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LIGHT READINGS: the photograph and the book – An SLQ White Gloves event

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Flyer for the event

Flyer for the event


Light Readings: The photograph in books from the SLQ Artists’ Book Collection and the Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection


On Sunday April 6 a group of around 25 artists book and photobook dillettantes attended a special ‘White Gloves’ event at the State Library of Queesnland. Assembled in the viewing room on level 4 was a selection of artists books and photobooks that addressed the topic of the photograph and the book. The 43 books were drawn from the SLQ’s Australian Library of Art Artists’ Book collection, the SLQ General Library, supplemented by books from the Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection. The book’s selection was curated by SLQ Senior Librarian Helen Cole and Doug Spowart. Those attending the event were given a presentation by Doug Spowart to introduce the rationale for the selection. A discussion paper by Spowart is included in this blog post along with a bibliography of the selected books.


Doug Spowart presents an introduction   PHOTO: Victoria Cooper

Doug Spowart presents an introduction …….PHOTO: Victoria Cooper

SLQ White Gloves event - Attendees viewing books

SLQ White Gloves event – Attendees viewing books



Doug Spowart’s discussion inspired by the ‘Light Readings’ event: A nomenclature for photos in books 


For one hundred and fifty years the making of ‘quality’ photographs had been almost exclusively the domain of the professional practitioner. Outside of the professional photography scene vernacular photography, made popular due to the enabling technologies of ‘you press the button – we do the rest’ companies like Kodak, usually produced results that were of an inferior standard. There were of course exceptions – ‘prosumers’, as we would call them today, image-makers from the camera club movement, dilettantes and artists whose visual acutance and mastery of process suited photography.

Today digital technology has interceded and now anyone can make photographs. From a range of informed sources it is easy to predict that nearly a trillion photographs will be made in 2014. These images from phone camera snaps to video grabs, from high-end pro digital cameras to surveillance satellites, as well as a plethora of straight and enhanced images will be made and used for a range of outcomes. It seems that now anyone can make a photograph and almost anything can be done with it.

Like photography the publishing of books was once a closed world, as it required specialist processes, skilled artisans and financial entrepreneurship. But this powerful structure of gatekeepers too has also been dissolved by the empowering digital technologies of computers, software, computer-to-press and print on demand workflows. Making books has never been easier. Photographers particularly have embraced the opportunity and launched a revolution creating all kinds of photobooks to extend the bland form of the traditional photobook. Bruno Ceshel, founder of the photobook publishing and promotion enterprise Self-Publish Be Happy, comments that:

From the stapled fanzine assembled in a student bedroom to the traditionally printed photobook, these publications not only reshape our understanding of the medium but offer exciting and sometimes radical ideas. (Ceschel 2011)

Whilst photographers have embraced this new found direct publishing paradigm artists have made books with photos in them for decades. For them the processes of printmaking and multiples that they employ, along with access to printing press technology, is accessible and ‘doable’. Additionally artists have experimented with communication concepts that included the democratic multiple publications. Artists employ a range of media and the photograph was just another tool that they could access to create their art.

A significant connection between photography and the artists book is discussed by Anne Thurmann-Jajes and Martin Hellmold in their 2002 exhibition and catalogue ars photographica. They state that: ‘In very general terms, it is possible to say that half of all artists’ books produced to date have been based on photographs.’(Thurmann-Jajes and Hellmold 2002:19). It is interesting to note that the first book of the modern American artists book genre is Ed Ruscha’s book of photographs entitled Twenty-six Gasoline Stations.

The artist’s use of photography has created a degree of frisson. A point of contention for photographers was their ownership over the term ‘photographer’. Essentially photographers claimed that while artists may have made photographs, only photographers made ‘real’ photographs – artists just took photographs. Ruscha provocatively denounced the preciousness of the fine art photography movement that came out of the 1960s and announced that all he wanted out of photography was ‘facts, facts, facts.’ (Rowell 2006:24)

Thurmann-Jajes and Hellmold go further in that they propose differences between the artist and the photographer in the conceptual aspects of making a book based on photographs:

The authors of photo books followed photographic tradition, according to which the photograph as such was decisive, becoming the bearer of meaning. … By contrast to the photo book, the artists’ book is not the bearer, but the medium of the artistic message. (Thurmann-Jajes and Hellmold 2002:20)

Interestingly, the photobook and the artists book share a lost history that Johanna Drucker discusses in her 1995 book, The Century of Artists’ Books. She states that:

The photographic book became a standard of artists’ book activity, and its history belongs to the early 20th century in which the concept of the book as an artistic form was taking on a new, vital identity. (Drucker 2004:63)

Drucker adds:

These were works which were considered avant-garde, experimental, and innovative when they were made; they broke with the formal conventions of earlier book production, establishing new parameters for visual, verbal, graphic, photographic, and synthetic conceptualization of the book as a work of art … they were part of a history which was temporarily forgotten at the time artists’ book emerged in the 1960s. (Drucker 2004:63-4)

Despite these shared histories and theories of ‘differences’ the nature of the creative process, the disciplines of artist and photographer may present an interesting conundrum. Nancy Foote, for example, may question the ‘us and them’ argument by her observation in a 1976 article in Artforum, The Anti-Photographers that: ‘For every photographer who clamors to make it as an artist, there is an artist running a grave risk of turning into a photographer.’ (Foote 1976:46)

Today the photograph continues to pervade all kinds of books by artists, artists–photographers, photographers and photographer-artists in collections like the Australian Library of Art at the State Library of Queensland. At this time it is important to review the field of creative book production that utilises the photograph and consider what has been created to date and in the SLQ collection, as well as look for emergent trends.

In this research project Senior Librarian Helen Cole and I have collaborated to bring together a selection of books to survey the nature of the photo and the book. Whilst most books have been sourced from the SLQ Artists’ Book collection some books have come from the SLQ general area and some, mainly emergent photobooks have been drawn from my personal collection. In bringing these 43 books together in the one ‘white gloves’ space there has been an ability to create come kind of order from the divergent practice.

It would take a courageous and brave commentator to propose a definition or a canon for the photo and the book. Instead I will suggest a spectrum of activity and assign some characteristics that may aid those interested in the topic to compare, sample and discuss. I will use the term nomenclature as it best describes the devising or choosing of names for things in this type of discussion.

As the visible light spectrum has a rainbow of seven main colours this discussion has seven as well. Each has a specific characteristics and terms associated with it – although, at times certain books may challenge attempts to place them within this spectrum. The 7 colours are:

1. Red – The ‘Classic’ trade photobook

2. Orange – Print on demand trade-like photobook

3. Yellow – Emergent – PhotoStream* [of Consciousness] or Insta-photobook*

4. Green – Photozine*/ broadsheet / newspaper

5. Blue – Experimental’ or ‘Freestyle’ artists book

6. Indigo – Artists book

7. Violet – ‘Classic’, ‘Book Arts’, Livre d’artiste book

                  *Names I have considered to best describe these emergent forms

This spectral approach accepts the notion that the use of the photograph may be by either photographer or artist, and the nature of their creative products may enable their books to reside in generic areas. In many ways the transition of the rainbow metaphor from red to violet could represent the pure book forms of the photographer at one end and the purest artist form at the other at the other. This suggests that 1-4 would be photobooks conceived and produced by photographers. And those books in 4-7 would be principally books made by artists using photography. And at times the nature and form of the book may defy this nomenclature and be in a grey area, or a tint or shade, or even a blend of colour opposites!

Just as Johanna Drucker found when she attempted to define the artists book my categorising the practitioner’s discipline and the type or style of a book that they make also may be challenging. Drucker came under fire even though she predicted that her proposition would ‘… cause strife, competition, [and] set up a hierarchy, make people feel they are either included or excluded’ (Drucker 2005:3). More recently, in 2010, Sarah Bodman and Tom Sowden from the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England sought to define the canon for the artists book in the 21st century. They did this by creating a survey of world practitioners of book making by artists in every conceivable outcome, including the emergent eBook. They found that the heirarical form of a tree diagram was ‘too rigid and too concerned with process’ (Bodman and Sowdon 2010:5). They discovered that their respondents wanted to alter the diagram to satisfy the, ‘cross-pollination that is often required by artists’ and added in, ‘connectors across, up and down to bring seemingly disparate disciplines together.’ (Bodman and Sowdon 2010:5)

Rather than a rigid definitive structure, I present this spectral organization a guide where we can bring some concepts into a critical debate that will extend the ideas, and the motivations, behind those who create these communicative devices. Ultimately researchers, and those interested in engaging with and exploring the nature of the photo in the book, will add their voices to the conversation. Then new dialogue, scholarship and opportunities for thought on the topic will advance understanding of the book that carries its message with the photograph.

At the end of this blog post I have included the bibliography of selected books for the ‘Light Readings’ event.


Dr Doug Spowart     April 14, 2014


Bodman, S. and T. Sowdon (2010). A Manifesto for the Book: What will be the canon for the artist’s book in the 21st Century? A Manifesto for the Book: What will be the canon for the artist’s book in the 21st Century? T. S. Sarah Bodman. Bristol, England, Impact Press, The Centre for Fine Print Research, University of the West of England, Bristol.
Ceschel, B. (2011). “The Best Books of 2010.”   Retrieved June 6, 2011, from http://www.photoeye.com/magazine_admin/index.cfm/bestbooks.2010.list/author_id/68/.
Drucker, J. (2004). The Century of Artists’ Books. New York, Granary Books.
Drucker, J. (2005). “Critical Issues / Exemplary Works.” The Bonefolder: An e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist 1(2): 3-15.
Foote, N. (1976). “The Anti-Photographers.” Artforum September: 46-54.
Rowell, M. (2006). Ed Ruscha Photographer. Gottingen, Steidl Publishers.
Thurmann-Jajes, A. and M. Hellmold, Eds. (2002). ars photographica: Fotografie und Künstlerbücher. Weserburg, Bremen, Neues Museum






A Bibliography of the selected books

From the Artists’ Book Collection of the Australian Library of Art, State Library of Queensland and the Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection



Red – The ‘Classic’ trade photobook


American Cockroach

Photographs by Catherine Chalmers

Essays by Steve Baker, Garry Marvin, and Lyall Watson

Aperture, 2004

(Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection)


Afghanistan, or, The perils of freedom

Stephen Dupont 1967- ; Jacques Menasche 1964-; Stephen C Pinson; New York Public Library : 2008


Steam : India’s last steam trains

Stephen Dupont 1967- ; Mark Tully

Stockport : Dewi Lewis :1999


Foundphotos / DickJewell

Dick Jewell

London : s. n. :1977


FromMontelucotoSpoleto : December1976

Sol LeWitt 1928-2007.

Eindhoven Netherlands : Van Abbemuseum ; Weesp Netherlands : Openbaar Kunstbezit :1984


Journey of a wise electron

Peter Lyssiotis 1949- ; PeterLyssiotis 1949-.; PeterLyssiotis 1949-.

Prahan, Vic. : Champion Books :1981


Eat : Jan-Mar 2001

Jo Pursey

Sydney, N.S.W. : J. Pursey :2001


Tour of duty : winning hearts and minds in East Timor

Matthew Sleeth 1972- ; Paul James (Paul Warren), 1958-

South Yarra, Vic. : Hardie Grant Books in association with M.33 :2002


Signs of Australia

Richard Tipping 1949-

Ringwood, Vic. : Penguin Books :1982


Intimations : with selected poetic responses by Michele Morgan

Gordon Undy

Surry Hills, NSW. : Point Light :2004




Orange – Print on demand trade-like photobook


Various fires and MLK

Scott L. McCarney 1954-

Rochester, N. Y. : VisualBooks :2010


Reportage : a retrospective 1999-2009.

Robert McFarlane 1942-; Jacqui Vicario; StephenDupont 1967-; National Art School (Australia); Momento Pro.

Bondi Junction, N.S.W. : Reportage :2010



Flashback : SE Queensland flood event January 2011

Julie White

Strawberry Hills, N.S.W. : Momento :2011



Yellow – Emergent PhotoStream* [of Consciousness] or InstaPhotoBook*


Iris Garden
Wiliam Gedney

Designed by Hans Seeger

Little Brown Mushroom, 2013

(Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection)


Moved Objects
Georgia Hutchison and Arini Byng
Perimeter Editions
Melbourne, Australia, 2013

(Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection)


Lost horizons

Scott L. McCarney 1954-,

Rochester, NY : ScottMcCarney/Visual Books :2008


Call of the wild

Matthew Sleeth 1972- ; Josef Lebovic Gallery.

Sydney N.S.W. : Published by Josef Lebovic Gallery :2004


Signed up : 22 postcards

Richard Tipping 1949-

Newcastle, N.S.W. : Artpoem :c2010



Green – Photozine*/ broadsheet / newspaper


Radiata, 2013

Jacob Raupach

(Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection)


LBM Dispatch #6: Texas Triangle

Alec Soth and Brad Zellar
Little Brown Mushroom, 2013
Edition of 2000

(Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection)



Blue – Experimental’ or ‘Freestyle’ artists book


Ten menhirs at Plouharnel, Carnac, Morbihan, Bretagne, France

Jihad Muhammad aka John Armstrong 1948-

Hobart Tas. : J. Armstrong :1982


Detour ; Kõrvaltee

Christiane Baumgartner 1967- ; Lucy Harrison 1974-; Grahame Galleries + Editions.

Leipzig, Germany : C. Baumgartner & L. Harrison :2004


No diving II : evidence

Peter E. Charuk

Hazelbrook, N.S.W. : P.E. Charuk :2005


The story of the gorge

Victoria Cooper 1957-

Toowoomba, Qld. : V. Cooper :2001



Victoria Cooper 1957- ; Photographers of the Great Divide.

Toowoomba, Qld. : Photographers of the Great Divide :2005?


Space + Time

Ken Leslie ; Grahame Galleries + Editions.

Atlanta, Ga. : Nexus Press :2002


The river city : eyewitness document

Helen Malone 1948-

Yeronga, Qld : H. Malone :2011



Ron McBurnie 1957-

Townsville, Qld. : R. McBurnie :1996?


Portrait of an Australian

Jonathan Tse 1967-

Robertson, Qld. : J. Tse :1998



Marshall Weber 1960- ; Christopher Wilde; Sara Parkel; Alison E Williams; Isabelle Weber; Booklyn Artists Alliance.

New York : Booklyn :c2002



Normana Wight 1936- ; Numero Uno Publications.

Milton, Qld. : Numero Uno Publications :2009


High tension

Philip Zimmermann ; Montage 93 : International Festival of the Image (Rochester, N.Y.)

Rochester, NY : the author :1993



Indigo – Artists book (Inkjet – gravure – photopolymer – screenprint)


Lost and found : a bookwork

Lyn Ashby 1953-

Vic. : ThisTooPress :2007?


The ten thousand things

LynAshby 1953-

Victoria : Lyn Ashby, Thistoopress :2010



JanDavis 1952-

Lismore : J. Davis :c1995



Tommaso Durante 1956- ; Chris Wallace-Crabbe 1934-; Elke Ahokas

North Warrandyte, Vic. : Tommaso Durante :2011


Terra Australis

Tommaso Durante 1956- ; Kay Aldenhoven

Warrandyte, Vic. : TommasoDurante :2003



Noga Freiberg 1962- ; Peter Lyssiotis 1949-.; Masterthief Enterprises

Burwood, Vic. : Masterthief :2003


Deeply honoured

Fred Hagstrom ; Densho Digital Archive.; Carleton College (Northfield, Minn.). Archives.

Saint Paul, Minn. : Strong Silent Type Press :2010


Cars of the fifties : book number 247

Keith A. Smith 1938-

Rochester, N.Y. : KeithSmith :2006




Violet – ‘Classic’ ‘Book Arts’ Livre d’artiste book


Through closed doors : 7 paraclausithyra

Susan J. Allix 1943-

London : S. Allix :2005


A gardener at midnight : travels in the Holy Land ; from drawings made on the spot by Yabez Al-Kitab

Peter Lyssiotis 1949- ; Brian Castro 1950-; David Roberts 1796-1864.; Nick Doslov; David Pidgeon; State Library of Victoria.; Masterthief Enterprises.; Renaissance Bookbinding.

Melbourne : Masterthief :2004


New branches on an old tree

Susan Purdy ; Blue Moon Press.

Melbourne : Blue Moon Press :2006


List concludes.



SLQ White Gloves event - Attendees viewing books

SLQ White Gloves event – Attendees viewing books




Creative Commons-by-nc-nd.eu

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




Text: © 2014 Dr Doug Spowart         Photos: ©2014 Victoria Cooper and Doug Spowart






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