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Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

DOING IT BY THE BOOK: Judging the 2015 Momento Pro Australian Photo Book Awards

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The finalists stack

 

 

On the 30th of January six identities from the Australian publishing and photography scene gathered in Sydney to review a selection of the best photo books from Australian authors and to select a recipient for the title Momento Pro Australian Photo Book of the Year. Prior to this event 100 books had been submitted in the award by Australian photographers working in a wide range of book forms that employ photography.

 

The judges for the award were: Shaune Lakin (Curator of Photography @ National Gallery Of Australia), Diana Hill [Publisher @ Murdoch Books), Sonya Jeffery (Books at Manic), Kim Hungerford (Art and Design Consultant and Buyer @ Kinokuniya), Michael Howard (Joint Art Director @ Sydney Morning Herald) and Doug Spowart (Research Fellow – Australian Library of Art, State Library of Queensland).

 

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The judges deliberating    PHOTO: Doug Spowart

 

The process started 10 days earlier when the judges were sent a USB drive containing the 100 PDF files. Within a few days the judges were to review the files and select their top 12 books. These results where then collated by the Momento Pro team to give 15 finalists. They were:

  • Gold Coast                                          Ying Ang
  • Nonna to Nana                                  Jessie + Jacqueline DiBlasi
  • Typhoon                                             Stephen Dupont
  • Better Half                                         Jackson Eaton
  • Lover of Home                                   Odette England
  • The Beginning                                    Brendan Esposito
  • The Kings of KKH                              Andrea Francolini
  • Bedrooms of the Fallen                     Ashley Gilbertson
  • Tribal PNG                                         David Kirkland
  • In the Folds of Hills                           Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
  • Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them    Jesse Marlow
  • SALT                                                  Emma Phillips
  • Nauru: What was taken and what was given   Kelvin Skewes
  • We Met a Little Early But I Get to Love You Longer Raphaela Rosella.
  • Fibro Dreams                                    Glenn Sloggett

Of these finalists, one book was published by an academic institution, three were published through an independent publisher and two were unpublished – the remaining books were self-published. The diversity of subject matter covered by the books included a portraiture and documentary cookbook, ethnographic documentary, social documentary, conceptual projects about human relationships of place and memory, books about irony and humour or glimpsed juxtapositions of subjects seen and photographed in the street. The books mainly fitted the conventional codex model and were trade printed and bound. One ‘photo book’ was a newspaper styled publication, and another was a deluxe artists’ book laparello of an exceptionally large size.

 

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More debating … PHOTOS: Doug Spowart

 

As the judges came together at the Momento Pro facility in Chippendale they introduced themselves and participated in briefings conducted by Chairman of Jurors Heidi Romano, Director of Photo Book Melbourne and Libby Jeffery from the award sponsor Momento Pro. Then each judge engaged with the books – turning pages, cracking spines, smelling paper and inks, looking, reading, touching and connecting with the narrative and the experience that each book may contain. As all books were originally seen as digital images on screen there were some surprises as the digital version presented quite different experience to the physical printed book.

At this time individual conversations took place, ideas and responses to books shared. Opinions about photo books expressed and probed. Some of the key discussion points related to questions like ‘What is a photo book?’, and the validity of certain book topics and forms like cookbooks, newspapers, grand artists’ book productions – were they able to be considered as photo books? This part of the process was useful as it enabled a range of ideas to emerge from the broad views and experience of the judging panel.

The six judges then gathered around a large table – each book was presented for discussion at the end of which a vote was made as to whether it would be held-over in a ‘for further consideration’ stack or not. The discussions enabled each judge to express their experience of the book, opinions about narrative, sequencing, design and typography, production values as well as how the books ‘fitted’ with the idea of the photo book. One interesting consideration was the suitability of the book’s format, design and structure as a container to hold and present the narrative.

Some of the other discussion points that emerged included:

  • A trend which is emerging where the cover of the book has no photograph on it or minimal text to identify it;
  • The absence of the author’s name on the cover of the book;
  • The length of the book – many books the judges felt were just too long;
  • The editing and sequencing of images – many judges felt that they’d like to have done a review of the book to give an opportunity for the great photos and story to be more effectively told;
  • Texts within books need quality editing as well;
  • Aspects of book size and binding – a concern was ‘whether the physical nature of the book gets in the way of its storytelling potential’;
  • Design features that do not support the narrative; and
  • Ethics in documentary photography in relation to what level of personal information about the subject is OK to disclose in a book.

As a result of this judging segment the 15 finalists were reduced to six books. These books were interrogated further with particular attention being paid to the expectation that a great photo book should create, as it is activated by the viewer/reader, a moment where the book’s design, photographs, texts, layout, sequencing all combine to express a powerful statement, narrative or emotional response.

Of these six books selected Heidi Romano was to comment that ‘they were equal to any of the world’s current great photo books’. One final review and discussion needed to follow to select the ultimate title winner. This was preceded with discussion regarding the message that awards like these make to the photo book community about what constitutes exemplary work. The participating judges recognized the importance of this aspect of the final award selection. Ultimately all of the books were given highly commended awards with Kelvin Skewes’ Nauru: What was taken and what was given being awarded the title of Runner Up. First prize was awarded to Raphaela Rosella’s We Met a Little Early But I Get to Love You Longer book. Although unpublished the book had been printed and bound by the Momento Pro team to the author’s specifications. It featured personal narratives written by young mothers, the design and page-turning/text sequencing, powerful imagery and the inclusion of personal notes and letters extended the story and loaded the emotional response potential for the viewer.

 

Rossellas book

We Met a Little Early But I Get to Love You Longer Raphaela Rosella

Images and words from this book are available HERE

 

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Nauru: What was taken and what was given Kelvin Skewes

The details of this book are available HERE

MORE DETAILS ABOUT THE BOOKS AND JUDGES COMMENTS ARE AVAILABLE HERE

The award winners receive:

Winner – $1,500 cash + $8,000 Momento Pro credit

Runner Up – $1,500 Momento Pro credit

People’s Choice – $500 Momento Pro credit

An additional award will be the ‘peoples choice’ from votes received during the exhibition of the books at the Asia Pacific Photobook Archive at the Photo Book Melbourne event.

This award helps to define what great Australian photobooks can be is and has rewarded great Australian photobooks. Additionally it will continue to fuel commentary and debate around the nature of the practice in Australia and serve to extend interest in and recognition of the discipline and the practitioners of the discipline in Australia.

 

Doug Spowart

February 12, 2015

 

 

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One Response

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  1. I enjoyed reading this post very much! Thank you for sharing the link to the winning entry. Every page was riveting, expressive and powerful.

    Anne Scheu

    February 13, 2015 at 11:50 am


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