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ARTISTS BOOKS+AUSTRALIA: Comment for CODEX Journal

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CODEX X Papers – Journal Cover+Text Page

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Early in 2019 Vicky and I received an email from Monica Oppen and Caren Florance inviting our contribution to a report commenting on news and updates on book arts activity in the Antipodes that they were preparing for the Codex Foundation‘s new journal The Codex Papers. They mentioned that they were asking for those involved with projects, conferences, workshops, collections and awards to send through their comments and plans so the local scene could be collated into the report.

Monica and Caren added that, Your commitment to the photo books and also to documenting events for the past years (or is it decades now?!) has lead us to decide that we must ask you what you see as the trends and key events of the past couple of years. Any feedback (your personal view) on the state of the book arts in Australia at the moment would also be of interest.

We were particularly excited to have been invited to contribute and over the days following the request we collaborated on a document that outlined our view of the scene. Photo documents that we had made were reviewed and prepared and forwarded, along with our text to Monica and Caren. The task of collating and blending the individual responses into a single report was completed and forwarded to the Codex Foundation.

Early this year the report was published and we received a contributor’s copy. We were impressed with the journal and the many interesting commentaries on the book arts from around the world. It was interesting to see the complete report and to read the individual contributor’s comments.

Published below is our text and some of the photographs we contributed in response to Monica and Caren’s invitation.

 

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Notes on the Antipodean book arts in the Antipodes for Caren + Monica

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Noreen Grahame in the exhibition Lessons in History Vol. II – Democracy 2012

 

In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the world of the artists’ book in Australia was an exciting place. In Brisbane Noreen Grahame, through her Grahame Gallery, Numero Uno Publications, Editions and the Centre of the Artists’ Book championed the Australian artists’ book discipline. Grahame efforts were directed towards artists’ book exhibitions which started in 1991, art book fairs the first of which was held in 1994 and special invitation themed artists’ book exhibitions featuring clique of prominent national book makers.

Artspace Mackay under the directorship of Robert Heather hosted the first of 5 Focus on Artists’ Book (FOAB) Conferences in 2004. Over the years FOAB brought to Australia some of the world’s noteworthy practitioners and commentators on the discipline including Marshall Weber, Keith A Smith and Scott McCarney and juxtaposed them with local key practitioners. For the next 6 years those interested in artists’ books gathered to participate in lectures, workshops, fairs and a solid community of practice developed. In 2006 Artspace Mackay added the Libris Awards: The Australian Artists’ Book Prize that, with a few breaks, continues to be the premier curated artists’ book exhibition and award in Australia.

 

Noosa 08 Artists’ Book exhibition – Noosa Regional Gallery

Queensland also had 10 years of artists’ book exhibitions and 5 years of conferences from 1999-2008 at Noosa Regional Art Gallery. In many ways Queensland was the place to be if you were into artists’ books.

 

Southern Cross Artists’ Book Award 2007

In this period a few other artists’ book awards took place including the Southern Cross University’s Acquisitive Artists’ Book Award from 2005-2011.

 

Throughout the 1990s and until fairly recent times State Libraries and the National Library of Australia actively collected and built significant artists’ book collections. These included many forms of the artists’ book including: private press publications, significant book works by recognised international and Australian practitioners, books as object/sculpture, zines and the emergent photobook.

 

Now around the country major libraries are feeling the push by managers to move access to the library’s resources online thus the importance of the physical object and the tactile connection with items such as artists’ books is now not considered part of the service that the institution needs to provide. For example, the State Library of Queensland’s Australian Library of Art, which houses one of the largest artists’ book collections in the country, is now without a dedicated librarian. Research fellowships and seminars that were once administered by the Library and supported the Siganto Foundation are no longer available. Information and advice about the collection and other exhibitions or group viewings of artists’ books from their extensive collection have been significantly affected.

 

In recent years two Artists Book Brisbane Events coordinated by Dr Tim Mosely at Griffith University has facilitated a significant connection between the American and European scenes with guest speakers like Brad Freeman (Columbia University – Journal of Artists Books), Sarah Bodman (Centre for Fine Print Research – The University of the West of England), Ulrike Stoltz and Uta Schneider (USUS). The conferences also have included a place for discussion and review of the discipline by academics and emergent artist practitioners from Masters and Doctoral programs. These two ABBE conferences have provided a platform for academic discourse.

The artists’ book medium has been principally the realm of the printmaker as their artform easily enabled the production of printed multiples. Digital technologies, new double-sided inkjet papers as well as print-on-demand technologies have enabled the emergence of a range of new self-publishers – particularly photographers.

In 2011 I completed my PhD the title of which was Self-publishing in the digital age: the hybrid photobook. From my experiences in the artists’ book field as a practitioner and commentator and my lifelong activities in photography I saw a future for the photobook which could be informed by the freedoms and the possibilities for the presentation of narratives. While some aspects of this prophecy have been the case with some photographers, particularly those involved in academic study, the main thrust for the contemporary photobook has been towards the collaboration with graphic designers. These books take on various design and structure enhancements including special bindings, foldouts, mixed papers, page sizes, inclusions and loose components that can, at times, dilute the potential power of the simple photographic narrative sequence. The contemporary photobook has developed into its own discipline and through the universal communication possibilities of social media, conferences and awards a new tribe has emerged quite separate from and unaffected by the artists’ book community.

 

NGV Melbourne Art Book Fair 2017

Over the last 5 years the National Gallery of Victoria has presented the Melbourne Art Book Fair. In keeping with the art book fair worldwide movement participants man tables selling their publications. These can range from Institutional/gallery catalogues, trade art publications and monographs, artists’ books, photobooks and zines. The umbrella-like term and the spectacle of the ‘Art Book Fair’ as an event to witness and participate in has captured the individual disciplines and united the various tribes into one, not so homogeneous – community.

 

A quick review of the 2019 Melbourne Art Book Fair’s 86 table-holders there were only a handful of artists’ book-makers, perhaps a similar number of photobook publishers and a large contingent of zinesters and self-published magazines. The bulk of the tables were held by book distributors, bookshops, arts organisations, educational institutions and art galleries. The discipline of artists’ books was not significantly represented in this space. Was that due to the National Gallery of Victoria’s selection of table-holders or was it to do with artists’ book practitioners not considering the event as a relevant opportunity to show and sell their works?

 

Ultimately the question is – what is the status of the artists’ book in Australia at this time? My impression is that one of artists’ books key strengths was its closeness to the printmaking discipline and the cohesive bond of makers, critics and commentators, educators, journals, collectors and patrons. As many of these are connected to the tertiary academic environment and collecting libraries, both of which are fighting for their relevance in a changing education and library world, could it be considered that this is a defining moment in the history and the future of the artists’ book in this country?

 

Doug Spowart co-written with Victoria Cooper

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All photographs ©Doug Spowart

 

 

 

BRITISH LIBRARY Acquires our cyanotype artists’ book

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We are excited to announce that the British Library has recently acquired our artwork Australian Banquet, January 25/ 26, 1788.

In 2010 we wanted to make a work to comment and reflect on Australia Day and some of our feelings about the origins of the date – the implications of that event and the repercussions that we live with and navigate today. Through a scorchingly hot day in Toowoomba we worked with cyanotype solutions and selected objects – some from our home and others sourced from the food scraps from a local seafood smorgasbord restaurant on the day.

The work that we did that day emerged as the collaborative artists’ book, a broadsheet we titled, Australian Banquet, January 25/ 26, 1788.

We acknowledge the support in the negotiations with the British Library by our agent Helen Cole.

 

A statement about the artwork

Across Australia over the January 26th long weekend, people prepare, cook and consume food to mark this day in history.

For us, this work is our response to, and in recognition of, the ‘turning of the page’ in Australian history that this date represents. One day, January 25th 1788, Aboriginal people feasted on a diverse banquet of bush tucker as they had for thousands of years. The next day, the country was transformed by a new paradigm represented in this work by the table setting of the First Fleet.

Australia Day, for us, is an important time to acknowledge the First Peoples’ perspective and their knowing of land, culture and history and how it should be recognised as underpinning the diversity and identity of contemporary Australia. We, as descendants of European people, are seeking to understand and know more about our place within the longer history of this land.

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View 1: Australian Banquet, January 25/ 26, 1788

The 25th of January side of the broadsheet is viewed and contemplated.

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View 2: Australian Banquet, January 25/ 26, 1788

The broadsheet is then turned over to view the 26th of January side.

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View 3: Australian Banquet, January 25/ 26, 1788

Finally the broadsheet is held up to the light – the complex interrelationship between the two visual references to be seen and considered.

 

BOOK DESCRIPTION: A unique state artists’ book broadsheet

TITLE: Australian Banquet January 25/26, 1788

MEDIA: Double-sided cyanotype image in rice paper

DIMENSIONS: 37.6 x 77cm

PLACE & DATE MADE: Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, 2010

EDITION: 7 unique state variants

 

SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE BOOK’S HISTORY

 

 

COLLECTIONS, EXHIBITIONS & AWARDS:

2020 COLLECTION: British Library

2015 EXHIBITED: Books by Artists – The Webb Gallery as part of the Artists Book Brisbane Event, Conference at the Queensland College of Art, Brisbane

2014 EXHIBITED: Artist’s Books (reprised) [artists’ books 1978-2014] – George Paton Gallery, University of Melbourne

2014 EXHIBITED: Alternative Imaging  – Curated by Dawne Fahey at Two Doors Gallery, The Rocks, Sydney

2011: COLLECTION: Australian Library of Art, State Library of Queensland

2011 SHORTLISTED: Southern Cross University Artists’ Book Award, Lismore. Judge: Ross Woodrow

2011 EXHIBITED: BLUE – Arts Council Toowoomba members exhibition, Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery

2010 AWARD WINNER: Martin Hanson Awards, Gladstone Regional Art Gallery – Works on Paper

2010 EXHIBITED: Art BoundRed Gallery, Glebe, Sydney

2010 FINALIST: Josephine Ulrick & Win Schubert Photography Award – Gold Coast City Gallery. Judge: Judy Annear

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Text and © Doug Spowart+Victoria Cooper

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VICTORIA COOPER: Scroll works 1998-2003

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Victoria Cooper: Portrait

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Victoria Cooper talks about her early montage works in the form of 10 scrolls made in the period 1998-2003

The text below begins with a discussion about the first five scrolls, three from Mt Buffalo and two of Phillip Island clouds. This is the first public viewing of these early scroll works.

Following this is a short statement about the next five scrolls, The Five Stories of the Gorge. There is a separate blog post about these scrolls that presents more details and exhibition history along with an image of each scroll.  HERE

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For those who can see, existence takes place in an unfurling scroll of pictures captured by sight enhanced or tempered by other senses . . . Building up a language made of pictures translated into words and words translated into pictures, through which we try to grasp and understand our very existence. (Manguel, 2001, p.7)

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Montage and digital narratives

Timothy Druckrey (1994) discusses the montage early in digital era: One of the central considerations in the emergence of electronic montage is the redefinition of narrative and the single image is not sufficient to serve as a record of an event but, rather, that events are themselves complex configurations of experience, intention, and interpretation. Nearly 30 years of the digital evolution, the montage and the collage in all its forms both traditional and analogue continues to shape perception and narrative of the human condition.

 

About my digital montage scroll works

My first major digital body of work in the late 1990’s was a series constructed visual narratives from photo-documentation in sites significant in my development as an environmental visual poet. In the digital medium, I then cut and blended my collected data/ resource of photographic elements into the multiple perspectives that visually tell my story through the form of rice paper scrolls. The sites were Mt Buffalo, coastal Victoria, and a small area of original forest near Toowoomba.

When I first encountered the landscape at Mount Buffalo, I was filled with a sense of awe. The most significant memories that remain with me are of the journeys from the valley to the summit. Over the years I have undertaken many walks that meander through or climb impressive granite landforms and rich stands of native flora. The Buffalo Scrolls were constructed from many individual elements of the analogue photographic material gathered on site and woven together in the computer later. Although initially informed by the tradition of Chinese and Japanese scroll making, I could not conform to the strict rituals of Asian art school but rather was guided in the production of these works by material thinking and the reflective/reflexive response to memory and corporeal experience.

 

Victoria Cooper (August, 1999), Buffalo Scrolls, Waterfall,
inkjet on rice paper in acrylic boxes,
Image: 107×27.5 cm, Scroll: 250×30 cm.

 

The digital environment provided me with a psychological space in which images could be combined, manipulated and layered in the shaping of my story. I utilised image manipulation software to ‘grow’ and distort the landscape. Through this process I found that I was directed to imaginative places beyond any original intent or pre-visualization. Although the work originates in my direct recordings of place, the fluidity of digital space allowed for experimentation and new work to transform and evolve any fixed idea I may have had. So in creating The Waterfall scroll, a large boulder became a precipitous mountain to emphasis the terrain encountered. The trail up to the waterfalls was a seemingly endless rock-formed staircase that proved to be a challenging path.

 

 

Victoria Cooper (August, 1999), Buffalo Scrolls, The Cathedral,
inkjet on rice paper in acrylic boxes, Image: 107×27.5 cm,
Scroll: 250×30 cm. Collection of the artist.

 

The Cathedral scroll journey across a watery marsh dotted with fragile alpine daisies is at times a precarious rock hop. Taking care not to step onto the vegetation beneath. In another of the Buffalo scrolls the ominous granite corridor of The Pinnacle defines the way through expanses of rock to the summit of the mountain in the distance.

 

 

Victoria Cooper (August, 1999), Buffalo Scrolls, The Pinnacle, inkjet on rice paper in acrylic boxes, Image: 107x27.5 cm, Scroll: 250x30 cm. Collection of the artist.

Victoria Cooper (August, 1999), Buffalo Scrolls, The Pinnacle, inkjet on rice paper in acrylic boxes, Image: 107×27.5 cm, Scroll: 250×30 cm. Collection of the artist.

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Victoria Cooper (August, 1999), Phillip Island Storm Cloud, left and right views,
inkjet on rice paper in acrylic boxes, Image: 107×24 cm, Scroll: 250×30 cm.
Collection of the artist.

 

My work with digital scrolls continued with the production of the diptych, Phillip Island Storm Cloud. These two images relate to the sense of anticipation felt when observing an approaching storm.

At Mount Buffalo and Phillip Island, I wrestled with both a fear of taking risks when encountering new and difficult terrain and a strong curiosity to explore the unknown. The scrolls reflect the memories of conflict and fear together with a sense of wonder I experienced within this sublime landscape and, in some ways more broadly, my life.

 

 

Installation of Victoria Cooper's Five Stories of the Gorge
Installation of Victoria Cooper’s Five Stories of the Gorge

The virtual to the physical

The digital montages can only be seen in the electronic medium through the action of ‘scrolling’. Therefore, as some of my early inspiration came from the Asian form of presenting narratives, I utilised the rice paper scroll transformed the virtual to physical, tactile form. The scrolls are displayed in the vertical format and unravelled from their acrylic container to reveal the entire image. The viewer can enter the scroll at any point as with the initial perusal of a written story and, if engaged fully, can follow the narrative through from beginning to end.

 

The Five Stories from the Gorge Scrolls

Following this initial work I became more interested with the concept of small and intimate spaces found in everyday life. Five stories from the Gorge, presents a more intimate connection with the environment than the Buffalo series. Instead of trekking up precipitous climbs of distant mountain regions, I followed forgotten pathways and looked into the small, enclosed spaces of this gorge environment near where I lived. I made many journeys into the gorge and on each occasion I took time to absorb many sensory impressions as well as creating a digital photographic record.

As with the Buffalo work, I found that the single viewpoint photographic image did not give me the dynamic reading I sought. So again I created a series of montage scroll works synthesised from my collected visual recordings and sense-memory.

The physical environment of the gorge presented me with some complexities when blending the changes of photographic perspective into a seamless passage through the landscape. Central to this work was to attempt, by the use of scale and viewpoint changes, to reconstruct how the eye scans a scene. As the eye of the observer focuses on single viewpoints then moves to another it not possible to take in an entire scene with a single perspective. With this characteristic of visual perception in mind, I set out to recreate the landscape visually from multiple viewpoints. So in this body of work I seamlessly combined disjointed and sometimes perceptively conflicting views to form images that go beyond the static visual document.

During my visits to photograph the gorge, I also collected objects from the site. For me, the found elements provided a different narrative opportunity. In the scrolls Chaos and Order I investigated these natural elements presented in groupings as a kind of language. These pictographs form poems made up from a natural vocabulary associated with the visual form of the written word.

Each element was scanned into the computer to obtain a replica of their likeness, the objects themselves were later returned to the site to continue their natural cycle. The scroll, Order, begins the dialogue by suggesting the elements of a genetic code. The arrangements of the seeds and leaves and other fragments are seemingly organised and uniform but, on closer observation, there are subtle differences to the repeated segments.

Chaos came as an answer to the cyclic relentless processes that continually ebb and flow through time in nature. It is the interruptions, upheavals and the process of change that nurture and ensure survival. Though these scrolls are without the scenic detail, they are the essence of the region, a distilled manuscript of the cycles and disruptive events in nature over time.

The Chaos and Order scrolls alongside the Hillside scroll

The Chaos and Order scrolls alongside the Hillside scroll

 

Five Stories from the Gorge, investigates the idea of wilderness and nature that exists in or on the edges of these human inhabited spaces.

 

The Gorge – from the series Five Stories from the Gorge 2001

 

Throughout the process of image collection and construction I was informed by the influences of visual poetry, environmental art and my scientific background. The landscape paintings of William Robinson and Lin Onus have both innately influenced the way I see and work over my career. These reconstructed spaces are as fictional as a Tolkien novel but at the same time provide the evidence of existence as if collected in a Darwinian exploration.

 

Victoria Cooper

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SEE A BLOG POST ABOUT The Five Stories of the Gorge: HERE

Bibliography
Timothy Druckrey (1994). ‘From Dada to Digital, Montage in the twentieth century’, Metamorphoses: Photography in the Electronic Age, Aperture, 136, Summer, pp 4-7.
Timothy Druckery (1996) editor. Electronic Culture, Technology and Visual Representation, New York, Aperture Foundation Inc.
Alberto Manguel (1996). A History of Reading, London, Harper Collins Publishers.
Alberto Manguel (2001). Reading Pictures, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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OUR 2019 FIELD STUDY Submission: Tidal fire debris

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Each year artists from around the world submit 100 copies of an artwork and mail them to an address in Geelong, Australia. Coordinator of the Field Study International mail art project David Dellafiora works with a team to collate and assemble the A5 sized artworks into books. Copies of the Field Study International are sold to collectors and institutional libraries around the world to raise funds for the workshop and to cover project costs. Contributing artists are also sent a copy.

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This has been a great yearly project for us for over 10 years. What follows is the story of our submission for 2019. At the end of the post there’s a brief story about Dellafiora’s Field Study Projects. David is also involved in many other mail art projects… LOOK HERE

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Narrabri roadside PHOTO: © Doug Spowart

Narrabri roadside PHOTO: © Doug Spowart

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Surrounded by fire

Recently we drove through central western New South Wales and southern Queensland. The country was dry and hot with willy-willies and dust storms lifting and moving the precious soil across the landscape. There was little or no green and the dams were dry- even rivers that would normally have some water were just sand and dry dirt. Travelling on further we witnessed the great Brigalow forests of southern Queensland seemingly quivering under the heat of the summer sun.

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Overall the country was brittle and broken from the endless dry. Not even summer there was a concern for the future as country towns not used to running out of water were in dire situations. Coastal areas where fire is a part of environmental regeneration there was also widespread concern for this now unusual extended periods of dry. This was not a normal cycle… The country was about to explode… all it takes is a dry thunderstorm with lightning, a careless smoker driving past or sadly a deliberate act from criminals.

So then the fires started so much earlier than expected… the many brave souls rallied to fight for their community. But these were not just the normal local bush fires… They grew and joined to form huge firestorms, the fighters used all they could find from buckets to the fire fighting trucks… But much of the land was inaccessible and many areas of forest could not be saved from the onslaught of wind and heat… Some forests that had survived through the millennia without fire in unique and protected ecosystems were now potentially changed forever.

Fired forest near New Italy, northern NSW PHOTO: Victoria Cooper ©

Fired forest near New Italy, northern NSW PHOTO: Victoria Cooper ©

We then came to stay at a friend’s family retreat on the coast of Northern NSW… The road to this place passes through huge areas of swamp and eucalypt forest that rarely burns as it is usually has good rain. But now we drove past kilometres and kilometres of burnt and dry country… We soon found that the regional area where our destination is located was surrounded by blackened country. The atmosphere, as with most of the coast in NSW was chocking with smoke and dust.

Even though we were assured that our town was safe these were not usual times and we felt uneasy and depressed by the enormity of this disaster.

We decided to dedicate our field report work to record this devastation. Our dismay was deepened when we walked along the beach and witnessed lines of leaves and twigs and other blackened material washed up with the tide .. like the dead bodies of victims discarded by criminals. Down the length of the entire coast of NSW where other fires raged, these waves of blackened and broken forests were appearing – the sea has returned the evidence to the place of the crime.

We began by gathering small samples of the material as symbolic references to vast amount of evidence left behind from these black tides. This Field Report is our first response as part of future substantive work on the contemporary condition of indifference, arrogance and ignorance towards a deteriorating environment.

Victoria Cooper

Ashed beach, Wooli northern NSW PHOTO: Doug Spowart ©

 

 

 

 

 

 

OUR SUBMISSION

COOPER+SPOWART 2019 Field Study submission

 

Signing the 100 prints…

100 prints...

100 prints…

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SOME BACKGROUND TO FIELD STUDY REPORT

 

Field Study International 2019 Call for Entries

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2011 Field Report cover

2011 Field Report cover

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2011 Field Report pages

2011 Field Report pages

2011 Field Report

2011 Field Report

2011 Field Report pages

2011 Field Report pages

A page of participants - 2011 Field Report

A page of participants – 2011 Field Report

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Look out for the 2020 Call for Submissions …

 

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BIFB: PHOTOBOOK WEEKEND – A Report

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BIFB Webpage Header

 

WORLD PHOTOBOOK WEEKEND

 

The Ballarat International Foto Biennale was proud to host the World Photobook Day during the festival between Saturday 12 October and Monday 14 October. The call-out was to Celebrate World Photobook Day with other photography enthusiasts by attending 4 photobook events over the weekend.

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Doug meeting with Aaron Bradbrook

Doug meeting with Aaron Bradbrook

The back story for the BIFB’s World Photobook Weekend is that in March Vicky and I visited the BIFB in its home the National Centre of Photography. In a conversation with Associate Curator Aaron Bradbrook we pitched the idea of a photobook event to coincide with World Photobook Day.

In followup conversations with the BIFB Creative Director Fiona Sweet a series of four events became part of the program. The events were: a keynote talk, a forum, a photobook fair and a birthday celebration.

 

With BIFB Creative Director Fiona Sweet

In the months that followed we worked with Fiona, refined the event focus and the people who could be involved. We then followed through with our side of the necessary preparations and promotion of the event.

This series of Blog posts provides a report on the four events as well as an opportunity to present a commentary on the Australian and New Zealand photobooks that was the topic of the talk I presented on the first day of the weekend.

To navigate through the events just ‘CLICK’ on the title tab. At the end of each post there’s a ‘RETURN to the HOMEPAGE’ link.

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SATURDAY 12 OCTOBER

Doug Spowart + ANZ Photobooks


TALK BY DOUG SPOWART

Many Tribes: The Australian And New Zealand Photobook

Click LINK

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SUNDAY 13 OCTOBER

Book Fair participants


PHOTOBOOK FAIR

Click LINK

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Forum Panelists

 

FORUM: Photobooks – Getting Published & Getting Collected 

with Patrick Pound, Sarah Walker, Heidi Romano and David Wadelton. Moderated by Doug Spowart

Click LINK

 

MONDAY 14 OCTOBER

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World Photobook Day Birthday Celebration


HAPPY BIRTHDAY PARTY
!   Celebrating 176 years of photobooks

Click LINK

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ANZ PHOTOBOOKS – Keynote TALK: BIFB Photobook Weekend

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BIFB Website

 

Many Tribes: The Australian & New Zealand Photobook

A talk by Doug Spowart

The photobook disrupted the 1990’s prediction that ‘the book is dead’ and grew into a worldwide phenomenon. Doug Spowart will address key aspects of the historical and contemporary makeup of the photobook in Australia & New Zealand where the various ‘tribes’ contribute to a vibrant and progressive discipline.

October 12 @ 2pm, World Photobook Weekend Hub
Mitchell Harris Wines, 38 Doveton Street North

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What follows in this Blog post is a synopsis of the presentation with references to various aspects of the Australian and New Zealand photobook scene. Where possible links have been provided to external sources for further information.

Please note: This presentation is part of ongoing research and will be added to and refined as new information becomes available.

 

Photobook Talk: Introductory comments

 

At 2.00pm I welcomed the 30 or so people who attended this BIFB Photobook Weekend event.

In the opening statements I acknowledged the Traditional Custodians, the Wathaurong people of the land on which we met, and recognised their continuing connection to land, water and community. I paid my respects to Elders past, present and emerging. And I also wished to recognise the importance of storytelling and its continuing tradition today…

I announced to the attendees that due to the recent passing of the doyen of New Zealand photobooks Harvey Benge, that the event would be dedicated to his memory.

With these formalities completed I began the talk:

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Doug Spowart and ANZ photobooks he loves

Doug Spowart and ANZ photobooks he loves Photo: Victoria Cooper

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I have been working in photography for over 50 years and the photobook has been, and continues to be – my teacher, inspiration and obsession. I have read, bought, collected, loaned books and on occasion not given them back to their rightful owners because they were so special to me and I couldn’t part with them.

In my youth these books inspired and fed my insatiable curiosity of the world and informed me of its challenges and wonders beyond my own experience.

Over time I encountered an increasing diversity and depth in all forms of books and their makers of photobooks, artists’ books and zines. I became interested and involved in each of these different groups researching and documenting their aims, manifestos, their key practitioners, education alliances and reward structures. Much like ‘tribes’ these communities of creative practice gather together within the rich milieu of visual communication through the form of the book.

 

But First – a little photobook history

In 1839 William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the key inventors of photography, stated that photography would make, Every man his own printer and publisher. He went on in 1844 to publish the book, The Pencil of Nature as a treatise on the uses of photography using his calotype process.

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Anna Atkins

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Scientific illustrator Anna Atkins used the ‘blue print’ cyanotype process to produce a book in 1843 entitled Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. Atkins’ book is recognized as the first photobook as images and texts were printed on the page at the same time – whereas Talbot’s prints glued or tipped-in on the pages and the text printed using letterpress. In recent years the date that Atkins’ book was catalogued by the British Library, October 14 1843, has become celebrated as ‘World Photobook Day’.

In the 175 years since the Atkins and Talbot, the use of photographs in books has developed into a powerful carrier of information and ideas either with or without text. Book design including format, paper selection, layout, typography and production methods have also developed in companionship with this growing interest in the photobook as a form of communication. The onset of desktop and online publishing created an environment where individuals and collectives could independently publish. The art and commercial process of book production and publication is under an epic transformation. Talbot’s phrase – Every man [or woman] his [her] own printer and publisher has become a reality.

 

Early reference books about photographically illustrated books and photobooks

 

The ‘Photobook’

Historically bibliographers have categorised books with photographic narrative or content using the terms ‘photographic book’ or ‘photographically illustrated book’.

Over the last 20 years however interest in the photographic book emerged encouraged by the critical review and commentary of the discipline in publications starting with Phillip Roth’s 2001 The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century, and the 2004 ICP exhibition and publication, The open book : a history of the photographic book from 1878 to the present. However the term ‘photobook’ came to prominence as a result of three tomes published in 2004, 2006 & 2013 by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger The Photobook: A History. Originally the purpose of the discussion in these books was to establish a cannon for photographic books. Later the term photobook came to encompass all kinds of books including those from the contemporary boom in trade and self-published books.

Within a few short years the photobook became a publishing phenomenon. Whilst frameworks may have previously existed in the publishing world the drivers of the new photobook discipline – mainly photographers, created hierarchies consisting of awards, criticism, knowledge sharing and educational structures, supported by boutique publishers as well as the powerful established brands. Photobook designers also found new recognition for the unique contribution that they could make in transforming a photographer’s body of work, often in collaboration with the photographer, into a work of visual communication. Scholarship and collector market interest spawned bookshelves of critiques, surveys and catalogues covering the books from just about every nation of the world. Social media hype by key influencers and their particular sphere of interest set trends and photobooks became a sexy, desirable and collectible commodity.

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THE ANTIPODEAN PHOTOBOOK – A BRIEF HISTORY

Within its remote geographic location the Antipodean photographically illustrated book was very much based on trade published books that reflected the needs and interests of society. Publishers selected books containing content that would be highly saleable to the public. Of concern to the publisher was the book format, production values at a price that would provide an appropriate return on the investment. In the 100 years from 1900 books published followed certain themes and subject matter.

  • 1900/30 Illustration/pictorial/documentary
  • 1940–50 Nationalistic pride/immigration
  • 1960s Discovering/celebrating who we are as a people
  • 1970s – The political book
  • 1980–90s – A celebration of landscape and the wilderness
  • 1990 Exploring visual storytelling + Documentary

For a more illustrated discussion of this topic please see the lecture slides from my 2017 Vienna Photobook Festival lecture.

 

Australian & New Zealand Photobook of the Year Awards book from 2017   …PHOTO: Courtesy MomentoPro

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The Antipodean Photobook – A CONTEMPORARY VIEW

To have a perceived currency in the global scene the Antipodean photobook – its practice, publishing and marketing has been arguably influenced by the Euro/US market and taste. Where does this place the local photobooks? Does it merely mimic the Northern hemisphere’s trends in their book products? While some aspects of practice do take their lead from the cross Atlantic product, could its isolation have enabled the Antipodean photobook discipline to develop in other ways. Photographers from this region have their own unique and intimate vision. They have access to variety of subject matter from the social circumstances of people, to environments and political spaces. They also have opportunities to connect with local allied creatives in book design, publishing and printing technologies including print-on-demand and desktop self-print.

 

The Antipodean Photobook – TRIBES

In this talk I want to highlight the diversity of this region’s creative potential and participation in the photobook medium. In that diversity there are various groups that can be recognised and acknowledged as publishing an Antipodean view. In my review of Australian and New Zealand photobook publishing I have found the following author groups or collectives with their associated motivations:

  • Those who make books for the general market that will be sold through online or bricks and mortar bookshops
  • Those who make books for a discerning clientele sold in specialized art/architecture/design bookshops or gallery bookstores
  • Self-publishers making books by POD or hand-making intended for the art book market
  • Self-publishers making zines and ephemera for free distribution through their culturally-connected venues
  • Those who were once called ‘vanity publishers’ – making books because they can
  • Those who make publish political manifestos
  • Those who publish with the principles of altruism – creating books to distribute ideas and social comment
  • Artists who make ‘fine art’ books for collectors and public collections.

Each of these makers associate, collaborate, and form associations – both personal, professionally and organisationally with like-minded people who share their interests. For some time I called these groups or collectives ‘tribes’. Distance separates photobook makers in Melbourne from their peers in Sydney, or for that matter with Adelaide or Brisbane. Similarly Australian photobook makers may not have any significant connection with New Zealand makers and vis-à-versa. Other ‘tribes’ may exist in the fields of academe, design and publishing as well as areas relating to the collection and criticism of photobooks. Then there are different ‘tribes’ for those that sell photobooks with some having a specific interest in antiquarian or historical photobooks, whilst others may focus on contemporary books. Certainly there are practitioners who crossover into different tribal groups but generally each tribe stands alone.

Whatever the ‘tribe’ there is a rich and diverse community of practice for photobooks in Australia and New Zealand replete with events and supporting structures.

 

The Antipodean Photobook – KEY EVENTS AND SUPPORTING ASPECTS

Conferences

Fairs

Publishers

Awards

Bookshops and online sellers

Supporting organisations + Interesting stuff

 

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The Antipodean Photobook – MAJOR CONTRIBUTORS

 

The Asia Pacific Photobook Archive

A contributor to the ANZ photobook scene is the large collection of photobooks assembled by the Asia Pacific Photobook Archive. APPA was founded by Daniel Boetker-Smith in 2013 and is now coordinated by Daniel and Bella Capezio. The Archive is a not-for-profit open-access physical archive of self-published and independent photobooks and is now situated in Le Space in Collingwood, Melbourne. Contained within the Archive is a significant collection of contemporary photobooks from the Asia/Pacific region with some books coming from the western Asian region. Books in the Archive can be accessed by appointment and may also be presented from time to time in exhibitions, presentations and displays.

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Perimeter Books

Leading the push to publish and present Antipodean photobooks and artbooks to the world is the Melbourne publisher Perimeter Books. Founded by Dan Rule and Justine Ellis, Perimeter Books has developed a solid presence at all the major artbook fairs around the world. Additionally Perimeter’s bookshops and online service brings specialist books from the contemporary international scene within reach of the local market. They have supported and promoted local photo and artbook authors through their annual Small Book Award.

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Justine Ellis & Dan Rule – Perimeter Books

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Photobooks in education – Photography Studies College

For some time photo educators in all levels of academic study have included the photobook as a capstone project or a holistic assessment assignment. In recent years many of the graduates of these institutions enter the photobook scene with a significant publication that launches their publishing career.

One Australian institution, Photography Studies College (PSC) in Melbourne, has nurtured many emerging photobook makers including Sarah Walker – Winner of the ANZ Photobook Award and the Perimeter Small Book Prize. The engine that drives the PSC photobook is Course Director Daniel Boetker-Smith assisted by a team of lecturers themselves photobook authors. PSC has also supported special events for the wider photobook community including workshops and lectures with the photobook doyen Martin Parr, the acclaimed designer Teun van der Heidjen and the educator associate professor Corinne Noordenbos.

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MomentoPro Sponsorship of ANZ Photobooks

Significant enablers to the local recognition of our photobooks include the yearly photobook awards that bring together a diverse selection of books for their critical evaluation and recognition. Coordinated and supported by the photobook print-on-demand company MomentoPro with the Patrons Libby Jeffery and Geoff Hunt, this yearly event creates a focus for the Antipodean photobook community of practice.

The MomentoPro organization has also altruistically supported many other major local events including Photobook New Zealand in 2016 & 18 and Photobook Melbourne in 2015 as well as numerous awards both national and local for photobooks. In 2017 MomentoPro supported the freight costs towards getting the ANZ Photobook Awards to the Vienna Photobook Festival.

What follows is a small selection of events supported by MomentoPro…

 

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ANZ photobooks puchased by the Tate

In early 2019 a collection of 52 ANZ photobooks curated by Victoria Cooper and myself were accepted into the UK Tate Library. The project was initiated by Martin Parr to add Antipodean content to the 12.5k photobooks that he had donated to the Tate in 2017.

Martin Parr reviewing ANZ photobooks with Doug Spowart at the State Library of Victoria

Documenting the history ANZ photobooks

Over the last 3 years I have been adding to the information about ANZ photobooks by the compilation of a COMPENDIUM of all things about the Australian and New Zealand photobook discipline. The latest edition of the Compendium focused on the Australian scene and was launched at the Melbourne Art Book Fair in March this year. I am presently working on an update of the New Zealand listings for Photobook New Zealand in March 2020.

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A Conclusion

What I hope for is that through the recognition of the different ‘tribes’ in the Antipodean photobook that I have discussed today, we can celebrate the diversity of practice that has developed in this part of the world. Through recording, highlighting and discussion of the photobook discipline in the Antipodes will be made visible and find its place within the international scene.

In the meantime what continues to excite me about photobooks is that materialised in each book is a concept revealed, a view shared, an opinion expressed, a shout uttered or a tender moment whispered. And while the author’s life moves on – the books are left behind on shelves in libraries, on coffee tables and left casually opened on the bedside table. The photobook, is the ultimate intimate and portable archive of the life and times of the artist.

 

For future reading…

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Doug Spowart

A revised version of the talk presented at the 2019 Ballarat International Foto Biennalé on October 12.

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Documenting the Antipodean Photobook

My research in the Antipodean photobook world its tribes and the discipline is on-going. I may have met many people, participated in numerous events and looked and lusted after maybe thousands of books, but I find it is an ever-expanding space of creative activity. Wherever possible I document the people and places I encounter …

 

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Return to the BIFB Photobook Weekend Blog Homepage..

 

NOTE: Should any captions in this post contain incorrect information please contact us and advise so we can make the necessary changes.

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All photographs, unless indicated otherwise, are the copyright of Doug Spowart.
Please contact Doug Spowart to access permission to copy or use images for any purpose.
Text ©2019 Doug Spowart

A PHOTOBOOK FORUM: BIFB Photobook Weekend

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BIFB Web

 

FORUM: Photobooks – Getting Published & Getting Collected 

with Patrick Pound, Sarah Walker, Heidi Romano and David Wadelton.

Moderated by Doug Spowart

What sparks and drives the passion for the photo book? How do photographers get published? And how can photographers establish and grow meaningful collections? Join Doug Spowart and a diverse panel of photobook practitioners and publishers as they answer these and other associated questions through their personal observations, stories and predictions.

 

VENUE: World Photobook Weekend Hub, Mitchell Harris Wines, 38 Doveton Street North

 

BIFB Creative Director Fiona Sweet welcomes the attendees ………PHOTO: Victoria Cooper

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The Ballarat International Foto Biennale Creative Director Fiona Sweet Acknowledged country, welcomed the 45-50 attendees to the Forum and introduced Dr Doug Spowart as Moderator for the event.

 

Doug Spowart thanked Fiona and announced that the BIFB Photobook Weekend celebrates 10 years of Biennale activity in the field of photobooks as what he believed was the first photobook exhibition in a major gallery was ‘Book One’ curated by Juno Gemes at the Ballarat Art Gallery in 2009. He mentioned also that as part of the core program in 2009 he and Victoria Cooper presented the exhibition ‘Book: Site’ at the Post Office Gallery that featured their photobook and artists’ book work.

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BIFB Photobooks @ 2009 event

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Spowart went on to advise that due to the recent passing of the doyen of New Zealand photobooks Harvey Benge that the event would be dedicated to his memory.

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Doug introduces panel ………..PHOTO: Victoria Cooper

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With the formalities completed Doug Spowart introduced the Forum panelists:

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Panelist: Patrick Pound ……………..PHOTO: Doug Spowart

Dr PATRICK POUND

Is an avid collector interested in systems and the ordering of objects: an attempt, perhaps, to make things coherent. As Pound says, ‘to collect is to gather your thoughts through things’.

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Panelist: Sarah Walker ………………PHOTO: Doug Spowart

SARAH WALKER completed a Bachelor of Photography (Fine Art) in 2016 at Photography Studies College. She utilises combination of found and archival imagery, as well as video, as a part of her photographic practice.

 

Panelist: David Wadelton …………..PHOTO: Doug Spowart

DAVID WADELTON lives and works in Melbourne. Wadelton’s practice includes paintings and photographs and is also recognised for his significant contributions to the field of experimental music in Australia.

 

HEIDI ROMANO is a photographer and festival director with a diverse skill set, honed through 15 years of experience. She is a passionate book designer and loves working with artists through all levels of project development. Due to ill health Heidi had to withdraw at short notice.

 

The Briefing

Spowart then briefed the panellists and the audience as to the program for the event. He described that the Forum would be in the format of a casual Question & Answer event. He asked that the audience would hold their questions until the end of the structured program and that all up the total duration should be around 70-80 minutes. After which members of the audience could catch up with the panellists if they had private questions that they wanted to ask.

 

The questions were displayed on a digital screen and panellists were invited to comment as directed by the moderator. Sometimes discussions ensued between panellists and occasionally a few quick comments came from the audience.

Panel in action            …………PHOTO: Victoria Cooper

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The questions and discussion points included the following:

  • Why do photographers want to make photobooks?
  • What is there about the book that appeals to people who want to connect with the book or purchase it?
  • Do collectors look at a photobooks differently to other people? Editioning / Signed copies / A collection focus / Investment
  • How do you display/store your photobooks
  • What do you look for in a photobook? – Do you have a favourite?
  • How do you see photobooks as the main or part or as complimentary of your creative practice?
  • Where do you get the inspiration to make/design or purchase a photobook?
  • Building a clientele – groups, bookstores, student/professional peers, through exhibitions, online…?
  • Awards and competitions – how you see their role in supporting photobook practice?
  • Is there anything that you find particularly special about the idea of a book or the object that is the book?
  • Can you describe the stages that you have gone through from idea to launch of a recent book?
  • How do you keep up to date with your area of interest in photobooks?
  • What is the next book that you want to buy?
  • Have you a story about the book you wanted and you missed it? OR The bargain?
  • What would you expect from someone who is to design your book?
  • What do you think a designer would you expect from a photographer/publisher commissioning you to design a book?
  • The photobook as a companion/catalogue to an exhibition – do you have an opinion about the exhibition in the book as a catalogue or should the book be an autonomous artwork based on the same content
  • What book forms interest you — concertina / codex / single sheet boxed sets, zines, fine press, limited editions…?
  • Commerce: marketing and selling books – how does that work?
  • Can you tell us about a book that you are working on…?
  • Does the idea for a book come first OR does the book come from an existing image resource?
  • The use of found objects and ephemera in photobooks …
  • How do you know if what you have done is a success…?

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Sarah answers a question ……….PHOTO: Victoria Cooper

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At the end of the event Doug Spowart thanked the panellists, the audience, the BIFB and his partner Victoria Cooper. It was mentioned that the Photobook Fair was on at the Art Gallery and that now would be a good time to add special books to the attendee’s collections. The room was quickly cleared except for a few who remained to ask questions of the panellists.

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We were sorry that the venue was not equipped with equipment to record the event.

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A PHOTOBOOK FAIR: BIFB Photobook Weekend

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BIFB Book Fair Website image

BIFB Book Fair Website image


BIFB World Photobook Weekend – Photobook Fair

Sunday October 13, 10am – 5pm

Art Gallery Ballarat, 40 Lydiard Street North

 

The BIFB celebrated World Photobook Day with other photography enthusiasts awith their second Foto Book Fair.

Participants of the Fair included:

  • Australian and New Zealand Photo Book Awards
  • Ballarat International Foto Biennale bookshop
  • Bookhouse
  • Studio Yeah
  • Colin Abbott
  • Fems
  • Melbourne Photobook Collective
  • Particle Books
  • Photography Studies College
  • Sainsburys Books
  • State Library Victoria
  • The Fridge Door Project
  • Tess Maunder and Vault

 

 

Significant and rare books from the State Library of Victoria were presented including:

 

Des Cowley+Cartier-Bresson’s Book

Henri Cartier-Bresson Les Européens

Paris, Editions Verve, 1955

Henri Cartier-Bresson iconic photobook Les Européens comprises 114 photographs, taken between 1950 and 1955, documenting a vanishing way of life in post-war Europe. His lens captured the moods of Greece, Spain, Germany, England, Ireland, Italy, USSR, France. The book, which comprises some of Cartier-Bresson’s best known and finest images, features a striking colour lithographic design by Catalan artist Joan Miró.

 

Street Life in London

John Thomson, and Adolphe Smith Street life in London: with permanent photographic illustrations taken from life expressly for this publication

London, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1877

First released in twelve monthly installments beginning in February 1877, Street Life in London is the among the first published collections of social documentary photographs. The book consists of thirty-six photographs by John Thomson, each accompanied by a brief essay by the writer and activist Adolphe Smith. Like the photographs, the essays are sharply drawn vignettes of “local characters” – cab drivers, flower sellers, sign painters, locksmiths, fishmongers, chimney sweeps, beggars, and street musicians – whose individual stories are meant to encapsulate the conditions of an entire class of worker or street dweller.

 

Charles Nettleton Melbourne illustrated by photographs

Melbourne, Charles Nettleton, 1868

A set of photographs of Melbourne by the commercial photographic studio of Nettleton and Arnest. The collection features significant Melbourne buildings and streets including Parliament House, the Treasury Buildings, St Patrick’s Cathedral, the Royal Exhibition Building and Melbourne University Colleges. Few people feature in the photographs, which are predominantly focused upon architecture. The collection is significant as it provides a visual record of Melbourne’s early development, and also reveals the work of an important local photography studio.

 

Duncan J Peirce Giant Trees of Victoria

J Duncan Peirce Giant Trees of Victoria

Melbourne, Victorian Department of Lands and Survey, c.1888

A volume containing a series of eight of J Duncan Peirce’s photolithographs of giant trees of Victoria, with descriptions of the species, height, girth and locality of the trees illustrated. All trees illustrated are Eucalyptus amygdalina regnans, commonly known as mountain ash. Enlargements of these photographs were displayed at the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition of 1888 and later at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron Alfred, Lord Tennyson and his friends: a series of 25 portraits and frontispiece/ in photogravure from the negatives of Julia Margaret Cameron and H.H.H. Cameron

London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1893

Published in 1893, the year after Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s death, this book features a selection of Julia Margaret Cameron’s iconic photographic portraits of the poet and his circle of friends. A friend and neighbour of Tennyson’s, Cameron took photographs of the poet several times across a decade.

 

Peter Lyssiotis What the Moon Lets Me See

Melbourne, Masterthief, 2017

Peter Lyssiotis’s deluxe large-scale publication What the Moon Lets Me See comprises an extended text by the artist, accompanied by numerous photographic images. The work sees a return by Lyssiotis to the dream-like coloured photomontages of earlier books such as The Harmed Circle (1992) and From the Secret Life of Statues (1994). The images represent a collaboration with Australian photographers Doug Spowart and Victoria Cooper, who adapted Peter’s photomontages using a pin hole camera.  The book was produced in an edition of 10 copies, printed by Memento Pro, in Sydney. Boldly typographic and beautifully designed, it can be considered a high-point amongst Peter Lyssiotis’s books.

 

Return to the BIFB Photobook Weekend Blog Homepage.

 

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A PHOTOBOOK BIRTHDAY PARTY – BIFB Photobook Weekend

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WPD Birthday Candles

 

A Birthday PartyCelebrating 176 years of photobooks..!  

On World Photobook Day – Monday October 14, 2019

World Photobook Weekend Hub, Mitchell Harris Wines, 38 Doveton Street North

 

Each year World Photobook Day is celebrated by members of the international network of Photobook Clubs around the world. Since it’s inception 7 years ago it has been organized by The Photobook Club Madrid and Matt Johnston. October 14th has been selected as it was on this date in 1843 that Anna Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions was accepted into and catalogued by the British Library.

This year a small group celebrated the 176th birthday at the Ballarat International Foto Biennalé…

 

The BIFB World Photobook Day Birthday Cake

 

.The cake was cut…

Doug cuts the World Photobook Day cake

Doug cuts the World Photobook Day Birthday cake

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.And then we all sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY…

 

As the Australian and New Zealand Photobook Award travelling exhibition concluded over the weekend we were able to announce the winner of the PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD

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Congratulations Tammy Law for your book Permission to belong

Tammy Law and her book AANZPA People's Choice award winning book Permission to Belong

Tammy Law and her book ANZPA People’s Choice award winning book Permission to Belong

 

Videos and photographs by Victoria Cooper.

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HARVEY BENGE: An appreciation from a fellow traveller

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Harvey Benge’s portrait from his Blog header

 

VALE: HARVEY BENGE

With the recent passing of Harvey Benge many whose lives have been touched by the man have told stories of their connection with Harvey. In many ways my story is no different – Harvey gave so much to those he met. He enriched lives as well as nurtured and encouraged networks to form, information to be shared and contributed to the critique and philosophy of photobooks to a worldwide audience. In December 2017 his Blog recorded its 1,000,000th view…

Recently I have been thinking and reflecting about Harvey a great deal and how for a moment we shared a friendship through our interest for the photobook in it many forms. At this time I feel a need to share some my reflections of Harvey…

 

it’s not hard to find erudite statements from photobook commentators and critics from all over the world about Harvey and his work – But I wanted to find his manifesto for life, photography and books … and I found it in his description for the book The Traveller

The Traveller is a personal reflection of the world where strange connections occur. The photographs never offer answers, only questions to tempt the curious. This democratic view is an acerbic, wry response to the world in free-fall where nothing is certain. Yet I hope that readers can find humour, affection, and unexpected beauty.

 

Harvey Benge photobook: The Traveller PHOTOs: Courtesy MomentoPro

 

About 15 years ago I came across a book that seemed to be a compilation of photographs by the world’s doyens of photography – Adams, Araki, Baltz, Eggleston, Felman, Frank Friedlander et al. The book was entitled seductively A short history of photography and was authored by Harvey Benge and Gerry Badger. So I bought a copy. It wasn’t until after the package arrived and I turned the pages that I found that Benge in fact created all of images. Many purchasers of the book may have felt ripped off but I laughed and laughed. This book also resonated with personal projects of mine 10 to 15 years earlier where I too had created and presented work under pseudonyms to an unsuspecting audience.

 

A History of Photography book

Whilst the name Harvey Benge kept on cropping up in my academic research in photobooks I felt that his work did not fit with my project at that time. This changed when I attended one of the most significant forums at that time on the topic of the photobook at the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney on Saturday, June 7 2014. Coordinated by Daniel Boetker-Smith from the Asia Pacific Photobook Archive, the event featured a Photobook Fair and a Forum at which key identities of the emerging photobook community were panelists. This included Professor Christopher Stewart (UTS), Dan Rule (Perimeter Books), Harvey Benge, Helen Frajman (M33), Benjamin Chadbond (Try Hard Magazine), Ying Ang and Daniel Boetker-Smith.

At the MCA Photobook Forum June 2014 PHOTO: Doug Spowart

The Forum discussion, responses and questions from the audience seemed to located in addressing the desires that attendees had in wanting to find their way in creating, marketing, selling books and being successful photobook makers.

I asked a couple of questions to broaden the discussion, which related to a key interest of mine that emerged as part of my PHD research. My questioning referred to the way that the freedoms that are well established in the artists’ book discipline in design, structure and narrative could inform future directions for the photobook. Harvey was the only one on the panel that understood the rationale of my question and at the end of the Forum we connected and spoke more about the ideas behind my question and he commented that he had appreciated my input. A few days later I sent some photos to him of the Forum including photos of him in action and he incorporated them in a piece he wrote about the Forum on his blog.

Channeling Harvey Benge photobook

In 2015 I was invited to make a presentation about photobooks at the Auckland Festival of Photography’s Talking Culture Symposium – Photobook Stories at the Auckland Art Gallery. I was looking forward to meeting up with Harvey but alas he was in Europe at the time attending the yearly string of photography events that happen between May-July. Even though I was unable to connect with him at that time, and inspired by his Short history of photography, I set about making a body of photographs that would emulate his style. These images were formed into a little book I called “Channeling Harvey Benge”. I had MomentoPro print out a copy and I sent it to him. When he returned Harvey enthusiastically got back to me saying “Thank you so much for … the wonderful Channelling Me! I’m flattered and honoured that you have made such a tribute… so thoughtful…”

A Preview copy of Channeling Harvey Benge can be downloaded here PREVIEW PROOF of Channelling Harvey Benge-book
(Note this is a printer-ready PDF and due to page setup for double-pages some images may not match across the gutter)

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On Reading Photobooks WPD Project

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Another remembrance of our connection was from an event I coordinated for World Photobook Day (WPD). The WPD has it origins with the date, October 14 1843, when Anna Atkins’ book Algae of the British Isles: Cyanotype impressions was catalogued by the British Library. The WPD was formed by a worldwide movement of Photobook Clubs to celebrate Anna Atkins and her book on this day. Since 2014, as part of my role as the coordinator of the Photobook Club Brisbane, I have created events to celebrate WPD. In 2015 my partner Victoria Cooper and I curated a project in which we asked significant contributors to the photobook discipline to nominate their favourite photobook, tell us why they like the book and to make a photo (a selfie) of them reading the book.

Harvey reading Collier Schorr’s Blumen – for the On Reading Photobooks WPD exhibition

A PDF of Harvey’s page and project information can be downloaded HERE: ON READING: Harvey Benge submission

 

Harvey enthusiastically responded to our request and was one of the first submissions. His favourite book, at the time was Collier Schorr’s Blumen. Other contributors to the project included Martin Parr, Larissa Leclair, Polixeni Papapetrou, Michael Coyne, Daniel Boetker-Smith, Stephen Dupont, Jack Picone et al. The exhibition was entitled “On Reading Photobooks” and was shown in Maud Gallery Brisbane, The Photography Room in Canberra, and a PDF catalogue was produced.

Harvey+Doug at Photobook New Zealand 2016

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Over the years we connected via email but I did finally meet up with Harvey at the first Photobook New Zealand conference in Wellington in March 2016. We shared some conversations and I gave him a copy of a little book that I’d made entitled “I’m about to read a photobook”. I attended the Photobook Fair, book displays and a lecture that included David Cook, Anita Totha, Bruce Connew and Harvey discussing “Getting your photobook into the world”.

 

Harvey and his list

Harvey was animated and delivered a salient talk outlining an 8 point plan assisted by a handwritten text on an envelope received from his friend and colleague Antoine D’Agata. He said:

1. 90% of life is showing up (Woody Allen)
2. Take the long view – 30 to 50 years
3. Make your work authentic
4. Don’t try and be famous
5. Don’t show dodgy work to everybody who has ever drawn breath
6. People work with people they like
7. Luck has a lot to do with it
8. Get naked, make porn

 

In 2017 I was preparing a lecture on the Antipodean Photobook that I had been invited to present at the Vienna Photobook Festival. To bring a range of voices into the lecture I approached Harvey and asked him about what photobook makers in Australia and New Zealand could do to get their photobooks onto the world stage. He responded quickly again and came back with 3 points:

  1. Take the long view, in my case I made my first book 24 years ago.
  2. Show up in the world, don’t just sit at home in Aust or NZ looking at the wall.
  3. Do it for yourself, that way there is a chance the work will be authentic.

 

Harvey Benge pages in the New Zealand Photobook Compendium

As part of the continual update of my ANZ Photobook Compendium for the second PBNZ I approached Harvey for some of the back story behind two book projects: 1. ‘The Auckland Project’ that he had coordinated with John Gossage and Alec Soth and, 2. his visiting photographer series that had included Roger Ballen. Interestingly at this time Harvey had just donated one of every book that he’d made to the Auckland Art Gallery. Harvey sent through what I’d requested and it was incorporated into the Compendium that was launched at PBNZ in the Te Papa Photobook Fair by Ann Shelton.

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Harvey Benge Auckland Art Gallery vitrine for Nothing Is As It Seems Photo: Supplied by Harvey

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During much of 2018 Victoria and I worked on a commission from the Tate on Martin Parr’s recommendation to curate a collection of Australian and New Zealand photobooks. In a conversation Harvey’s name came up and Parr said he had been collecting Harvey’s work over the years and had visited him in Auckland. Parr recounted mentioning to Harvey that he was interested in getting a copy of Gary Baigent’s 1967 classic Unseen city. To his surprise Harvey and he had walked down the street to a little book shop and picked one up for a modest fee.

 

Over recent times I had not seen much from Harvey only the occasional post on his Blog and I had heard something from New Zealand friends about him not being in good health. Then very early one morning about a month ago Harvey rang me and told me of his illness and its prognosis. We spoke about many things – about unfinished books, how he felt about the work that I’d been doing on the ANZ photobook and how much he appreciated what I was doing. He mentioned my little book ‘Channeling Harvey Benge’ and how chuffed he was that I’d made it and presented it to him. He asked me if I could let my network of friends know of his circumstances. There were difficult moments of unfinished work but there was joy in the recognition of the continuing legacy that his books, his love of books and the love he had for people who made them. During the conversation he became tired and emotional – he said “I must go my friend….”

Vicky and I sat dazed – it was 6.00am local time…

I think of the times that Harvey would sign-off an email with the message ‘would be good to catch up for a talk sometime and perhaps chat about a collaboration…’ And I would have loved walking down the street with him to that little book shop to pick up Unseen city.

Although I will now miss the opportunity for those and many other things with Harvey’s passing, I know that in my future, and perhaps also for many of Harvey’s friends, he will still be an important part of the community he loved and supported. I know I will continue ‘channelling the spirit’ of Harvey Benge.

 

Doug Spowart

Written on World Photobok Day 2019

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