Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

Archive for May 2012


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Please note: This post is derived from personal notes made at the event – They may contain some inconsistencies that are a result of my interpretation.

AUDIO NOW AVAILABLE @ http://enc.slq.qld.gov.au/audio/slq/pp/mp3/artdesign/Artistsbooks.mp3

In what looks like the one highlight in the Queensland artists’ book calendar for 2012 Keith Smith and Scott McCarney are visiting the State Library of Queensland to present a lecture about their work and to conduct a five-day workshop. Unable to attend the workshop due to teaching commitments I attended the talk at the SLQ today. I was not alone and the smaller SLQ auditorium was full of interested attendees — including some notables like Sarah Bowen, Adele Outteridge, Madonna Staunton, Wim deVos, Anne Marie Hunter and Lorelei Clark. The visit to SLQ by Scott and Keith is supported by the Siganto Foundation and members of the family were in attendance at the lecture.

‘HELLO’ Scott!

After and introduction by SLQ Artists’ Bookie Helen Cole, Scott began his presentation by talking about the nature of the book in the digital age. He seemed to lament that libraries were beginning to change into Wi-Fi coffee houses — that’s not a problem for him as he believes the book, as a physical thing, will go beyond the electronic age.

He sees a real discussion about the future of the book is all about ‘display’. This remains a contentious issue for the artists’ book as they are difficult to handle and read as in exhibitions they are usually displayed frozen and ‘under glass’. Some of Scott’s work has been about presenting books as sculptural forms (Hanging Index) so the viewer does not really need to turn the pages to engage with the work.

Scott spoke in detail about his Autobiography series. He described how he couldn’t throw anything away and that he makes collections from things like name badges, rejection letters from galleries and grant applications, to-do lists and mud maps. This body of work provides an insight into the trivia and ephemera of life that escapes disposal through its transformation into his art. Connecting with the Internet world Scott’s Google Vanitas begun on Christmas Day last year represents the search results for his own name.

Scott showed many examples of works with where he cut through various pages within books to subvert the content of the book.

In a homage to Ed Ruscha Scott has taken Ruscha’s 1964 book Various small fires and milk and made his own take on the subject  — Scott’s fires are those of riots and the curious inclusion of a glass of milk in Ruscha’s book is shortened to MLK, standing for Martin Luther King whose portrait appears in the book. l

A recent project by Scott was to participate in the al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition’s response to the car bombing of this street in Bagdad which was home to many of the city’s booksellers. Scott’s work Material Meditation on Mending Al Mutanabbi Street comprises fifteen two-sided loose-leaf prints made from collages made from remnants of found books, rubbings from bookbindings and photographs.

Keith Smith speaks

Scott then handed over to Keith who comments that he is now up into the 280s on his ever increasing list of books. He spoke of a number of book projects dealing with subjects like re-contextualisation of paintings of Saint Sebastian into Smith’s own painted backgrounds. Many variations on this theme have been created from an amassed collection of source paintings — he intimated that he was even working on a book as he was preparing to travel to Australia.

He spoke of his connection with the computer and digital book Bobby made as early as 1984 with an early Macintosh computer using MacPaint and MacWrite. In his latest work he has re-formatted the book and re-jigged the content. The new Bobby has been supersized to one of Smith’s biggest ever books.

One of Keith’s trademarks is the digitally created multi-layered photomontage and his rainbow borders and edges. He states that when using Photoshop he may be working with between 12 and 24 layers of colour. Pages for the book Seminal were shown as examples.

Book number 283 is Struggling to see deals with Smith’s continuing fascination with text and image. The book is dedicated to Nathan Lyons whose own books and image sequencing presents Smith with a constant source of challenge. Smith acknowledged Lyon’s mastery of organising images in a book in a way where the message of the book is spoken ‘between the pages’.

Question time yielded perennial questions to do with inkjet printers, papers, the ‘archivalness’ of the technology and editioning.

One questioner spoke of how books can be made by anyone via print on demand technologies …

Another question dealt with the montage …

Keith commented that the book tells him where to go …

A comment made by one participant was that they were coming to understand that with all the standardization of the book through language and form and that that is where the psychology of the artists’ book really kicks-in to say something else that we were not ready for…

A question about the eBook and where it fits in contemporary practice. Scott answered that with eBooks one must learn the tools and understand that they are about text in a multi-media platform and that translating work into digital form you need to recognise that it is married to the content.

Keith’s response was that was something for the younger generation, ‘I’m too old ….’ Perhaps it is, for him, that the eBook is not a tactile medium that you cut, fold, touch and be touched by — although it may be something else?

Doug Spowart  May 28, 2012

NOTE: The SLQ will be posting this lecture online in the near future


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An image of the ballad of country and western

As a photographer attempting to communicate personal experiences and my, at least I think, special view of life and the world, occasionally I have thoughts that if I wanted to connect en mass I should have been into music! When I look at what music does to I see participants who will slap, tap, hum, whistle, laugh, tear up and even cry. Music sure beats the visual arts hands down as a way of creating a connected audience response. But an exhibition of photographs at the Caboolture Regional Art Gallery, just a few kilometres north of Brisbane, may just win some points back for the visual artist.

Gifted Country is a photographic exhibition of the doyens of the world of country and western music by Toowoomba photographer John Elliott. As a follower of the music industry for over 30 years Elliott has amassed a collection of the latest top hits and the golden oldies. On the walls of the gallery the faces of C&W music stare out at the viewer — frozen and mute. Elliott has reduced them to an eye-only sensory experience. The only sounds permeating the space are the shuffle of footsteps of other gallery viewers and the muffled voices of local community members returning books to the library next door.

Casey Chambers + Jimmy Little

Before you get the feeling that the show is a little underwhelming there are other things to consider. Firstly the music and photography industry do share some similarities. Apart from practitioners at the most visible pinnacle of the discipline, those who make the sound and the image – the photographer behind the camera, the songwriter, the muso behind the lead singer and the mixer at the sound deck — are faceless. Only the products of their creative efforts are known to us. Okay, we can all recognise a Slim Dusty, Casey Chambers and Keith Urban from across the room. And that is perhaps because photographers like Elliott have made their image, apart from their music, famous. A reflective Jimmy Little leaning on a guitar neck (the one Little’s family selected as the ‘hero’ image for his recent funeral service), Lee Kernaghan stridently stands sky-pointing before a dramatic theatrically lit stage and a wide-eyed Chad Morgan’s face pokes out from his trade-mark safety-pinned hat. Once you’ve cherry-picked a few of the icons you are left with portraits of haggard faced, guitar holding middle-aged men, sweet smiling young girls and longhaired youths that crowd the rectangle photo frame.

What Elliott’s efforts bring to us is the human face of the extended country and western industry. These faces could be those of the waitress, the farm hand, the rodeo queen and the Big Mack truck mechanic. To help make the connection for the viewer Elliott pairs the portrait with the carefully chosen words of a biography that makes visible the musical provenance that we may share with the subject. Additionally a website links to interviews, commentaries and music to enliven the interest of those with a passion for C&W music.

What is remarkable is that over the years John Elliott has worked to amass this body of work. And this is not his sole interest — there are landscapes, urban vistas, other portraits and the personal and intimate moments of life. But this body of work has a quality and magnitude that sets it aside from the usual music documentary record.

This exhibition will be of great interest to the country and western dilettante, the music maker and the photographer alike. For this is a unique assemblage that is testimony to value of photography as record that is at once about history and the present — becoming history.  The John Elliott Gifted Country performance will continue until June 23, and then, hopefully, will in the tradition of C&W — go on the road …
Doug Spowart  May 26, 2012.

Also @ the Gifted Country show is a C&W PHOTO BOOTH – we had a bit of fun there …

What is this thing called art photography?

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Visiting the 2012 Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award

2012 Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award

What is this thing called art photography? Can it be nailed down and quantified? Each year across the country institutions and the judges they select attempt to do just that. Do they succeed? And is everyone happy about these events? A comment in the visitors book of 2012 Josephine Ulrich and Win Schubert Photographic Award at the Gold Coast Art Gallery makes the observation, something like “How high was the judge when he made that selection?” Well you can’t please everyone, and these awards with their huge prize purses do ultimately end up making one person ecstatic at winning and a few others happy by having their work purchased.

I for one am thoroughly excited by the depth and breadth of art photography that this award unearths each year. Although not an entrant for a few years my work, and collaborative works with Victoria Cooper have been displayed as finalists on 4 or 5 occasions, the exhibition continues to be a motivation for pushing our own work forward.

This year’s judge was Kon Gouriotis – Director, Australian Centre for Photography and the winner was Vestiges #3 by Sydney based artist Eugenia Raskopoulos. A press release about the award can be accessed HERE

‘Vestiges #3’ by Eugenia Raskopoulos – with gallery visitor Tamekka

Over the years the Ulrich Award has gradually moved into increasingly large sized, huge framed or pinned to the wall works. This year 75 works were selected and this created what must have been an installation challenge. Double hanging of many photographs shoe-horned them into the space although due to this strategy some photographs suffer viewability problems.

The gallery space

A new sophistication in artist’s statements on didactic panels heralds an increasing reliance from artists to attempt to direct the viewer into seeing the meaning of a work through a narrow, and perhaps confusingly worded sometimes pseudo-intellectual window. Robert Adams writes in his book Why people photograph that said that artists should not attempt to describe their work. He states that, ‘Words are proof that the vision they [the photographer] had is not … fully there in the picture.’

Anyway, be that as it may, one artist not only out does everyone else in square metres of wallspace but also presents an insightful statement that addresses the current photographic art scene. Hedy Ritterman’s Bollard 2011, for me was the standout conceptual piece for the show – the artist’s statement is well worth reading:

I abandon the idea of a photograph as a “window to the world” – instead I embrace the materiality of the surface itself. The highgloss, large scale photographic paper, with its fragility exposed, acts as a distorting mirror capturing the changing surrounds and highlighting its sculptural form. The distinction between the image in the photograph and the object of the photograph is underscored here. The subject of the photograph, a huge analogue negative of the museums’ people barrier, stands in direct opposition to the seductive invitation of the surface.

My work explores the complex relationship between the contemporary photo-artist, the collecting institution and the viewer. As photography shifts away from the print to the screen its status as object is being challenged. As photography shifts into the realm of the museum its object status is being valued.

Hedy Ritterman’s ‘Bollard’ 2011

As a viewer what I like about the exhibition is the intellectual and visual calisthenics that I’m engaged in while walking through the space. Whether I, or you, agree with the judge’s decision or not, the exhibition still remains a celebration of contemporary photographic art that continues to challenge and reward the photographic and broader arts communities.

Doug Spowart

JENNY SAGES: Paths to Portraiture @ TRAG

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A travelling exhibition from the National Portrait Gallery

Christine Clark presenting a floor talk – ‘Jenny Sages: Paths to Portraiture’

A painted portrait, to be authentic, must be more than a visual transcription of the subject. A couple of years ago Christopher Allen, in writing a review of a photographic portraiture exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery made the statement that ‘humans are not ultimately machine-readable’. (Allen 2010) He claims that portraits by any group of ‘reasonably able’ painters do the task of portraiture much better than photographers as,  ‘Every mark is significant, and records something seen and felt; intellect and intuition are one and become simultaneous with making.’

In encountering Jenny Sages’ Paths to Portraiture exhibition at the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery Allen’s dictum is profoundly proved. The portrait works are layered with an expression of the artist’s relationship with the subject – Sages needs to develop a friendship with the subject, to share the space and moment and the ‘other’ sense-stuff that makes a portrait more than a likeness.

The exhibition Jenny Sages: Paths to Portraiture was curated by Christine Clark, Manager of Exhibitions from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. The show’s premise was to present more than a collection of Sages’ portrait work, but as the title of the show alludes to – the path the artist takes in making a portrait. Included with the finished portraits are reference drawings, ephemera, and objects referential to the subject that informed the painted portrait. For the student of painting and for members of the public who wish to understand more of the artist’s process these elements provide an insight that is not usually part of the experience we have of finished artworks.

Christine Clark talking about Sages’ work

To compliment the exhibition Christine Clark presented a floor talk on the exhibition for around forty attendees from the Toowoomba art scene. Clark’s talk provided special insights into Sages’ background and the story of the paintings. She linked these stories with the displayed preliminary sketches, drawings and other objects making the experience of the art and Sages’ process rich and alive. Clark, through her enthusiasm for the artwork and her expressive gesture and discussion, took all present at the floor talk to a higher understanding and respect for the work before them. Thank you to the NPG, TRAG, Christine Clark and Jenny Sages for the opportunity to see and hear about this artist’s work in portraiture.


Doug Spowart  20 May 2012


Allen, C 2010, ‘Through a lens darkly’, The Australian, July 3, p. 11-2.


IAN POOLE: AIPP On the Lounge

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Ian Poole addressing the audience @ Photo Frenzy

Ian Poole is well placed to have an opinion about fine art photography and collecting photographs. He has been a major player in professional photography in Brisbane for nearly 40 years and is a respected AIPP judge with yearly invitations to also judge the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography awards. Despite his professional photography connection he has been a part of a sector of the Queensland photographic art scene that extends from the early 1980s with Imagery Gallery, later with the Photographer’s Gallery and more recently with the Queensland Centre for Photography. He has completed a Graduate Diploma in Visual Arts from the Queensland College of Art and has been awarded an Australia Council residency in Tokyo. Adding to this he has curated photographic exhibitions in Japan (of Queensland photographers) and exhibitions in Australia (of local and Japanese photographers).

So when Poole offers commentary on aspects of the photographic art world of Brisbane and Queensland it should be something of an opportunity to connect with his extensive knowledge of the genre. Recently as part of the AIPP ‘On the Lounge’ lecture series Ian Poole presented to an assembled audience of around 40 a dissertation entitled, ‘Have you ever wanted to collect photographic art, or be collected as a photographic artist?’

Ian – getting his message across with passion

Ian Poole began his presentation by reviewing recent art auction records for photographic artworks including those by Adams, Sexton and Dupain. Thousands, hundreds of thousands and even millions will change hands for well-known and rare works. The recent phenomena of Nick Brandt’s African work,which had been shown only weeks earlier in Brisbane, attracted some discussion. Perhaps some in the audience felt a little inspired by the possibility that, if they could enter the fine art field, that there was recognition and the possibility for a significant income to be made.

Poole introduced his collection of images that were hung on the walls and laid out on tables before the audience and discussed their histories and stories. For him the concept of ‘provenance’ elevated the importance of each work. A small Dupain image of the interior of the National Gallery in Canberra made during its construction was linked to his encounter with the work in a Brisbane gallery where it was purchased for a few hundred dollars. His most exuberant discussion related to a Joachim Froese diptych acquired when he swapped it with Joachim for a 4×5 enlarger. An expanded provenance trail led to it being loaned back to Joachim so that it could be displayed a QUT exhibition of his work.

A long-term friendship with north Queensland photographer Glen O’Malley presented some interesting provenance stories. O’Malley is not fully recognised for the significance of his practice in Queensland – he could probably claim to have had the first ‘photographic art’ exhibition in this state in the mid 1970s. Poole presented to the audience an image from O’Malley made as part of the Queensland Art Gallery’s 1988 Journeys North commission. The 20×24” black and white photograph showed a scene in Poole’s home where the O’Malleys were having dinner. The image was part of the accepted images for the Journeys North show and was subsequently published. Somehow Poole’s own life had become art photography itself.

Another photography collaborator presented by Poole was John Elliott. Well known for his documentation of country and western music and its heroes and doyens including Slim Dusty, Chad Morgan and Jimmy Little, Elliott is an enigmatic character of the photography scene. Ian spoke of John’s most recent show Gifted Country at the Caboolture Regional Art Gallery and his photobook publishing ventures. A recent journey to Townsville that Poole had shared with another of Queensland’s enigmatic photographers, Maris Rusis, resulted in a body of work by Rusis that dealt with the décor of budget north Queensland motel rooms. These small and fine gelatin silver fibre B&W prints presented to the audience the fact that traditional values remain key to some workers who continue to practice analogue photography in a digital world.

Question time brought up some difficult truths – Why does the Queensland Art Gallery/GOMA not seem to be collecting photography generated within this state? Did they ever collect? Some discussion related to the archival needs for conservation framing and presentation.

As a conclusion to the presentation Poole spoke of the way in which he and his photography acquaintances swapped and shared their works, and how much of his collection was built around the generosity of fellow photographers and their desire to share. He held a bundle of his own gelatin silver images up before the audience and made an offer that ‘you can have one of my prints this evening – and send a print to me as a swap. Start your collection this evening …’

While Ian Poole began his presentation with a review of the overtly mercantile auction scene, it seemed that his passion about photography, photographs, friends, shared experiences and the meaningfulness of the provenance of the works, that these things could not be commodified. He spoke of his collection of photos, books and ephemera as being an entity that would be bequeathed to his daughter Nicola, also a photographer and present at the talk. Through the audience he directed to Nicola to ‘treasure and look after these things … they were important, valuable – not only as the stories they depicted through their image on the front-side of the print, but also of the back-story of their origin and collection.’

There is no doubt that Ian Poole’s passion for photography and his understanding of how it operates at a personal and cultural level is something that was shared and communicated on this evening. And those present will be inspired to develop a new appreciation of what photographs are and what they can say about the human condition.

Doug Spowart  May 20, 2012

Ian talking with OTL attendees at the end of his presentation

An unusual meeting – Face-to-Face with an early portrait of one’s self – circa 1982 found in Poole’s collection

DOUG SPEAKS: Qld Festival of Photography, Toowoomba Forum

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1.30 – 3.00 pm: Panel discussion: Contemporary Photography

Panel: Marian Drew, Ray Cook, Henri van Noordenburg, Doug Spowart and Maurice Ortega


Photography is going through major changes due to digital technologies and the explosion of images used through the internet. This panel questions new and emerging practices in photography and presents visual examples of these developments.

Marian Drew (top), Maurice Ortega, Ray Cook (centre), Henri  van Noordenburg (bottom)

An audience of about 45 drawn from the local photography community attended the forum. Each speaker spoke of the aspects of contemporary art photography that informs their work. Marian discussed works by Camilla Birkland, Deb Mansfield, Kate Bernauer, Jenny Carter White; Ray’s hero was Roger Ballin and he spoke of his experience of the ongoing issues of minority groups like gays in society, Henri spoke of his close work transforming the surface of the image and works by Shirin Neshat, Sebastiaan Bremer. Finally Maurice discussed the international scene and the rise of the constructed image – what I’d call faux-photo or photo-fictions. Question time was led by a fired-up John Elliott challenging the blandness and the falseness of contemporary art photography and the lack of space given the ‘still vibrant’ documentary scene.

Doug Spowart speaking @ the QCP FORUM @ TRAG

My contribution to the forum was a paper that discussed the idea that emergent technologies in production and distribution of photography has made everyone a photographer. For those interested in this commentary on contemporary photography the text is published below…

(formatting is a little changed in WordPress)



At this time, as we find ourselves within the 200th anniversary of the photographic experiments of Wedgewood, Davies, Neipce and, if Geoffrey Batchen is right, a host of other inventors, we are witnessing a transfer of the power of photography from the chosen few to the masses – everyone is now a photographer and the camera-made image synonymous with life itself.

In the 1930s Lazlo Maholy-Nagy saw it coming in his prediction that, ‘a knowledge of photography is just as important as that of the alphabet. The illiterate of the future will be ignorant of the use of the camera and pen alike.’ (Moholy-Nagy 1936:32) Although in the text Moholy-Nagy was discussing the photographic sequence and the emerging moving image, his comments allude to our times and how images have replaced words.

In the 1980s the instant imaging giant Polaroid took the concept further by pronouncing in their advertising that we all needed to, ‘learn to speak Polaroid’ – that is, use images to express ideas and concepts, not words. They suggested the we take a Polaroid SX70 image; it will only take a minute to develop before our eyes, to show the time on a clock, the creama of a freshly expressoed coffee or the smile on a child’s face.

Maholy-Nagy was talking about the way images operate in society, and Polaroid was certainly selling their product to the masses, but in the eras in which these statements were made the photographer was a professional imaging technologist. Sure, making photographs had a wide range of users – vernacular photography was well established, George Eastman and Kodak had ensured that, and amateurs and dilettantes banded together to form camera clubs and societies to pursue pictorial beauty. But ‘real’ photography was carried out by specialists who acted with the passion and pain of religious zealots.

Photographers and their colluding commentators created a pantheon of masters and masterworks. They protected their secret knowledges, skills and dark workings within the fields of optics, chemistry and their cumbersome technologies. In their work they excised meaning from the chaos of time and space, and they served and informed the societies in which they lived. They did something that others could not – they made photographs and had access to the media of newspaper, magazines and books through which their images could be communicated to a mass audience.

We may consider digital technology as a major disruption for photography, however the process of photography has always been challenged and transformed by waves of new technologies as part of its liaison with science and art; photographs on silvered metal mirrors, negatives on glass and paper, celluloid and plastic, monochrome, colour transparency/movies/prints … and most recently, electronic files. Cameras of wood and brass, bellows and focusing cloth, tripod-fixed and handheld, carved from solid metal blocks, molded in carbon fibre and plastic …

What is different about the technology of digital photography today is that instead of maintaining the technological barrier between photographers and other users, it has dissolved and democratised image-making.

Other underlying factors drive the march of digital by satisfying some rather basic human needs. Photography historian and commentator Geoffrey Batchen defines photography as being, ‘a persistent economy of photographic desires and concepts’. He lists within this economy concepts like, ‘nature, knowledge, representation, time, space, observing subject, and the observed object.’  For Batchen photography is about, ‘the desire, conscious or not, to orchestrate a particular set of relationships between these various concepts.’ (Batchen 1999:213) I have no doubt that everyone wants to ‘orchestrate’ an image collection of experiences that are important to them and digital imaging has facilitated just that.

Another commentator on this concept adds to this broader human need to photograph, philosopher Vilem Flusser claims that the,

‘Photographer’s intensions are to inform others and through their photographs to immortalise themselves in the memory of others. For photographers, their concepts (and the ideas signified by these concepts) are the main raisons d’être for taking photographs, and the camera’s program is in the service of these raison d’être.’ (Flusser 2002:46)

Now, with digital technologies everyone can access these opportunities ascribed to the photographer and the image. And this process starts in the making of images using a range of newly developed capture technologies. In the Australian Newspaper of January 29 and 30, 2011, journalist Ross Bilton states, ‘Anyone with an iPhone, and a good eye, can claim to be one of an emerging breed of photographic artist: an [iPhonographer.]’ (Bilton 2011:7)

Once the image is made cheap and easy to use enhancement apps can be employed to make the image look like whatever the photographer wants. These mobile apps ape professional-grade software with the advantage that in one-or-two ‘clicks’ the image can be transformed beyond its optical reality into an aesthetic, esoteric or just plain funny photo. Immediate distribution of the image via phone, tablet or later by computer is so easy.

The nature of the photograph in technical and design aesthetic terms has changed as well. The random carefree snapshot, once the domain of documentary photographers, is now part of the vernacular imaging toolbox. In the hands of the nouveaux digital photographer the snapshot has come to be as seductive and as slick as the advertising photograph of old.

As everyone is now a photographer anyone can be a revered as a master, mentor or critic. As a teacher of photography I have encountered the demise of the history of the process. Now students are more likely to seek feedback from Facebook friends and inspiration from peers encountered online. The tradition and the myth of the discipline have little inspiration for a generation of image-makers hell-bent on making what the can from their experience of life. As with any revolution, some will regress to retro-technology: pinhole, Holgas and Dianas and even Hasselblads and large format – if you can still get film.

Everyone now is an exhibitor through the online technologies of Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, blogs, web galleries and Pinterest. The screen of the computer is the gallery wall leaving ‘bricks and mortar’ spaces, perhaps even like this one, to being white cubed mausoleums to the art of the past. Or, to survive, high visitation galleries have become converted into the kind of experience once found in funparks, with slippery-slides, art playgrounds, interactive content – even allowing visitors to use cameras and coffee shops with iPads and everywhere, noisy spaces.

Online downloads brought the music distribution cartels to their knees and expanded opportunities for emerging bands to have an active presence on the world stage. The same is happening now with books and publishing as any photographer can self-publish and self-market using the online services of companies like Blurb and LuLu. In using these technologies photographers are leaving behind the gatekeeping machinery of publishers, distributors and bookshops.

The promulgation of the image through informal independent channels of all forms emancipates both makers and viewers from the control of politicians, commerce and religion. And everyday new opportunities are emerging. In 2011 Magnum photographer Christopher Anderson re-published his documentary book Capitolio in an eBook form and sold copies for tablets and eReaders for a few dollars. In an interview with Nathan Lee Bush, he proposed that it was an experiment in the dual media of the physical book and its virtual ‘equivalent’. He states, ‘I do like the idea of this being a potential model for new media. Time will tell.’ (Bush 2011)

In proposing a philosophy of photography Vilem Flusser put forward many propositions of how and why photography operates. One concept he introduces is that it provides the ‘possibility of freedom’. He states,

‘… in a world dominated by apparatuses; to reflect upon the way in which, despite everything, it is possible for human beings to give significance to their lives in the face of the chance necessity of death. Such a philosophy is necessary because it is the only form of revolution left open to us.’  (Flusser 2000)

Perhaps digital imaging is part of that revolution and we are all contributing to it.


Doug Spowart   27 April, 2012


Batchen, G 1999, Burning with desire : the conception of photography, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts.

Bilton, R 2011, ‘iPhoneography’, The Weekend Australian, 29-30 January, 2011.

Bush, NL 2011, Through the looking glass | A pro Photo/Video Blog, Interview: Magnum Photographer Publishes Photobook for iPad, Adorama Rentals, viewed March 31 2011, <http://arcrental.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/interview-magnum-photographer-publishes-photobook-for-ipad/>.

Flusser, V 2000, Towards a philosophy of photography, Reaktion Books Ltd., London.

—- 2002, Writings, vol. 6, Electronic Mediations, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Moholy-Nagy, L 1936, ‘From Pigment to Light’, in Telehor, vol. 1, pp. 32-36.


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Later in our time in Queenstown we made another camera obscura at Jackie and Mike’s Queenstown Centre for Creative Photography. The room image featured a view up Late Wakatipu reflected in a mirror. The expanse of the glacial lake with the layered horizon of mountains seemed, for the moment, peaceful.

We sat in the background view—the picture in a ‘lensed’ camera view of the image within the room. The camera sits on a chair on the right-hand side of the image and its shadow falls into the bottom of the frame. We’ve posted a second image of this photo inverted so to external view can be more easily interpreted.

Camera Obscura: Queenstown Centre for Creative Photography


Cheers  Doug and Vicky

QUEENSTOWN: Catching up with Jackie Ranken and Mike Langford

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We recently visited two of the great luminaries of the Australian and New Zealand professional photography scene, Jackie Ranken and Mike Langford at their Queenstown Centre for Creative Photography. And as if the work these guys do is not amazing enough their home, in the QCCP has one of the world’s most magnificent views over the city of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and on to Walter Peak on one side and the Remarkables mountains on the other. It’s hard to engage in conversation with Jackie and Mike in daylight as every now and then your attention wanders to view outside — you need to excuse yourself, and grab a camera to capture the changing remarkable scenery out the window.

Between them Jackie and Mike have amassed a collection of AIPP APPAwards ‘glass eye’ trophies, NZIPP glass trophies and the AIPP New South Wales Awards antique cameras. It takes one large windowsill to show just some of the awards. Facing the lake and mountain view is a gallery of their stunning landscape and documentary works. The QCCP is an amazing and inspirational place to visit.

A selection of Professional Photographer of the Year trophies

After dinner we spent time talking about the issues of photography, great photographers past and present, and shared stories of places encounted and photographed. A data projector was positioned before a screen and we made presentations of recent works. One of Jackie’s projects, which we’d call ‘flying kitchenalia’, shows household items, mainly from the kitchen, being captured mid-air above various New Zealand picturesque locations. The incongruous pairing presented a completely different perspective in the photography of this already well-documented landscape. The absurd combinations in these images evoke a hilarious viewer response.

For some time the pair have travelled in Burma (sometimes called Miramar) and a presentation of Jackie’s documentary images of showed us that this is a most remarkable place for travellers, particularly those with a camera. While we recognized that Miramar is an amazing place, it is important to acknowledge Jackie’s skilled and astute photographic vision. In these images there was the poetry of a well-seen moment and yet a profound sense of place. Jackie captured poignant human moments where her subjects had unknowingly shared something special of themselves and their lives in this country. In turn this experience was shared with us. Jackie’s images are a remarkable document of a people and place that is about to change, and somehow, that’s exactly where photographers do their most profound work.

Mike’s images of Japan explored this familiar subject for him through an interesting concept of transitions referring to movie making techniques. Here Mike was looking at a more intimate and personal vision of this intriguing country. Our conversation continued well into the evening . . .

The next day was an early rise so we could catch our flight home. For breakfast Mike scrambled some eggs, toasted rustic bread and made coffee. Doug made a silhouette portrait of the pair before the picture window and then off to the airport — a bit rushed, but rich with the thoughts of the time spent together.

Jackie and Mike in silhouette

Thank you Jackie and Mike.

Doug and Vicky

SEE more about Mike and Jackie and the QCCP here:




PHOTOBOOK Workshop: Wanaka Autumn Art School

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For the last 5 days we have been working with 13 participants in a Photobook workshop in Wanaka, New Zealand. The idea of the workshop was to enable the development of concepts and techniques for the presentation of personal photo-stories in the form of the self-published photobook. Two key aspects for the workshop were the photo-narrative and the form that a photobook can take beyond the traditional ‘pictures-in-a-book’ format.

The students were put through a steep learning curve engaging with the computer technology and software required, as many had never used Adobe Photoshop before. Sessions of intense computer activity were punctuated by practical book construction exercises.

Each student worked to develop a major personal book project during the workshop and, as tutors, we supported the conceptual and technical progress to make it happen.

Students @ our Photobook workshop – Wanaka Autumn Art School

They were an amazing bunch of people with varied interests and backgrounds. They all shared a great sense of humour and enthusiasm to get into the process of applying acquired knowledge—some doing ‘homework’ into the wee hours.

Coordinator of the Wanaka Autumn Art School is fabric artist (quilter), Robyn van Reenen who was supported by a motivated and energetic team including her husband Gilbert the photographer of Clean Green Images fame. Robyn and her team provided the tutors, many from Australia, with a great experience and opportunity to share their skills and knowledge with the participating students and artists.

We had a great learning experience as well and ended up probably as worn out as the students by the end of the workshop.

The group shot tells the story . . .

Worn out students and tutors @ Wanaka Autumn Art School

SEE a collaborative book that was made with contributions from the students;


Cheers  Doug + Vicky


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The view from our window @ Rydges Hotel overlooking Lake Wakatipu – Planning a camera obscura shoot

Rydges Hotel Camera Obscura: Queenstown + Lake Wakatipu

We checked into the Rydges on the Lake hotel at Queenstown in the late afternoon and the lake-view room demanded that a camera obscura image be made. Hotel and motel rooms are all pretty much the same—the beds, the bathroom, the table with one chair maybe two, the big mirror, the tiny bar fridge full of junk food and drink and the TV. In the room one could be anywhere and nowhere.

That evening a visit to the local 4 Square store meant that we were equipped with enough black plastic bin liners and some black electrical tape to cover the 2.5 X 3 metre window.

What we needed to complement the image potential for the picture was a beautiful clear sunny day—and that’s exactly what happened the next day. There were two sessions, one around mid-day and the other late afternoon. Blue sky, the golden leaves of poplar trees in autumn and the colours of lake and mountain filled the room.

Camera Obscura image looking towards Walter Peak

In between shoots we left the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door just in case room-cleaning staff should intervene—We often wonder about what unsuspecting visitors would think when first entering the blacked-out space of the room.

Three main images were made—one of the un-made bed, a deep shot into the room, one each of the both of us—Vicky timing the one-minute exposure, the other, a simulation of Doug checking the review screen of the Olympus camera that had been used for image-making that day.

Image left: Vicky times the exposure Image right: Doug reviews images made on his camera

The ‘pinhole’ was fashioned from a postcard of Lake Wakatipu with the steamship the Earnslaw crossing the lake. The aperture was around 10mm and the exposure time around 2.5 minutes.

Victoria Cooper holding the postcard with the ‘hole’ in it

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