Archive for June 2012
RUBY SPOWART: Art Photographer
Around 30 photographers gathered to hear about the life and photographic art of Ruby Spowart in Brisbane on June 13th. Now in her mid 80s, Ruby has over the years participated in a range of photographic pursuits that have led to some quite substantial achievements. She is a triple Master of Photography, Fellow and Honorary Fellow of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography; in her academic studies she has achieved a Certificate in Art from the Queensland College of Art and also an Associate Diploma of Visual Art from QUT. Recognised for her contribution in visual art she was awarded a Don Fraser Fellowship of QUT and, earlier in her career in the camera club movement she was awarded both an SSAPS and an APR Medal by the Australian Photographic Society. She co-founded Imagery Gallery in Brisbane that showed exhibitions of photography for fifteen years from 1980-1995. Her photographs have won major art photography awards in the 1980s and 90s including the Muswellbrook Photographic Award and the McGregor Prize for Photography and is held in major regional art collections and the Queensland Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia.
SEE Ruby’s curriculum vitae
Ruby has created an immense body of work in the following techniques:
- Polaroid 10”x8” colour photograms (1980s)
- Polaroid SX-70 multi-image (joiner-style works) (1980s)
- Massive pseudo-panorama landscapes (1980s & 90s)
- Camera toss mosaics (1980s & 90s)
- Large-scale photo mosaics (1980s & 90s)
- Artists’ books and photobooks (2000-2012)
Her most recognisable works, particularly from the AIPP APP Awards successes, comes from her work with Kodak High Speed Infrared film and a Leica M2. The images are usually of outback Australian landscapes and are heavily sepia toned. SEE a folio of works in Ruby’s Behance Folio
Queensland AIPP President Jan Ramsay enthusiastically introduced Ruby and Marianne Irvine (recently awarded AIPP Honorary Life Membership) who, we learned was to interview Ruby as part of the evening’s presentation. At first Ruby discussed her life and touched upon the following points;
- Her mother was a keen artist who painted in oils
- Her schooling was cut short by World War II, as she had to help out on the farm as her brothers had enlisted
- She had always done things with art-making; enamelling, ceramics, china painting, drawing
- Ruby joined the Numurkah Camera Club (in Victoria) and the Australian Photographic Society in the mid-1960s
- Had served as National Membership Officer in the APS
- Had participated in all levels of the camera club movement in Queensland in the 1980s
- Founded Imagery Gallery with son Doug in 1980 and was a director until the gallery closed its doors in 1995
- Exhibited extensively throughout the 1980s and 90s
- Founded Imagery Gallery Tours with Doug in 1982 and over 17 years undertook around 40 outback safari tours around Australia, as well as tours to New Zealand, Africa and South-Western USA. It was noted that Imagery Gallery Tours may well be the Australia’s first Photo Tour business.
- Ruby became involved with the AIPP and the APP Awards in the early 1990s and served as the administrator for many years
- In the early 2000s Ruby cared for her husband who was in ill health and she moved to the Gold Coast on his passing in 2006.
This presentation was illustrated by examples of artworks and personal images from these recollections. Marianne Irvine then led a lively discussion around the infrared work and travelling in the Australian outback. The concept of taking photographs with film was commented on as many in the audience did not have a significant connection with infrared film, processing, fine print making on fibre papers and the variations of the toning processes that were employed by Doug, who had printed most of Ruby’s work—although she did hold up for the audience to see an image that she announced as her last APPA Gold awarded print, and said that she, ‘had printed that one!’
Doug explained the infrared film process as it existed 20 years ago and connected his knowledge and skill in the darkroom with the prints before the audience. SEE: Doug Spowart’s infrared film ‘How To’
Ian Poole interjected that the images were masterworks made by the photographer Ruby, and the printer Doug, and that the APPA print scores and labels on the print backs provided a wonderful provenance for the work as high quality ‘vintage’ prints.
When asked about her beginnings in art photography Ruby explained the creative space that was created by Imagery Gallery’s presence within the Brisbane photography scene. During its 15 years of operation Imagery Ruby and Doug showed over 200 exhibitions of photography, they curated major exhibitions of Queensland photographers work, some of which were shown in China, New Zealand and Noumea. She had found, as she believed many others had as well, that Imagery Gallery had provided inspiration for new ideas and directions of photography, exploration of themes and the presentation of photography within the gallery context. SEE: IMAGERY GALLERY Biog
Questions from the floor enabled other insights into Ruby’s process and workflow to be revealed. The presentation concluded with everyone being presented with the Patterns in Time catalogue of Ruby’s work and an invitation to visit her on the Gold Coast to see more work from her extensive practice. Ruby advised that she was making her work available to interested purchasers and many attendees eagerly approached her at the conclusion of her presentation.
It’s not often that we can gather together and meet with photographers who have been a part of the recent history of the discipline and who in some way may have helped create that space and opportunities that we enjoy today—this occasion was certainly one of these. Thank you to Ruby for sharing her story and her art, to Marianne for her chairing the meeting, thanks also the AIPP Queensland Division and in particular Jan Ramsay for coordinating this and other events for the benefit of AIPP members and those interested in photography.
Doug Spowart with contributions from Vicky
Judging a book by its cover a page
The artists’ book is usually sequestered away in library stacks and drawers in their neat little custom made archival cardboard boxes and plastic bags. In specialised library and private collections these are treasured objects; their owners become the custodian of the physical object of the book and the story is revealed in the site-specific act of reading within these spaces. But … sometimes they escape. On occasion artists’ books escape en-mass from their natural home of the library or private collection, and this is exactly the case with the exhibition Life’s Journey recently presented at the Redland Art Gallery, Cleveland.
Co-curated by Emma Bain Director of Redland Art Gallery and Anna Thurgood Acting Director of Artspace Mackay, the exhibition assembles books drawn from the significant, perhaps one could say—international quality, collections found in Queensland; Artspace Mackay (AM), grahame gallies + editions (gg+e), the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) and Studio West End (SWE). The exhibition’s themes, as highlighted in the catalogue essay by Louise Martin-Chew claim that they are intended to seek ‘out universal truths in individual journeys’, ‘the personal and individual’, …and ‘artist narratives with memoir-like threads’.
The viewer entering the gallery to see the Life’s Journeys books may not have read the catalogue, or have an understanding of the artists’ book discipline, but what they are to encounter in the white cube of the gallery space will be unusual. The Redland Gallery’s main room a literal forest of fourteen or more acrylic topped display cases. Inside each case resides the book, open to a page and resting on a stand or pillow. Some books don’t seem like books at all, they look more like 3D sculpture, or jewellery forms, or even things just fastened or bound together by threads. Other ‘books’ are in frames or on panels on the wall—one is even a projected image. It’s here where the viewer becomes acquainted with the ‘non-standard’ nature of the artists’ book—but there is more… The viewer can look at the narrative segment presented by the open page, or the expanded story presented in the wall-mounted works, or books that are of the concertina form. While being visually entertained by the titillating ‘sample’ view, the visitor may probably enjoy the encounter and will leave feeling a sense of discovering something interesting and unusual. But I would suggest that this is only part of the experience that the artists who made the books expected or wanted for those who see their books.
I know that this sounds like the continuing debate about the gallery exhibition of books where the sequential narrative that artists’ books require is neutered by single page views. But there is an issue, and for me a redeeming feature for shows like this, and that is that the display of artists’ books will encourage and excite people to hunt down these books in their usual library-sited storage spaces.
What I have written about before,* and what I will restate is, that these exhibitions are ‘tasters’ only. The exhibition strategy needs to include ways by which viewers can identify books of interest, understand how to access them, and then go-see, handle, read and fully encounter the artist’s communiqué. What is needed for the gallery viewer is a catalogue of the books and their source collections, how to access these collections, online references (maybe even flip-books of the works), perhaps even initiated within the exhibition space by QR codes or augmented reality clips. Using this concept the exhibition becomes an invitation for those who wish to take up the offer to handle and read the books in their site-specific habitat.
Now that’s off my chest, I have to say what an amazing collection of artists’ books the curators have pulled together. Seeing this cherry-picked selection in this context is far more interesting for me than looking through an online catalogue—here there is a sense of discovery. It’s a bit like going to a second-hand bookshop and just wandering through the stacks picking up whatever takes your fancy. Wandering through Life’s Journey was indeed an encounter with an eclectic bunch of artists’ books. Some of my favourites were there.
This included Adele Outteridge’s Teabag Book (2005) from SWE – just how many cups of tea were consumed to make this book? And another of Adele’s books, God Bless America (2003?) also from SWE, makes a political statement that can be read in different ways depending on the reader’s point of view of American society or foreign policy.
Another book Naru (2007), from the SLQ, was constructed from paper to form a 3D vessel—the book as a metaphor for a boat. The work was the result of a collaborative project entitled Codex Event 4 coordinated by Tim Mosely at Southern Cross University. Naru and the other books that were created by the team have an overtly political statement contained within their shape and the titling. These works comment on idea of the freedom that many people seek as they cross borders as refugees and how this conflicts with the Australian Government’s immigration policies.
A fine press/printmakers book is represented by Sheree Kinlyside’s The reluctant nun (2009) from AM. The book was the winner of the Regional Artists Book Award at the 2010 Libris Artist Book Awards.
A book of a different shape, five sides(!) by American book artist Philip Zimmerman High Tension (1993), from gg+e, deals with a humorous look at contemporary society. The book is intentionally over-designed, montaging graphic elements and text with image narrative to make it an immensely interesting book—you want to pick it up and read through.
In the display of another book, Judy Watson’s Under the Act (2007) from gg+e, each page is framed and the work extends across one complete wall of the gallery. The folio single-sheet form of this book enables its reconfiguration to the wall possible. The work describes a personal narrative, a life’s journey, through the impact of oppressive white bureaucracy applied to Aboriginal peoples living in Queensland not that long ago.
Peter Lyssiotis and Noga Freiburg’s collaborative book Homeland (2003) from AM presents personal narratives of the authors, one a Greek Cypriot—the other an Israeli, about the way lines are drawn across maps to divide communities. The book invokes the story concept by using texts, family photographs and photomontages all bisected by a green line that divides the two communities.
One final book that I’ve always been inspired by is Scott McCarney’s Memory Loss (1988) from AM which deals with a medical condition that afficted his sibling. McCarney was recently in Brisbane with partner Keith Smith presenting an artists’ book workshop at the State Library of Queensland. This two-sided accordion structure book is replete with information from numerous sources including medical literature, personal photographs and correspondence. For me Scott’s book had truly escaped from the cases and was presented, sans protective acrylic lid, atop a plinth where viewing of one side was unobstructed. I think in terms of Scott’s politically subversive work that he would’ve liked that…
Life’s Journeys is a significant showing of what artists’ books can be and it puts the book firmly within the art gallery display environment. But none-the-less, with all the problems of display and the expectations that this commentator may have, the books do need to get out and about. They assert by their presence in the gallery that they exist and can be encountered by a diverse range of the art-interested public. And, perhaps is the case with any gallery exhibition, the viewer experience is something that develops and is enhanced by continued reflection after the viewing. The importance of the exhibition Life’s Journey, the accompanying exhibition Mind Mapping by local artist and bookmaker Jack Oudyn, and the associated workshops is that they will create much needed interest, scholarship and activity in the artists’ book genre. …. And hopefully inspire some viewers to become readers by pursuing the fuller of the artists’ book communiqué by engaging more fully with them when the books return to their respective collection homes.
Doug Spowart June 9, 2012
Please note: The links that I’ve selected to provide a visual connection with the text have been sourced from Google images and may not be the exact book presented for display in this show. I have found it interesting to discover how so many artists’ books are poorly, if at all, represented in the online domain.
We had a call today from Peter Wallis today to say he was in town and wanted to have yarn. Peter was a photography student of mine at Southern Queensland Institute of TAFE in the mid 1990s. For quite a while he has been one of the main shooters for Brisbane’s Courier Mail newspaper—mainly specialising in sports. As we sat sipping coffee Peter cradled in his hands an advanced production model from a well-known DSLR manufacturer that was being trialled by the newspaper. That seemed fitting as Peter always had a fetish for the latest and best camera technologies.
Peter Wallis was one of those people who truly loved photography and was a lot of fun in classroom and darkroom. One day he found our Canon 50~350mm zoom (white lens) and probably had it on permanent loan for most of the second year of his associate diploma studies. The lens went to the Birdsville races, to sporting events and places I daren’t ask about. His end of study folio was an impressive generalist photographer with a strong bias to media photojournalism.
On graduating from TAFE Peter fell into newspaper photography in the regional papers in towns like Bundaberg and Gladstone. His break came in the early 2000s when he was shortlisted for a position at the Courier. He and his fellow shortlisted applicant had to work at the paper for a few days to show how they would handle the job. At the end of their trial they were interviewed by the Pictorial Editor—they were both asked what they considered was their BEST picture. Apparently the other candidate pointed out their best shot from the folio laid out on the table—Peter was to tell me later that he’d remembered something I had spoken about during his study years, about the idea of thinking that the BEST picture ‘is the next one I’m going to take!’ He felt that way about his work and used that statement and got the job.
In the nine years since Peter has amassed a significant body of work in the newspaper genre as well as undertaken personal projects in India and Nepal. He is currently documenting the Brisbane Firebirds basketball team. In our conversation we discussed aspects of his industry over his 15 years or practice. He commented, ‘My first newspaper had a darkroom, then we shot colour film, processed it and scanned the images, and then finally we were presented with digital cameras.’
He continues commenting on how the picture got to the back to the paper. Film was straight forward as its physical nature meant that you travelled with it and lovingly processed it. Instant digital capture led to instant transmission. ‘We used to send our images back to the Courier Mail via a satellite dish, then laptop and phone—recently I travelled with Bligh on the election and didn’t even open a laptop. Sent everything back via an iPad. And now we shoot DSLR video and send that back as well’.
We spoke of concerns for the newspaper industry and the current challenge for the on-line 24-hour update and how images are syndicated through agencies like Getty. Peter has concerns about the future—but right now he’s living the dream that most photographers have that have a love of the challenge of being told by the editor to ‘go here … see the man … and make a bloody great image that I can publish’.
Open any Courier Mail or Sunday Mail and on most days you’ll see a Peter Wallis picture and most probably it will be an amazing sporting peak action image or an editorial styled image with some kind of visual twist that captures your attention. As mentioned earlier most newspapers today are struggling to maintain print readership and their attempt to transition to online subscription is forcing a hybrid text, still image and video presentation. At this time Peter’s ability to conceptualise and create visually interesting images on the fly is as valuable as ever and stridently makes the claim that photos made by photographers are as important as ever in telling a news story in a moment, on the page, or … on the screen.
CRISS-CROSSING THE DIVIDE
Living west of the Great Dividing Range places regional artists far from the arts hubs of the capital cities where the opportunities for exhibition, audience and critical review abound. And whilst most regional artists crave the benefits of urban proximity they may be overlooking plenty of career and professional development opportunities within their own regions.
For that reason Sally Johnson, Director of Blockwork Gallery in Toowoomba, encourages regional artists to seek opportunities within their home boundaries. To show and share her ideas of what may exist for regional artists, she has curated an exhibition called Crossing the Divide at made.Creative Space, that featured paintings by Patricia Hinz, Carol McCormack and Catherine Rose.
The exhibition opening was well attended and the made gallery directors Alex Stalling and Elysha Gould provided a commentary about the exhibitions that were to open that evening—they also announced the imminent closure of the gallery and the new ‘pop-up’ exhibition strategy that they will be introducing, as well as Elysha’s new position in Miles as a ‘manager’ (?) of the Dogwood Crossing Gallery.
Attached to the exhibition was a workshop in which the featured artists participated in a discussion led by Sally that looked at the range of exhibition venues throughout the South West region. Emerging and mid‐career Toowoomba Artists were encouraged to expand their careers by considering exhibitions at the venues mentioned.
The artists represented in the Crossing the Divide show, Pat, Carol and Catherine then discussed the nature and history of their arts practice. Each had really interesting backgrounds in art-making and exhibition with experiences that included working with Mervyn Moriarty in the early days of Flying Arts, having exhibitions in New York and being driven on outback roads with a canvas spread out across the dashboard—painting.
A lively question and answer discussion ensued that connected the ideas and experiences of the three visiting artists with those from the local scene.
Sally announced that this project will also include a managed interactive online forum that will allow for a continued engagement process beyond the workshop. It is intended that this forum will have the potential to act as a platform by which Toowoomba and South West artists can connect more broadly.
The workshop and forum received support from the Regional Arts Development Fund—a Queensland Government and Toowoomba Regional Council partnership to support local arts and culture.
For more information on the exhibition and the online forum contact, email@example.com or 0418 227 784.