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DOUG’s Photobook Research: NLA FELLOWSHIP SHORTLISTING

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Doug Spowart: researcher in the Repository of the State Library of Queensland

Doug Spowart: researcher in the Repository of the State Library of Queensland

 

 

I’VE BEEN HOLDING MY BREATH FOR MANY WEEKS – waiting for an email about an amazing research opportunity at the National Library of Australia that I’d applied for and had heard, unofficially, that I had been shortlisted. A 3-month research Fellowship with access to the Library’s extensive resources, remuneration and living expenses was a possibility that was tantalisingly close. Importantly, the Fellowship would enable me to significantly enhance and create some conclusion to years of independently funded study in my chosen field of photobooks – particularly Australian photobooks.

 

A couple of days ago I received the email…

 

Dear Dr Spowart
Thank you for applying for a National Library of Australia Fellowship.  I regret to inform you that your application on this occasion was unsuccessful.  There was a large field of highly competitive applications from both established and early career researchers and from independent scholars, making selection a challenging task for the Library’s Fellowships Advisory Committee.

 

For your information I have included some components of my NLA Fellowship application.

 

TITLE: Looking into a mirror – The Australian Photobook 1970-2000

 

When we look into an Australian photobook and we see our history, our culture and ourselves. Although interest in the photobook internationally in the last 10-15 years has sparked academic research and the publication of numerous histories this has not been reflected in the Australian scene.

In 2011 NLA Harold White Fellow Dr Martyn Jolly conducted research that covered broad aspects of Australian photobook publishing with a concentration on the rise of the photographically illustrated book in the 1960s. He stated that this era: ‘…set the stage for Australia’s much better known ‘photography boom’ of the 1970s’.

This research Fellowship will address the need for research, critique and commentary to discuss the Australian form of the photobook. The resulting presentations and publications are intended to celebrate the photobooks’ special ability to provide a time capsule snapshot of political, environmental and social movements beyond Jolly’s 1960s research.

As a visual communication medium the photobook becomes a mirror to the nation through which we can see not only ourselves, but also how we present our country to the world. This research will ‘look into the mirror’, and reveal the valuable contribution that photobooks, through image and design, made in telling Australian stories.

 

 

The need for the research

In Australia the main focus of published research in photography has been of the photograph itself with scant recognition for the photographically illustrated book. This is despite the fact that the photobook, although considered as being primarily about photography, by default, also represents Australian graphic design history. Photobooks then are a collaborative product where the photograph and graphic design synergistically merge to create a sophisticated communiqué.

Dr Martyn Jolly noted in a paper published in the History of Photography journal that: The role of the photobook has been unjustly neglected in the various histories of Australian photography. However, books primarily illustrated with photographs and celebrating various aspects of Australian life and landscape – ‘Australiana’ photobooks – have been a fundamental part of the nation’s publishing industry since the 1920s.

Recently, the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ exhibition The Photograph and Australia was acclaimed as one of the largest collection of historical photographic images in Australia, and yet only only showed five photobooks. In the exhibition’s catalogue introduction Curator Judy Annear, makes no apology for what may seem as the marginalisation of the photobook but rather acknowledges that there is so much more to be done. She states in the concluding sentence that: The history of the photograph and its relationship to Australia remains tantalisingly partial; the ever-burgeoning archives await further excavation.

 

 

The research

My research will cover the date range from 1970 to 2000 and will follow on from Dr Martyn Jolly’s Harold White Fellowship area of review.

As a result of PhD research and post-doctoral work on the intersection of artists’ books and photobooks I am well positioned to review and comment on the twin perspectives of photography and book design.

 

The Aims of the research

The aim of my proposed research at the NLA will be to:

  • Provide a structural framework for the discussion of Australian photobook in the era 1970-2000;
  • Identify aspects of the Australian photobook including graphic design and narrative expression that contribute to its own unique identity in an international context;
  • Seek opportunities to identify and give prominence to photobooks and their makers; and
  • Elevate the stature of the photobook in contemporary photography and design discourse in Australia.

Aspects of the research

Aspects of the research include:

  • The presence and influence of design trends in photobooks of the era;
  • Circumstances where the photographer may have been the designer of the book as is the case with many Mark Strizic books;
  • The emergence of the artists’ book based on photography such as Peter Lyssiotis’ photomontage works;
  • Art photography and its exploration of photographic representation in the form of the book;
  • Photobooks exploring themes of Feminism;
  • Landscape photography and its alliance with environmentalism; and
  • Evidence of the emergence of land rights and Aboriginal activism through photobooks.

Other details of the application followed…

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I will apply again and for the moment continue my personally funded research.

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Until next time, the researcher awaits an opportunity…

Portrait of the author in Wilfredo Prieto's 'Untitled' (White Library) at MONA

Portrait of the author in Wilfredo Prieto’s ‘Untitled’ (White Library) at MONA

 

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Written by Cooper+Spowart

August 16, 2016 at 2:45 pm

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