was found to be secretly dumping books. A significant article on this and the institutional practice deaccessioning (dumping) books by Elizabeth Farrelly was published in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014 entitled Library book dumping signals a new dark age. She wrote:

In May, Sydney University announced its library “restructure”.  This magnificent library, among the country’s finest, had already, a decade earlier, deacquisitioned some 60,000 books and theses. More recently there were further, unquantified and undeclared cloak-and-dagger dumpings to make space for the wifi and lounge-chairs that have given the once magical Fisher stack the look and feel of a church playgroup.

 

GOOGLE - Search for book dumping (Detail)

GOOGLE – Search for book dumping (Detail)

I found it interesting to do a Google search of the terms <books dumped in skips dumpsters> and discovered more instances of the destruction of books. There were many articles about book dumping including one from 2005 in The Guardian reporting the University of London’s Octagon Library dumping stacks of books in skips outside the library. Left to the elements these books, some dating back to the 19th century, were in peril until students and staff rummaged through to salvage what they could. The article quotes author, publisher and campaigner for libraries Tim Coates as saying:

A library is a collection of books, it’s not a building. Throwing out books because you are having a refurbishment is like moving house but saying I won’t bother taking my family with me.

Progressively real books are disappearing fast from community and institutional libraries. If you talk to the librarians, who love the books that they are custodians of and are sworn to protect, these book dumpings are being directed by library managers who use include factors such as refurbishment and re-utilisation of library spaces as the need for their actions.

Aiding the downsizing process is the use of automated book culling software that analyses the user demand for books held by the library and prepares a deaccession list for books with low or no borrowing or patron access. For public lending libraries whose borrowing clientele may be towards popular fiction and children’s books other Dewey groupings may suffer. The use of this kind of software causes a whole range of books to be stripped from the selves and causes frustrations for librarians who want to maintain a broad range of subject matter. This can lead to desperate acts. Jason Ruiter of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper reported how staff at the East Lake County Library created a fake library patron in 2016 who then proceeded to check out 2,361 books over nine months. The ruse was reported and library staff were reprimanded or had their employment terminated.

The heart of the problem is that the knowledge economy is shifting from physical assets to the online presentation of virtual resources. In a somewhat charged conversation I had with a State Librarian around 18 months ago I was informed that the particular library had 1 million physical visitors over a year and 20 million online visits or ‘hits’. The Librarian continued by saying that they, in conjunction with a consortium of institutions with similar strategies, were directing funding to support the online user. What can be put online and be remotely searched and accessed is the focus of these institutions. My argument was that although page-turning software may make available remote viewing of the usual codex form of the book, books like artists’ books that have so many more features and physical attributes that could not be conveyed online. At best, I said, was that the online presentation of an artists’ book could only be like a travel postcard to an exotic place that could be used to encourage the virtual viewer to visit the real thing.

Very recently the effects of library downsizing have become very evident to me. For 20 years I nurtured an institutional special library collection relating to photography. Dutifully, with the support of my fellow staff members, we dispensed the yearly library budget by acquiring the best books that represented the industry and the art of photography. Despite having my own professional library I considered the institutional library as an extension of my bibliophile activities. Special books beyond my personal budget were able to added to the library and as a diligent seeker of discounted and remaindered books, I occasionally bought two copies of heavily discounted books – one of which I donated. At times, through professional networks and contacts when opportunities to get complimentary copies of books came available, I’d make sure that I’d score some for the library.

Now at this institution over the years I’d seen changes affecting the library and it’s space for books. Firstly, in a remodeling of the space high shelving were replaced by the OH&S friendly chest-high form – I thought, where did the surplus books go? Next was the encroachment of extra office space in the shelving area. Not for library staff but interestingly for IT support services. I thought, where did the surplus books go? Next computer bays and a classroom were added into the library space and the stacks shrunk further – where did the excess books go? Well I know where some of them went as just outside the library door resided a trolley for years that has a sign on it, ‘help yourself – please take away these books we no longer need’.

It has been 21/2 years since I left the institution and I recently visited my old teaching space to have lunch with my former co-teacher to reminisce over the old days and collect a few possessions left behind. While gathering together my things I encountered a 100 or so library books in one of the back rooms. My former co-teacher explained that the library was downsizing and that they were to be ‘disposed’ of, so she had asked them to give the books to her and she would distribute them. She said: ‘you can have some if you like’ – and I did. I selected a few books that were in the library’s initial set that seemed to me to be based around remainders from the early 1980s American photobook publishing era – books that are now difficult or really expensive to get. These I passed on to a friend who has been assembling a specialist photobook library. I did keep a few special things for myself: a 1980s copy of Frank’s The Americans; Les Levine’s early 1980’s Using the camera as a club … not necessarily a great one; a catalogue for Susan Purdy’s The shaking tree and Axel and Roslyn Poingant’s Mangrove Creek 1951: a day with the Hawkesbury River postman … and … and.

In a way I’m not surprised by the deaccessioning of ‘my’ teaching library as over the last 5 or so years of my teaching I found that students would not go to the library even when I’d suggest a particular text or texts that were related to their personal research. Always, when interviewing students about what they researched I would be presented with a bunch of URLs and low-res laser prints of screen dumps. Oh! How disappointed I would be when the physical manifestation of their interests, a book, was shelved in the library only a few minutes away. Ultimately I did embrace online research opportunities for students and helped to develop skills in that area that I’d honed in my PhD candidature a few years earlier.

Whatever I may feel about my personal experience, in the wider world of books and libraries, the practice of book dumping and shredding no doubt will continue and escalate. We need to protect access to books in public libraries and research collections and many public groups have emerged to challenge politicians and bureaucrats for their initiation of changes to libraries. One example is the group Citizens Defending Libraries that has an ongoing campaign against the Mayor and developers about changes to the New York Public Library service. In a currently running petition they make the following statement:

We demand that Mayor de Blasio, all responsible elected officials, rescue our libraries from the sales, shrinkage, defunding and elimination of books and librarians undertaken by the prior administration to benefit real estate developers, not the public. Selling irreplaceable public assets at a time of increased use and city wealth is unjust, shortsighted, and harmful to our prosperity. These plans that undermine democracy, decrease opportunity, and escalate economic and political inequality, should be rejected by those we have elected to pursue better, more equitable, policies

There may need to be a new term in the library lexicon to recognize these supporters of libraries – maybe we could call them bibliovigilantes.

Outside the public and the academic systems there is a more important role for those who collect and maintain personal specialist libraries. They may become the keepers of the knowledge. More importantly though, in this increasingly virtual world, they will know not only of the content of books, but the will also possess the experience of turning physical pages, the aroma of paper, ink and binder’s glue, and the power of the solidity and weight of the object we call a book.

Scarily, if we allow the unfettered disintegration of the library and the demise of the book, we may be creating a bookless world like that in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and the job title for those who deal with books will not be librarians but rather ‘book firemen’.

 

Doug Spowart

Written @ Wooli, December 2016

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