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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.


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.


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.


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.






Regional Selfies: Communities and Self-Documentation

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Through documentary photography and social media Victoria Cooper and Doug Spowart have explored connections with Place in urban and regional communities in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. The purpose of these Nocturne Projects is to capture everyday scenes of each community in nocturnal light, dusk and dawn. These images are then posted on a Nocturne project Facebook page to evoke stories, memories and shared experiences from the community.

In each project Spowart and Cooper found different ways to include community participation. In 2014, they were invited to work in Miles, a major town of the Western Downs Region of Queensland. The Nocturne Miles Community Documentary project sought to engage with the broader public to undertake self-documentation projects and skill development in nocturne photography. Both local and temporary residents who enjoy taking photos, as well as those more skilled in photography were all invited to participate. After an initial workshop, Spowart and Cooper mentored the 18 participants to create images for the project including self-portraits and daily assignments and produce Facebook reports and a zine.


Vicky and Ashleigh Campbell in a pre-event planning meeting

Vicky and Ashleigh Campbell in a pre-event planning meeting

To begin the project consultations were undertaken with staff from the Western Downs Regional Council’s Cultural Development team Ashleigh Campbell and Anne Keam at Dogwood Crossing to refine the project to match the needs of their community. Then centre staff sought out members of the community who could be interested in the project. Possible candidates then completed an Expressions of Interest form to provide some information on their experience and the photography tools they had access to e.g. DSLR camera, point and shoot camera, mobile phone or tablet cameras. Another important consideration was that the applicants were going to be in the region during the project to participate in briefings, workshops and shootouts as well as the final day’s zine making activity.


Project Flyer – Nocturne Miles

Project Flyer – Nocturne Miles


While numbers were limited there was a desire by the artists and Dogwood Crossing that the project accessible to as many participants and be as inclusive as possible. The one proviso was that project participants needed to live and/or work in or near Miles including the smaller surrounding towns or on properties/work camps in the Miles district.

The participants engaged with the project in a variety of different ways including:

  • An initial introduction to the project and skill development workshop;
  • Guided evening photography shoot-outs in the main Street of Miles as well as at the Miles Historic Village;
  • Daily photo tasks over the week of the project assigned through a project Facebook group;
  • Optional mentoring sessions, where required, to enable images to be prepared and uploaded for the project;
  • Display of participants photos to a digital screen at Dogwood Crossing; and
  • A practical ‘zine’ making workshop.


Doug doing a briefing

Doug doing a briefing

The project began on Sunday November 30 with an introductory workshop, briefing and a shootout. Progressively images were collated and uploaded to the Nocturne Miles Community Facebook page. Each day a new topic was presented a challenge and their interpretation formed into a photocollage. Communication with the participants was made through a private Facebook group page that enabled hear 24hour contact with participants and Cooper+Spowart. Some participants came into Dogwood Crossing with their photos or with requests for support in making and/or optimising better photographs. On Wednesday evening special access was provided to the Miles Historical Village for group to experiment with ‘painting with light’ and ‘projection’ techniques.


The Nocturne Miles participants at Miles Historical Village


Facebook page

Facebook page


Cooper and Spowart added their images to the Facebook page as well and some visitors to the page posted stories about the places pictured. By the project’s end the page had 241 Page Likes, 60 Posts and the Total Reach was 17,771. Both the group page and the community page are still active.

Vicky and Doug in the Dogwood Crossing foyer

Vicky and Doug in the Dogwood Crossing foyer


Some of the photocollages that formed the 8 page Zines that were made using the Dogwood Crossing’s A3 colour photocopier. These were cut and folded into zines that were inserted into a red and yellow special edition of the Centre for Regional Arts Practice’s Artists Survey Books.


Nocturne Miles Zine making workshop

Nocturne Miles Zine making workshop


Some of the Photocollages

Breakfast – Nocturne Miles

Breakfast – Nocturne Miles

Water – Nocturne Miles

Water – Nocturne Miles

Miles Historical VilliageSelfies – Nocturne Miles

Miles Historical Villiage – Nocturne Miles


The photocollages presented here are examples of the image sets created by the participants. It is interesting to note that the original images may have emanated from all camera formats fro iPhone, simple digital point-n-shoot to sophisticated DSLRs.

We hear a lot about documentary photographers and student photographers travelling out into the country to create documents of life outside of the metropolis. Once on the ground these photographers seek out subjects to pursue and photograph. In this way significant documents are created of these outlying communities. However, the subject of the of the photographer’s gaze, and what is photographed, is based on the view of ‘outsiders’. The photographs they make may match preconceived ideas, and mythologised opinions, that they bring with them rather than how the people who inhabit these places feel about how and where they live.

What the Nocturne Miles project shows is perhaps that in an age where everyone can be a photographer what is important is the photograph itself. What then stands out the most is the link between the photograph and it’s authenticity. With this in mind these photographs are actual fragments of the lives of local people, whether they are from the farm, or people engaged in extractive industries, or those who work in administration roles or students at school, their voice in this conversation adds another view we can have of our regional communities.


The project was undertaken between November 21 and December 7 2014 and was overseen by Western Downs Regional Council’s Cultural Development Coordinator Ashleigh Campbell and Cultural Development Officer Anne Keam. The success of the project was also made possible by the enthusiastic support of the WDRC team at Dogwood Crossing.


What follows are more photocollages and individual images from the project

More images are on the Surat Basin.com.au website HERE

Murlilla Street  – Nocturne Miles

Murlilla Street – Nocturne Miles

The front gate – Nocturne Miles

The front gate – Nocturne Miles

Selfies – Nocturne Miles

Selfies – Nocturne Miles

Footwear – Nocturne Miles

Footwear – Nocturne Miles



Text and photos unless otherwise accredited are Copyright ©2014 Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart




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