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THE ANTIPODEAN PHOTOBOOK – a lecture at the Vienna Photo Book Festival

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Doug Spowart presenting The Antipodean Photobook at Vienna Photo Book Festival

 

THE LECTURE: THE ANTIPODEAN PHOTOBOOK

My lecture brief was to make an hour-long presentation about the Australian and New Zealand photobook scene. After some thought I organised my lecture content around 4 distinct areas.

 

1. The supporting structures

The contemporary scene was to be included covering both practitioners and the major events in AuNZ that have shaped and contributed to the development of strong network and community of practice. The key events, movers and shakers such as:

  • Photobook Melbourne
  • Photobook New Zealand
  • Unless you will 2017 event and book reviews
  • Melbourne Artbook Fair
  • Sydney’s Volume Another Artbook Fair
  • Zinefairs
  • The Photobook of the Year Awards
  • Bookshops
  • Perimeter Editions
  • m.33
  • T&G
  • Rim Books
  • Remote Photobooks
  • Perimeter
  • Photobook Clubs
  • Asia Pacific Photobook Archive
  • Photobook collections

I commented also on the sources of critical discourse on photobooks in AuNZ.

The role of Libby Jeffery and Geoff Hunt of MomentoPro as patrons and supporters of all things photobook in Australia and New Zealand was acknowledged.

2. Photobook histories of Australia and New Zealand from first examples to 2000

Here are a few slides from the presentation…

 

I was able also to present a discussion on the challenge of commercial book production as against personal work using Wes Stacey as an exemplar.

I also spoke about the informal links that exist between the photobook and artists’ book disciplines.

3. The contemporary scene and a selection of interesting books and makers

Here are a few slides from the presentation…

 

4. Voices from the Antipodean scene

It was important for me that contributors to the photobook discipline in Australia and New Zealand be given an opportunity to provide their personal insights to my presentation.

I sought comments from a range of key contributors and received responses from Libby Jeffery, Daniel Boetker-Smith, Helen Frajman, Harvey Benge, Bruce Connew, Garry Trinh, Sam Harris, Ying Ang, Anith Totha, The 2018 Photo Book Wellington Committee.

Here are a few slides from the presentation…

 

My concluding comment was that AuNZ and the Asia-Pacific regions offer new and refreshing ideas of what a photobook could be and the stories of peoples outside of the usual Euro/Americano scene.

I invited all attendees to visit our table and view the Photobook of the Year finalists and winners and offered, as an additional incentive a copy of the Awards booklet.

My lecture was well attended by festival participants from different parts of Europe including Martin Parr, Photo historian Hans-Michael Koetzle and collectors with an interest in the AuNZ books.

After the lecture Martin Parr and I discussed AuNZ photobooks that he was aware of and commented that in my lecture he had seen many new books. Our conversation continued later that day and he, Gerry Badger, and probably most of those who attended the lecture came to our table to look at the books.

 

Martin Parr at the AuNZ photobook table PHOTO: Lachlan Blair

 

 

SEE ALSO

The EVENT

https://wotwedid.com/2017/06/18/aunz-photobooks-the-vienna-photo-book-festival/

 

The REVIEW SESSIONS 

https://wotwedid.com/2017/06/18/review-panels-at-the-vienna-photo-book-festival/

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BOOK DUMPING: Clearing the library shelves

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Simulated Americans dumped

Simulated Americans dumped

 

I found Robert Frank’s Americans in my cornflakes packet today. Yesterday I found bits of Irving Penn’s Passage: a work record and Cartier Bresson’s Decisive Moments in my Epson inkjet paper box. And the black and red flecks in the Mercury Cider carton I’d just purchased from Dan Murphy’s where from Trent Parkes’ Dream Life and Robert Holden’s Photography in Colonial Australia: The Mechanical Eye and the Illustrated Book respectively. Whether we like it or not books are slowly and systematically being slipped off the shelves in public libraries and research libraries in institutions across the nation to end up as recycled pulp for new books and boxes and cartons as well as landfill.

 

In 2014 the University of Sydney Medical School was found to be secretly dumping books. A significant article on this and the institutional practice deaccessioning (dumping) books by Elizabeth Farrelly was published in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014 entitled Library book dumping signals a new dark age. She wrote:

In May, Sydney University announced its library “restructure”.  This magnificent library, among the country’s finest, had already, a decade earlier, deacquisitioned some 60,000 books and theses. More recently there were further, unquantified and undeclared cloak-and-dagger dumpings to make space for the wifi and lounge-chairs that have given the once magical Fisher stack the look and feel of a church playgroup.

 

GOOGLE - Search for book dumping (Detail)

GOOGLE – Search for book dumping (Detail)

I found it interesting to do a Google search of the terms <books dumped in skips dumpsters> and discovered more instances of the destruction of books. There were many articles about book dumping including one from 2005 in The Guardian reporting the University of London’s Octagon Library dumping stacks of books in skips outside the library. Left to the elements these books, some dating back to the 19th century, were in peril until students and staff rummaged through to salvage what they could. The article quotes author, publisher and campaigner for libraries Tim Coates as saying:

A library is a collection of books, it’s not a building. Throwing out books because you are having a refurbishment is like moving house but saying I won’t bother taking my family with me.

Progressively real books are disappearing fast from community and institutional libraries. If you talk to the librarians, who love the books that they are custodians of and are sworn to protect, these book dumpings are being directed by library managers who use include factors such as refurbishment and re-utilisation of library spaces as the need for their actions.

Aiding the downsizing process is the use of automated book culling software that analyses the user demand for books held by the library and prepares a deaccession list for books with low or no borrowing or patron access. For public lending libraries whose borrowing clientele may be towards popular fiction and children’s books other Dewey groupings may suffer. The use of this kind of software causes a whole range of books to be stripped from the selves and causes frustrations for librarians who want to maintain a broad range of subject matter. This can lead to desperate acts. Jason Ruiter of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper reported how staff at the East Lake County Library created a fake library patron in 2016 who then proceeded to check out 2,361 books over nine months. The ruse was reported and library staff were reprimanded or had their employment terminated.

The heart of the problem is that the knowledge economy is shifting from physical assets to the online presentation of virtual resources. In a somewhat charged conversation I had with a State Librarian around 18 months ago I was informed that the particular library had 1 million physical visitors over a year and 20 million online visits or ‘hits’. The Librarian continued by saying that they, in conjunction with a consortium of institutions with similar strategies, were directing funding to support the online user. What can be put online and be remotely searched and accessed is the focus of these institutions. My argument was that although page-turning software may make available remote viewing of the usual codex form of the book, books like artists’ books that have so many more features and physical attributes that could not be conveyed online. At best, I said, was that the online presentation of an artists’ book could only be like a travel postcard to an exotic place that could be used to encourage the virtual viewer to visit the real thing.

Very recently the effects of library downsizing have become very evident to me. For 20 years I nurtured an institutional special library collection relating to photography. Dutifully, with the support of my fellow staff members, we dispensed the yearly library budget by acquiring the best books that represented the industry and the art of photography. Despite having my own professional library I considered the institutional library as an extension of my bibliophile activities. Special books beyond my personal budget were able to added to the library and as a diligent seeker of discounted and remaindered books, I occasionally bought two copies of heavily discounted books – one of which I donated. At times, through professional networks and contacts when opportunities to get complimentary copies of books came available, I’d make sure that I’d score some for the library.

Now at this institution over the years I’d seen changes affecting the library and it’s space for books. Firstly, in a remodeling of the space high shelving were replaced by the OH&S friendly chest-high form – I thought, where did the surplus books go? Next was the encroachment of extra office space in the shelving area. Not for library staff but interestingly for IT support services. I thought, where did the surplus books go? Next computer bays and a classroom were added into the library space and the stacks shrunk further – where did the excess books go? Well I know where some of them went as just outside the library door resided a trolley for years that has a sign on it, ‘help yourself – please take away these books we no longer need’.

It has been 21/2 years since I left the institution and I recently visited my old teaching space to have lunch with my former co-teacher to reminisce over the old days and collect a few possessions left behind. While gathering together my things I encountered a 100 or so library books in one of the back rooms. My former co-teacher explained that the library was downsizing and that they were to be ‘disposed’ of, so she had asked them to give the books to her and she would distribute them. She said: ‘you can have some if you like’ – and I did. I selected a few books that were in the library’s initial set that seemed to me to be based around remainders from the early 1980s American photobook publishing era – books that are now difficult or really expensive to get. These I passed on to a friend who has been assembling a specialist photobook library. I did keep a few special things for myself: a 1980s copy of Frank’s The Americans; Les Levine’s early 1980’s Using the camera as a club … not necessarily a great one; a catalogue for Susan Purdy’s The shaking tree and Axel and Roslyn Poingant’s Mangrove Creek 1951: a day with the Hawkesbury River postman … and … and.

In a way I’m not surprised by the deaccessioning of ‘my’ teaching library as over the last 5 or so years of my teaching I found that students would not go to the library even when I’d suggest a particular text or texts that were related to their personal research. Always, when interviewing students about what they researched I would be presented with a bunch of URLs and low-res laser prints of screen dumps. Oh! How disappointed I would be when the physical manifestation of their interests, a book, was shelved in the library only a few minutes away. Ultimately I did embrace online research opportunities for students and helped to develop skills in that area that I’d honed in my PhD candidature a few years earlier.

Whatever I may feel about my personal experience, in the wider world of books and libraries, the practice of book dumping and shredding no doubt will continue and escalate. We need to protect access to books in public libraries and research collections and many public groups have emerged to challenge politicians and bureaucrats for their initiation of changes to libraries. One example is the group Citizens Defending Libraries that has an ongoing campaign against the Mayor and developers about changes to the New York Public Library service. In a currently running petition they make the following statement:

We demand that Mayor de Blasio, all responsible elected officials, rescue our libraries from the sales, shrinkage, defunding and elimination of books and librarians undertaken by the prior administration to benefit real estate developers, not the public. Selling irreplaceable public assets at a time of increased use and city wealth is unjust, shortsighted, and harmful to our prosperity. These plans that undermine democracy, decrease opportunity, and escalate economic and political inequality, should be rejected by those we have elected to pursue better, more equitable, policies

There may need to be a new term in the library lexicon to recognize these supporters of libraries – maybe we could call them bibliovigilantes.

Outside the public and the academic systems there is a more important role for those who collect and maintain personal specialist libraries. They may become the keepers of the knowledge. More importantly though, in this increasingly virtual world, they will know not only of the content of books, but the will also possess the experience of turning physical pages, the aroma of paper, ink and binder’s glue, and the power of the solidity and weight of the object we call a book.

Scarily, if we allow the unfettered disintegration of the library and the demise of the book, we may be creating a bookless world like that in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and the job title for those who deal with books will not be librarians but rather ‘book firemen’.

 

Doug Spowart

Written @ Wooli, December 2016

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ARTLANDS: Our missing presentation

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Artlands Dubbo Webpage

 

ARTLANDS DUBBO CONFERENCE: Regional voices missing

 

Today we were to present a paper at the ARTLAND DUBBO REGIONAL ARTS AUSTRALIA CONFERENCE. Earlier this year we made a submission based on one of the conference themes and were excited to learn that our submission was accepted and that we were going to be able to add our story and project activities in regional arts in Australia to the conference.

However, then we found that the conference fees, despite ‘early bird’ and presenter discounts, combined with the costs to get to Dubbo and be accommodated were enormous. We had to look at support options for grants in Arts Queensland and the Regional Arts Fund and we found that none either ‘fitted’ with our needs or could be responded to in time to register. We therefore withdrew our presentation.

As regional artists, although we’ve been in Brisbane of late, and also independent researchers we have noticed many opportunities at conferences and seminars now require presenters to fund their place in the program. Now that might be affordable to academics, those employed in arts management or facilitation or those who have taxable incomes where such can be an allowable income tax deduction, but others just cannot afford to bear such costs.

It seems to us that many voices in the field of art in Australia are being kept out of the conversation by the cost of participation and the lack of grant support.

There is no doubt that ARTLANDS DUBBO will be a success and all who attend will benefit greatly from the shared experience and networking possible but for us, on this occasion, we stayed at home and worked on our art.

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For those interested what follows is our proposal that related to the conference theme – REGENERATION: Exploring arts and cultural development using creativity that positively impacts on community vitality and well being.

ABSTRACT 

Artists in residence programs provide unique opportunities for artists to explore their practice while contributing to the community’s cultural development. We will discuss ‘3 tiers’ of community engagement in our Nocturne AIR Projects: artist as creator, community as creator, and social media as a creative flux for interactive engagement.

OUR PRESENTATION

We will present a background on the Centre for Regional Arts Practice (Centre) that we formed in 2007 as a response to the circumstances and challenges of artists living in regional Australia. From the beginning the ‘Centre’ has engaged in advocacy, representation, commentary and the development of projects for regional artists and the communication of regional art perspectives.

Nocturne Projects

The ‘Centre’ engages in artist in residency programmes that enable the development of community based Nocturne Projects. These projects have been sponsored through the regional galleries of Muswellbrook, Grafton, Bundaberg, Miles and Armidale. We have also self-funded Nocturne documentary projects across eastern Australia and Tasmania.

3 Tiers of Engagement

In developing the methodology for our AIR Nocturne Projects we identified 3 tiers of community engagement, these are:

  • artist as creator;
  • community as creator: artist as facilitator; and
  • social media as creative flux for interactive engagement.

Artist as creator:

We will talk about how our AIR work allows us to explore themes, both personal and collaborative, in the investigation and representation of “site” and “place” in the Australian landscape. We work to connect contemporary social issues with historical, scientific and mythological insights intrinsic to each site. Critical to, and inherent in, this work is these visual narratives that are deeply rooted in the recording and interaction with each place.

Community as creator – artist as facilitator:

Beyond our own work Nocturne AIR Projects we develop, in conjunction with the local gallery education officers programmes that provide creative development to suit each community’s needs. Included in these programmes may be workshops, practical digital photography shoot-outs and assignment work, image enhancement and file optimisation, one-on-one mentoring, developing social media skills as well as photobook and zine making.

Participants, whether they use hi-tech DSLR cameras, point-n-shoot cameras, tablets or smart phones, connect through meetings and workshop sessions. To provide a continuous stream of inspiration, feedback, instruction and support we establish closed Facebook groups for participants.

Social Media as a creative flux for interactive engagement:

All of the major Nocturne AIR Projects are connected to the broader community by a Facebook page. It enables an online space for sharing and presenting the project work. In the more recent projects, where there was an issue of distance for the regional community members to participate in the project, we managed two FB pages: one for those closely involved in the creative development of the Nocturne Project and another for the gathering and sharing stories through the broader community.

Using the methodology of the three tiers of engagement we believe we explore arts and cultural development using creativity that positively impacts on community vitality and well-being.

Western Downs Regional Council’s Community Development Officer Carollee Murphy stated the following about our Nocturne Miles Project:

Thank you for empowering our community with practical photography and book-making skills. Nocturne Miles installed a greater sense of shared space and community pride. The multi-modal outcomes of this project have been far-reaching, especially through social media and have painted Miles and district in a new light.

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A LINK TO OUR NOCTURNE PROJECTS CAN BE FOUND HERE

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COVERING: The 2016 Libris Artists’ Book Award

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Artspace Mackay

Artspace Mackay

 

A COMMENT ON THE 2016 LIBRIS ARTISTS’ BOOK AWARDS

 

In his announcement speech for the 2016 Libris Awards at Artspace Mackay judge Sasha Grishin makes the observation that: ‘The contemporary artists book is characterised by boundless freedom’, and adds that: ‘… it has absorbed many conceptual frameworks, many art mediums and technologies and goes across the spectrum of the senses.’

 

Visitors to Artspace and the Libris Awards encounter an open space with islands of book presentation devices. Plinths of all sizes – some encased, others at floor level, there are shelves on walls, books as mobile installations hung from the ceiling and other books with ‘pages’ covering large expanses of wall. This is not an easy walk-through exhibition as each work beckons, siren-like, calling for the extended gaze of the reader.

The Artspace Libris exhibition

The Artspace Libris exhibition

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On this occasion the winners were:

  • Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal National Artists Book Award $10,000 Acquisitive Award went to George Matoulas and Angela Cavalieri, with the text by Antoni Jach, for Europa to Oceania.*

 

George Matoulas and Angela Cavalieri, with the text by Antoni Jach, for Europa to Oceania

George Matoulas & Angela Cavalieri, with the text by Antoni Jach, Europa to Oceania

Grishin’s comments about the work were:

After much soulsearching I decided to allot the winning entry for the major prize to a collaborative and fabulous artists book by two Melbourne‐based artists, George Matoulas and Angela Cavalieri, with the text by the novelist and playwright Antoni Jach, titled Europa to Oceania. The three linocuts are by Angela, the three collographs are by George and there are another two collaborative foldout prints. The two artists, one of Greek extraction, the other from Calabria in Italy, with wit, profundity and beauty explore the migrant experience at a time when the Australian social fabric is under stress with the question of refugees and migration.

Highly commended in this award were:
Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison’s Closer to Natural
Monica Oppen’s Metropolis
Tim Moseley’s Kange pholu wanda

Peter Lyssiotis’ Blind Spot

 

  • Mackay Regional Council Regional Artists Book Award for a local artist went to May‐Britt Mosshamer for Tapping the knowledge.*
May‐Britt Mosshamer for Tapping the knowledge.*

May‐Britt Mosshamer Tapping the knowledge.*

Grishin’s comments about the work were:

As much as one fought the temptation, the $2,500 award had to go to the local artist, May‐Britt Mosshamer and her effective piece Tapping the knowledge. In art you can say very important things with a bit of humour in your back pocket. This work is all about the flood of information and the drought in knowledge.

The highly commended, or runner‐up entries in this category were:

Denise Vanderlugt’s I used to wrap rainbows
Jo Mitchell’s For Mary

 

  • Artspace Mackay Foundation Youth and Student Artists Book Award (under 26years), went to Brooke Ferguson and her The Small Garden (for M.S.).*
Brooke Ferguson The Small Garden (for M.S.).

Brooke Ferguson The Small Garden (for M.S.).

Judge Grishin’s comment on the work:

This is an award that is about taking risks, a punt and choosing the unexpected, the promising and the challenging. It is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity for an emerging artist to gain national recognition plus a handy fistful of dollars. I selected the work by the 25‐year‐old Brisbane‐based artist, Brooke Ferguson and her The Small Garden (for M.S.) The MS stands for the wonderful veteran artist, Madonna Staunton, where young Brooke Ferguson was inspired by a poem by Staunton and with gouache, pen and ink and pencil has created a fragile concertina – a beautiful sensibility from a promising young artist.

 

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In my opinion some books call for special mention. Caren Florance’s Pleasure demolition is transfixing. The suspended brown paper sheets with a hand printed letterpress phrases from poetry by Angela Gardner are animated by the flow of air and movement in the space. Forever moving, the oscillation of the pages becomes a machine for the generation of concrete poetry… phrases twirl and merge, poetic moments where new meaningful/less messages materialise.

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Jamian Stayt’s Soulless evolution

Jamian Stayt’s Soulless evolution

The individual pages of Jamian Stayt’s Soulless evolution are pinned to the wall making what may seem like a vast wallpaper pattern. However, Stayt’s work invites a closer reading of the cipher hidden within the layers of the image. He presents some big questions where contemporary notions of tradition are challenged and rapidly changing technology has intertwined agency in the evolutionary pathway for humanity.

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Julie Barratt Blair Athol recut

Julie Barratt Blair Athol recut

Julie Barratt’s Blair Athol recut refers to Solastalgia: a theory on the contemporary human condition for a deep loss of place. In one part of the installation there is a book of dark photolithographs where maps are encroached upon by black inks. For the reader this growing blackness evokes a gloomy absence. Facing the dark pages in the clamshell container are vials of coloured soils, plant fragments and found objects. Although collected from this disturbed place, these samples are vibrant and alive – perhaps they are the vestiges of childhood memories that recall a different time before the destruction of the physical place by coal mining.

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Ana Paula Estrada Memorandum

Ana Paula Estrada Memorandum

Many books feature photographs as the primary carrier of the narrative. Ana Paula Estrada’s Memorandum employs the medium to document elderly people and their connection with life through personal photographs and how their memories are re-lived through viewing these photos. The book, conceived and made through the Siganto Foundation Creative Fellowship in the Australian Library of Art at the State Library of Queensland, is a complex assemblage of contemporary portraits, photo-glimpses from family albums and a narrative conveyed through the turning of pages.

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Exhibition view

Exhibition view

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As usual the artists’ book as exhibition defies direct touch and the turning of pages for narratives to be revealed and for the book to speak of what it has allowed the artist to create. But for the 72 books in the exhibition to be read the visitor would need to stay for the duration of the exhibition, working through the night with white gloves and torchlight. The exhibition reconnects and continues the significant contribution of the Artspace Mackay’s Libris Award to inspire artists and create a space discourse on the book in all its forms. In doing so the assembled exhibition represents cutting edge survey of Australian artists’ book practice.

Some works will become part of the Artspace Mackay collection; others will be re-packaged and returned to their makers. While the exhibition is dispersed its spirit will continue in the form of the gallery’s excellent illustrated catalogue, the text of Grishin’s speech, reviews, videos and other commentaries such as this, as well as the memories of the readers who viewed the show.

In two years time – the next iteration of this important event in the Australian artists’ book calendar will take place again. Wouldn’t it be nice if the whole collection could be purchased and held in perpetuity as a record of the discipline? Until then …

 

Dr Doug Spowart

16 October 2016

 

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DOWNLOAD THE CATALOGUE: 2016-librisawards_illustratedlistofworks

http://www.artspacemackay.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/204955/2016LibrisAwards_IllustratedListofWorks.pdf

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A VIDEO FLY-THRU OF THE EXHIBITION

 

OTHER BOOKS FROM THE EXHIBITION

 

Denise Vanderlugt with her highly commended bookwork I used to wrap rainbows

Denise Vanderlugt with her highly commended bookwork I used to wrap rainbows

Peter LYSSIOTIS Blind spot

Peter LYSSIOTIS Blind spot

Martha BOWMAN You could have sent an email or a text

Martha BOWMAN You could have sent an email or a text

Jamian Stayt’s Soulless evolution (Detail)

Jamian Stayt’s Soulless evolution (Detail)

Bernard APPASSAMY Constellation of endearment (Detail)

Bernard APPASSAMY Constellation of endearment (Detail)

Deanna HITTI Assimilated museum

Deanna HITTI Assimilated museum

Gracia HABY and Louise JENNISON Closer to natural

Gracia HABY and Louise JENNISON Closer to natural

Caren Florance’s Pleasure demolition

Caren Florance’s Pleasure demolition

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All photographs and videos ©2015 Doug Spowart.  Main text (except Judge Sasha Grishin’s words) ©2015 Doug Spowart   With thanks to Victoria Cooper for her suggestions and edits.

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A COMMENT ON JUDGING PHOTOBOOKS

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In a photobook judging...

In a photobook judging…

 

The photobook: And the winner is…

 

Any field of human endeavor seems to have connected with it a need for measurement, for qualification and quantification – a need to find the best, the fastest, tallest, smartest, dumbest, prettiest and ugliest. The photobook is no exception. Every year when the call goes out for entries to be submitted, or when the winners of numerous awards are announced the worldwide photobook community responds.

To attract those who make, or share an interest in, the photobook there are many incentives to participate in awards including:

  • Winning an award leads to sales for the book
  • Winning awards enhances reputations and future opportunities for the maker/s
  • Winning awards can provide opportunities to publish through prize money and/or ‘in-kind’ services
  • Entering awards provide an opportunity to present your ideas, your stories and your creation process to other participants of the discipline
  • By entering an award your concepts and narrative expression can reach extended audiences.

Additionally those who coordinate awards also receive compensation. Companies promote their products and services through organising and/or sponsoring awards. Organisations like art museums, professional associations, and significant commentators of the discipline all stand to gain prominence through the awards that they support. An interesting cross-section of photobook awards could include: The Kassel Photobook Dummy Awards, InFocus Photobook Exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum, Photobook Bristol Festival, New Zealand Photobook of the Year Award, and The Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards. The income from entry fees can also go towards offsetting the costs of prize monies and running the award.

Any award would not take place without a judging, but how are judges selected? What are the attributes of a good judge? Generally judges come from the various, and sometimes disparate, groups within the discipline for example: a photographer, a publisher, a book designer, a printer or a critic. As each judge brings to the judging his or her ideas and opinions regarding what makes a great photobook, the assessment session can be an interesting space to witness.

There is one common discussion point for any photobook judging – What is a photobook? The diversity of the discipline defies a standard definition and may include: newspaper styled items, funky zines, and the bespoke hand-made ‘artists book’, self-published books using digital POD technologies, trade published books and designer confections. Photobooks can contain photographs only, they can be books with photographs and accompanying texts, prose, poetry, captions and they also can be complex and sophisticated design experiences – book as object. In a photobook competition all these can compete for the overall award title. It’s like all the Olympic pool-based events being run simultaneously in the one pool, from high diving to the 100 metre dash –– Chaos…!

Getting a result requires consensus that can only be achieved through a process of review, discussion and the sharing of opinions and insights. Perhaps the assessment task would be simpler if there was a solitary judge.

Another concern is the number of books could a judge be reasonably expected to fully engage with before being overcome by the inability to fairly and consistently consider each entry. Other questions arise: Do strong and articulate judges sway the panel decision? Does every book say the same thing to every reader? And how does bias for or against certain book styles, photographers, and publishers or photographic content affect the judging outcome?

In the world of photobooks one thing is for certain – awards and competitions are not going to go away anytime soon. Social scientist Pierre Bourdieu in his book ‘Photography: a middle brow art’ commented that:

It is no accident that passionate photographers are always obliged to develop the aesthetic theory of their practice, to justify their existence as photographers by justifying the existence of photography as a true art. 1

Perhaps all those who, through organizing, entering and judging awards ultimately help to create dialogue, definition and an aesthetic that justifies the photobook’s existence as a ‘true art’.

 

Dr Doug Spowart August 25, 2016

 

  1. Bourdieu, Pierre. Photography: A Middle-Brow Art. Translated by Shaun Whiteside. Stanford, USA: Stanford University Press, 1996.

 

 

Text+Image ©2016 Doug Spowart

Written by Cooper+Spowart

September 9, 2016 at 12:19 pm

COOPER+SPOWART – JOURNEY NORTH

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Travelling along highways north….

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We are travelling up to north Queensland at the end of September for a month of artists’ book and photography projects, workshops and lectures.

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The artists in tropical garb with palm trees...

The artists in tropical garb with palm trees…

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Our Journey …

 

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Capricornia Printmakers logo

Capricornia Printmakers logo

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September 27 ROCKHAMPTON: CAPRICORNIA PRINTMAKERS

We will present an evening talk about our artists books/photobooks and the Siganto Foundation Research Fellowships work we have been doing in the Australian Library of Art at the State Library of Queensland.

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September 29 MACKAY: ARTSPACE MACKAY as part of the LIBRIS AWARDS PROGRAM

Here are the details…

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SpowartCooper flyer

 

 

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October 2-8 ORPHEUS ISLAND

Here are the details…

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October 16-22 WINTON: NOCTURNE WINTON – To be confirmed

See our other Nocturne Projects …  HERE

A few images like those we could be making at Winton follow…

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Walker's Hotel, Grafton

Walker’s Hotel, Grafton

Trucks through town...

Trucks through town…

A group of Nocturne photographers

A group of Nocturne photographers

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Nocturne Winton Facebook Logo

Nocturne Winton FB Logo

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CONTACT US FOR DETAILS OF ANY OF OUR JOURNEYS NORTH ACTIVITIES

<Greatdivide@a1.com.au>

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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

 

Written by Cooper+Spowart

August 16, 2016 at 2:45 pm

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