Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog


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Ruby Spowart  Photo: Doug Spowart

Ruby Spowart Photo: Doug Spowart

I visited my mother last month just after the family birthday celebration given by her three sons and their families. 85 is a big number when it comes to years lived on this planet and one of Ruby’s recent projects gave me an opportunity to reflect on the life that she has witnessed. Ruby just finished an Apple iPhotobook entitled Meet my ancestors which contains family portraits, group photographs, texts and personal visual ephemera from the last 170 years of her, and mine–Ancestors. This is the third book she has made of this genre, the first being an artists book made from collected images of each year of her life from 1 to 21, and the second, a photobook entitled Bringing home the grain in which she describes the agricultural processes of grain growing and harvesting she encountered in her childhood on a farm in Northern Victoria.

Ruby's 'Meet my ancestors' book

Ruby’s Meet my ancestors book

The Meet my ancestors project brought me in contact with the value of the family photograph, either professionally made or made at home as a box Brownie snapshot, in its ability to provide proof of existence and the aging process encountered by a subject over many successive portraits. Another feature of Ruby’s assemblage and ordering of these family photographs is that they all have a connected linage. This is distinctly different to family photos encountered in junk shops, antique shops and car boot sales. In these circumstances the photographs are separated from their meaning, they become isolated examples of someone and not ‘a’ specific ‘known’ individual—a kind of image orphan.

Ruby's 'Meet my ancestors' book inside

Ruby’s Meet my ancestors book inside

These family portraits are not just photos as she has added a text as well and linked it to other records like personal correspondence and newspaper reports—usually of obituaries. A picture may be worth the proverbial 1000 words but a picture and an appropriate amount of text can place it within a context, a time and ancestral linage. John Berger wrote about this necessary liaison of photo and text in his book Another way of telling1. He says: ‘In the relation between a photograph and words, the photograph begs for an interpretation, and the words usually supply it. The photograph, irrefutable as evidence but weak in meaning, is given a meaning by the words.’

In contemporary society with the popularity of TV programs like Who do you think you are and the online availability of genealogical information there is a heightened interest in our family trees and ancestry. And, as Ruby has lived half of the time covered by her book it is important for her to be engaged in such a project. What is equally exciting for me is that she sits before a computer, sending and receiving communiqués and images from the extended family, she orders, optimizes and designs the pages of the book (with a little help from me): when she was 3 could she have ever dreamed of such a thing…

Ruby Spowart aged about3

Ruby Spowart aged about 3

SEE earlier post about Ruby and her work

Ruby can be contacted through LINKEDIN

Happy Birthday Ruby,

Son Doug, and Vicky


1. Berger, J 1982, ‘Appearances’, in Another way of telling, Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative Society Ltd., London, UK.

Written by Cooper+Spowart

December 28, 2012 at 6:44 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Hi Doug – that looks like a great family tribute Ruby has put together, and no doubt very artfully. I haven’t seen Ruby for some years now, please wish her my best!

    I also just read the earlier blog about Ruby’s work and the tribute to her. I have many fond memories of the Imagery Gallery days … it was a great place to hang out and meet other photographers, view and participate in exhibitions (what was that alias of yours again?:), attend workshops and hassle you for a read of your latest photographic book from your extensive library ….



    Stefan Jannides

    December 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    • Thanks Stefan – The Imagery days were quite amazing and part of what we are today. I don’t know if you’ve seen it but I’ve posted a list of exhibitions and exhibitors of Imagery Gallery on Vicky’s and my website SEE

      I’ll pass on your comments to Ruby – And thanks again

      Cheerio Doug

      Was the pseudonym Luiggi Cacciola? There were others…

      Victoria Cooper Doug Spowart

      December 29, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      • No I hadn’t seen that list, that’s great. I’d forgotten many of those shows.

        ha – just found it on the list: 1988 – Victor H Olsson, PHOTOs … I knew you chose a sort of woggy name to go with mine and Manuel Petavrakis … you’re a funny man :))

        Stefan Jannides

        December 30, 2012 at 11:55 am

  2. I am one of of Ruby’s more recent friends — she is a fine lady
    Nev Parker

    Neville Parker

    December 30, 2012 at 8:55 am

  3. Congratulations Ruby, Well done. We are all proud of you here at The Domain.
    Love. Marlene

    Marlene Bernau

    December 30, 2012 at 10:42 am

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