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.
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’.
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’.
Oliver’s images also have a resonance with Gilles Deleuze’s discussion on Francis Bacon’s 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.’ 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.
I respectfully present to you – Thomas Oliver’s Disconnection photographs of simulacra from the street.
Doug Spowart PhD
 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.
 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).
 Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Translated by Continuum. Continuum Edition ed. London: Continuum Books, 1981. Editions de la Difference.
 Berger, John. The Shape of a Pocket. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2001.
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.
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…
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.
We plan to work with participants to capture the experience of ‘being there’ and to tell stories about ‘place’ in books and photographs.
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
A detailed website: SKOPELOS WORKS ON PAPER
Contact Steph Bolt at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
This workshop is recommended by the AIPP for its members for their Continuing Professional Development as a Third Party CPD Event.
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.
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:
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.
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’.
Written @ Wooli, December 2016
In March 2013 I was contacted by David Tickell who wanted to meet with me to talk about a proposition he had in mind. I had known David for many years – he had been a writer and critic for the local press and had written the text for a book by my photographer friend John Elliott. In the early 2000s David had enrolled in photography studies at the college I taught at in Toowoomba. He was always an enthusiastic contributor to the classroom as he sought to learn and master digital photography. It became evident to me at the time that David had a considerable interest and capability in photography from his past career activities.
When David came by to visit he brought an aluminium case covered with the patina of travel and use. Inside the case were the things that David had wanted to talk with me about. We sat in our carport rainforest and talked about what we’ve both been up to and changes in our lives. David spoke about downsizing his life’s goods and chattels and introduced the aluminium case’s treasures to me… a Rollei twin lens reflex with a range of filters and accessories, an Exakta 35mm SLR – all neatly packed with manuals and other ephemera. It was all in immaculate condition. He told me that he had purchased it in the Middle East at a time in his journalism career that needed quality photographs.
His dilemma now was that with digital photography he had no need for the equipment and he wanted to pass it on to someone who would appreciate it and perhaps even use it – he proposed that I was that person. I appreciated his gesture and felt honoured by his offer. I mentioned that Vicky and I had a Rollei in our possession and that we would look after the gear and pass it on to an individual, perhaps a student, who we considered would value this equipment and use it to extend their analogue photography work. We made photographs of our meeting with the cameras and David left feeling excited that his gift was well received and would be looked after.
For some time I’ve been looking out for a suitable person to receive David’s gear. Quite a few years ago I’d come across a Brisbane band webpage called ‘Something from the scene’, and a little while later I had a student who was interested in contemporary band photography who had found the same site as an inspiration. In June 2015 we met Thomas Oliver at the Siganto Artists Book Forum in Brisbane. He was the guy from ‘Something from the scene’. We both connected with Thomas who we found out was a Queensland College of Art Bachelor of Photography student. Our paths have crossed many times since including his involvement in exhibitions and projects I’ve curated include a Skype artist’s talk that he participated in at Maud Gallery in March for the In situ documentary show.
Recently Thomas has completed his Bachelor of Photography and was the winner of the John Mckay Award for the student going into honours, and a Saint Margaret School’s internship award. He is continuing his studies with an Honours year at QCA. I was particularly interested in Thomas’ engagement with analogue photography. Extensive project work while on study tour to Europe, the UK and Canada was shown at Maud in the ‘In situ’ show and his graduating BP work featured an involvement in the variants and deviations possible from the printing of the singular black and white film negative.
For his enthusiasm for photography and his dedication to analogue photography I chose to pass on David’s gear to Thomas. We met at Maud Gallery at the end of November and the exchange made. He was excited to be the recipient of David’s equipment legacy and excitedly talked about how the gear could be used in his future photographic research work.
David’s equipment has found a new life with Thomas and as long as he has a need and a interest it will reside with him – until he wishes to pass it on to a new custodian…
Words about David Tickell from John Elliot’s photographic documentary book The Last Show published in 1986. The book was about the last Toowoomba Agricultural Show held on the inner-city site bordering Bridge, Campbell and Lindsay Streets. Elliott’s photographs were complimented by a text telling the story of the show written by David.
NOCTURNE ARMIDALE: Capturing Armidale in a new light
In our latest Nocturne project we worked with a group of photographers from the Armidale region to document the change of light from day to night. The special theme we developed for the Nocturne: Armidale project was to capture the town in both the early evening’s nocturnal light with a second photograph of the subject during daylight. This ‘re-photography’ approach resulted in a comparative pairs of images revealing the evocative nature of nocturne light and how it transforms everyday places.
The project began in mid-September when we conducted a workshop at the New England Region Art Museum (NERAM) in re-photography and nocturne light capture. This included practical shoots around Armidale from which images were then optimized and uploaded to Nocturne: Armidale project Facebook page to share with the wider community. Another aspect of the project was the digital processing and optimising of nocturne photographs. This was accomplished in a mentored section of the workshop with the participant’s images.
Les Davis from the National Trust Home Saumarez, provided project participants with a unique opportunity to photograph this magnificent historical homestead. Over two separate nights images were made to highlight the home’s colonial architecture.
It was suggested in our original proposal that the work produced could be at some later stage be exhibited. And during the workshop Greg from the New England Art Society Armidale Art Gallery came forward with the offer of an exhibition space in their gallery.
In the two months following the workshop we finalised the optimisation of 25 pieces from the workshop – most of them re-photography Duos, and printed them for the participants. Other print coordination took place with workshop participant Neil Burton who provided access to his wide-format printer for large images to be made. At the end of November we returned to Armidale with Neil and his partner Lindy Osbourne to hang the shows.
The project’s main exhibition was shown at the Armidale Art Gallery in Beardy Street and we presented a floortalk on December 3rd that was attended by around 25 visitors as well as most of the project’s participants. The exhibition of images from the Saumarez shoot-outs was officially opened by photographer and publisher Terry Cooke on December 2 and will remain on display at Saumarez until January 29th, 2017. A third exhibition of photographs included our images and works by Neil Burton will be on show in the Armidale Council Chambers until March 5, 2017.
The Nocturne: Armidale exhibitions include photographs by Paul Bayne, Sue Burgess, Neil Burton, Victoria Cooper, Les Davis, Ross Jenkins, Jeni Mackenzie, Doug Spowart, Sam Walkom and Jim Walmsley.
Here is a selection of the Nocturne Armidale project images…
Click on image to open a gallery viewer for author and subject details.
Robert Heather, the Director of NERAM described us as a ‘nomadic photographic duo’ and acknowledged that we had, with our group of local photographers, had ‘braved cold, wet and windy conditions to create some beautiful and dramatic images of places which we all know well such as the old Courthouse, Saumarez Homestead, the cathedrals, hotels and railway station.”
The New England FOCUS Magazine published a story on our work and background to the Nocturne Armidale project – Download a PDF focus-nocturnearmidale-red (20Mb)
The Nocturne: Armidale project was coordinated by the New England Regional Art Museum in partnership with the New England Art Society and supported by Saumarez Homestead and Armidale Regional Council.
ABOUT NOCTURNE PHOTOGRAPHY
Nocturne photography captures a time of day where the afterglow of sunset and the glow of streetlights can transform the everyday experience of place. In these photographs, street scenes and buildings that may be familiar in normal daylight take on the dramatic appearance of movie sets. Some photographs created at this time can require long camera exposures and therefore produce images that can capture blurred movement of people and car headlight trails. These images offer to the community a different perspective to their daily experience of place.
MORE ABOUT COOPER and SPOWART NOCTURNE PROJECTS
NOCTURNE: ARMIDALE, the project is part of continuing series, conducted by Victoria Cooper and Doug Spowart, across Eastern Australia including past events in Muswellbrook, Grafton, Bundaberg and Miles.
Through our Nocturne documentary photography and Facebook social media projects, we have explored connections with Place in urban and regional communities throughout Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. For us the phenomenon of nocturnal light transforms these everyday spaces. Buildings, busy street corners, quiet alleyways all become filled with the dramatic light of a movie scene. In 2013 and 2014 we were given the opportunity, through funded Artists-in-Residence (AIR) programmes, to undertake Nocturne projects in the regional communities of Muswellbrook, Grafton and Bundaberg.
The photographs in themselves have no intrinsic meaning – it is the viewer, with their experience and memory that brings life to the image. In this moment of connection they may recount a personal narrative or connect with the historical significance of the place. This collaboration between photograph and viewer is exciting and vibrant – expanding the potential for the documentary image to go beyond the vision of the photographer.
Examples of other Nocturne Projects and Facebook responses can be found at: <www.nocturnelink.com>
Our arts practice is informed by our ongoing and evolving connection with Place. Our Place-Projects are influenced by the context and the consequences of living within a constantly changing landscape. We work with a range of photographic concepts, from the camera obscura, through analogue processes to the digital forms of the medium. Our work is presented as visual narratives in artists’ books, photobooks, exhibition images and and on blogs and social media.
Copyright in all Nocturne Armidale project images is retained by the author – any use of these photographs must be approved by the copyright owner.