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Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

THE EXPO 88 PHOTO SHOW – 25 years on

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First & Last EXPO PHOTO SHOW Poster

First & Last EXPO PHOTO SHOW Poster

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EXPO’88 – A conceptual photographer’s document

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At this time twenty-five years ago, January 1989  – the people of Brisbane were beginning to lament the passing of EXPO’88. While the six-month adventure opportunity to encounter the world and its cultures and cuisine was to form lasting memories for some, others may have recollections of the crush of interstate and overseas visitors, the nightly flamboyant fireworks displays and the inevitable queuing to visit everything from food stalls, to exhibitions and toilets. EXPO’88 is often seen as a watershed in the transformation of Brisbane as a sleepy backwater into a vibrant cosmopolitan city of the world and, most certainly part of the 21st Century.

I had a season pass for EXPO’88 and created a personal body of work as a response to my experience of the event.

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Here is the back-story behind my 1988 project … The First & Last EXPO PHOTO SHOW

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Ethyl Stevens (USA)

EXPO 88 Crowd Crush ………..PHOTO: Ethyl Stevens aka Doug Spowart

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In the EXPO’88 event I recognised an opportunity for the creation of a new body of work investigating emerging approaches to my work methodology. For varied reasons I had introduced to my practice the creation of alias identities to which my work was attributed. These identities were quite complete in that they had refined working styles, subject matter, presentation forms, a photographic portrait, signatures and artists statements. As a gallery director it was easy to slip the work of these ‘photographers’ into group shows for commentary and critical acclaim. These personae enable me to play a little game on a system that at times, from my perspective at times, was biased, exclusive, nepotistic and overly critical. It also enabled me to explore ideas and concepts relating to my photography and the presentation of photographs.

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When EXPO offered season passes I attended the passport portrait session with pair of fake glasses and a fictitious name, Eugene Xavier Pelham Owens, the initials and the signature spelled ‘EXPO’. The deception had begun. In time this project grew into an extensive body of work from 5 different personae all representing their manufactured personal responses to the EXPO experience. The exhibition was opened on April 1st 1989 (April Fools Day), it was reviewed positively in the Courier Mail and sales of work resulted from people who found the photographs reconnecting them with their experience of the event. The deception went undetected and after the exhibition the body of work passed into obscurity, as do so many exhibitions of photographs, and was slipped into archive storage boxes in my studio.

Whilst, at the time of the fieldwork on this project I called myself a ‘conceptual photographer’ as I felt that my work was driven by the overarching idea of personal experience documents rather than the photodocumentary reportage principles of truth and reality. I was aware of the term ‘conceptual artist’ and recognized that it had all kinds of baggage attached to it based on art theory and movements, however my work as a photographer at this time has simpatico with Sol Lewitt’s 1967 manifesto on conceptual art. He states:

In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art. (Lewitt 1967)

Recently Melissa Miles has discussed the term ‘Conceptual Documentary’ in her 2010 paper The Drive to Archive: Conceptual Documentary Photobook Design. The discusses in reviewing the photobooks of Stephen Gill, Mathieu Pernot and Matthew Sleeth. She asserts that this mode of photography is based on a theory that photographers want to collect and respond to a kind of ‘archive impulse’, making and arranging image sequences of daily life into photobooks. What appeals to me is that, as a Conceptual Documentary photographer I, as Miles defines, ‘seek[s] out and frame[s] their subjects according to a pre-determined idea or scheme. Processes of repetition and categorization are central to Conceptual Documentary’ (Miles 2010:50). For me, what I was engaged in was to make a commentary from a personal viewpoint and to create a contemporary record for public presentation and, ultimately archiving. While Miles’ contemporary Conceptual Documentary practitioner including the likes of Martin Parr freely publish their photobooks in the 1980s trade published productions were beyond the reach of most photographers including myself.

What I find interesting now is that the 1980s was a particularly productive period for me as I created a trilogy of exhibitions: Tourists Facts, Acts, Rituals and Relics, Icons & Revered Australiana and The First & Last Photo Expo Show. These were essentially social documentary projects based on a personal directorial premise. I found that the limited opportunities for presentation of the framed exhibition format of these shows led me to initial experiments with boxed sets of images and ultimately to self-published photobooks, the first of which was completed in 1992.

These days I’m not so concerned about any tag as my work is often so interdiciplinarian it is hard to define. What for me is interesting is that at the time I made work that may now be able to be defined and categorized using contemporary terms and definitions. What is also important now is that the EXPO’88 photographs, some 5,000 of them, exist as an archive not necessarily as a document of the place but rather as a personal, conceptual documentary photographer’s response to the EXPO’88 experience.

Doug Spowart  December 26, 2013

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Lewitt, S. (1967). Paragraphs on Conceptual Art. Artforum 5: 8.
Miles, M. (2010) “The Drive to Archive: Conceptual Documentary Photobook Design.” Photographies 3, 49-68.

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HERE IS A SELECTION OF WORKS FROM MY EXPO’88 PSEUDONYMS

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John (Jack) Dorf (United Kingdom)

John (Jack) Dorf ………(United Kingdom)

John (Jack) Dorf (United Kingdom)

John (Jack) Dorf ………(United Kingdom)

Eugene Owens ......... (USA)

Eugene Owens …….(USA)

Eugene Owens (USA)

Eugene Owens …….(USA)

Malenky Davotchka (Russia)

Malenky Davotchka ……. (Russia)

EXPO 88 © Doug Spowart

Malenky Davotchka …….(Russia)

Y Regami (Japan)

Y Regami ……(Japan)

Y Regami (Japan)

Y Regami ……. (Japan)

Hanna Rhetzik (Czechoslovakia)

Hanna Rhetzik …….(Czechoslovakia)

Hanna Rhetzik (Chezekolvakia)

Hanna Rhetzik ……(Czechoslovakia)

Ethyl Stevens (USA)

Ethyl Stevens …….(USA)

Ethyl Stevens (USA)

Ethyl Stevens …….(USA)

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A PDF PRESENTATION CONTAINING MORE IMAGES IS AVAILABLE HERE: EXPO-SPOWART-v3

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First & Last EXPO PHOTO SHOW Poster

First & Last EXPO PHOTO SHOW Poster

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Images and text © Doug Spowart   Design of the Poster: Trish Briscoe

From the Doug Spowart Personal Art Archive 1953-2014

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Creative Commons-by-nc-nd.eu

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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