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MORE THAN THE COVER: Judging the Photobook of the Year

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The Finalists...

The Finalists…


Recently in Auckland and Melbourne two groups of photobook aficionadas and aficionados assembled before 31 and 71 books respectively, and worked as a team to decide which of the books before them were exemplary of contemporary photobooks and, if consensus could prevail, which book – in each location, was the ‘best’ photobook.


The selection process is based on a ‘Judging Criteria’ that has been developed and enhanced over the many years of the awards which states that the judges will review each entry to assess the:

  • excellence of the photography, design, layout, typography and cover art
  • quality of the photo editing and sequencing to create an engaging visual narrative
  • ability of any additional imagery, text or ephemera to enhance the story in the photographs and/or book
  • appropriateness of the photography, design and format for the book’s intended purpose and audience

As the definition of a photobook remains broad, from photozines to trade coffee table books, a key consideration for the judging panel is to evaluate the ‘appropriateness’ of the book in the context of its ‘intended purpose and audience’. This aspect of the Criteria creates an opportunity for diverse products to be sensitively and fairly assessed.


The AuPOTY judges: Heidi Romano, Helen Frajman, Victoria Cooper, Daniel Boetker-Smith and Emma Phillips


The judging panel is purposefully selected to include experts in photography, design and book publishing. Each year these judges are changed to allow for representatives from different backgrounds, locations, gender, industry areas including design, publishing, media, cultural institution, academia, retail, art and commercial worlds.

Additionally judges weren’t allowed to score or advocate for books in which potential conflict of interest may cause problems. This is a particularly important issue as our photobook communities in Australia and New Zealand are small and connected.



The Photobook of the Year – 5 stage judging process:


Stage 1. A PDF of each book was forwarded to the judges in advance for them to gauge a preliminary impression of the book, its visual nature, content and narrative. Each judge completed a ‘first impression’ top 10 books spread sheet and provided feedback in the form of a comment and score for the books that they had selected.

Stage 2. The judges met and participated in some introductory discussions about the award and the processes that were to follow. After that the books were laid out on tables enabling the judges to encounter the physical and haptic experience of each book. Another ‘score sheet’ was provided so that judges could quantify their response to each book. While this review was basically carried out individually some casual discussion took place between judges. Many judges were to comment that seeing the ‘real’ book was surprisingly different from the impression that they had gained from the PDF screen view.


NzPOTY Judging team included Jonty Valentine, Anne Noble, Layla Tweedie-Cullen, Haru Sameshima, Ron Brownson and Doug Spowart PHOTO: From Facebook post


Stage 3. The judges score sheets were tallied resulting in a group of books being selected for round-table review and discussion. From this group activity the finalists were determined. In the AuPOTY 12 books were selected and in NzPOTY 10 made the finalist list. It should be noted that judge/s disclosed any involvement or potential conflict of interest with particular books or association that they may have with the author.


Stage 4. In this, the final stage, the judges debated the relative attributes of the books working towards a point where consensus over the ultimate winner could be determined as well as any books deserving of ‘Commended’ awards could be made. This stage of the process was interesting to participate in or to observe, as the many differing opinions of what constitutes the ‘contemporary photobook’ made for a lively and informative debate.


A consensus was to be achieved in both judgings and the results were:


Australian Photobook of the Year Winner:

Astres Noirs by Katrin Koenning & Sarker Protick, published by Chose Commune


AuPOTY WINNER: Astres Noirs by Katrin Koenning & Sarker Protick & Published by Chose Commune


Recipients of Commended awards were:

  • Elsewhere by Fuad Osmancevic
  • J.W. by Clare Steele
  • Memorandum by Ana Paula Estrada
  • Some Want Quietly by Drew Pettifer, Published by M.33
  • Surface Phenomena by Bartolomeo Celestino, Published by Perimeter Editions



  • Bird by Gary Heery
  • Courts 02 by Ward Roberts & Editions
  • Elemental by Rohan Hutchinson
  • Golden Triangle by Hannah Nikkelson
  • Kinglake by Jade Byrnes
  • Two Pandanus Trees Side by Side by Aaron Claringbold


Page views, the judges and other book details of the AuPOTY can be seen HERE

APOTY Website




New Zealand Photobook of the Year Joint Winners:

  • Rannoch by Simon Devitt
  • Touchy by Evangeline Davis

Rannoch by Simon Devitt PHOTO: From the NzPOTY Website

Touchy by Evangeline Davis PHOTO: From the NzPOTY website


Recipients of Commended awards were:

  • As the Road Bends by Blair Barclay
  • Duplex City by Blair Kitchener



  • Conversations With My Mother by Shelley Ashford
  • R&S Satay Noodle House by Sally Young
  • Soap and Water by Bronwyn McKenzie
  • Someone’s Mana by Michael Krzanich
  • The Shops by Peter Black
  • Watching the fishes go by by Niki Boon


Page views, the judges and other book details of the NzPOTY can be seen HERE

NzPOTY Website



The travelling exhibition of the POTY winners and finalists

A&NZ Photobooks of the Year 2015 @ Maud Gallery in Brisbane PHOTO: Doug Spowart

A&NZ Photobooks of the Year 2015 @ Maud Gallery in Brisbane PHOTO: Doug Spowart


STAGE 5. In each country visitors to the AuNzPOTY exhibitions in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are invited to vote for their favourite book, and the winner receives $500 cash + $2,000 printing credit with Momento Pro.  The winner will be announced via a Photobook of the Year Awards email later in the year. Subscribe at awards@photobookoftheyear.com.au.


Some personal observations and comments about the judging


As a witness to one of the judgings (AuPOTY), and a participant judge in the other (NzPOTY) I have reflected on the process and the salient issues, topics and well-discussed points and prepared this comment piece. I might add that these are based on my recollections of the proceedings as well as my personal thoughts gained from my involvement.


The universal definition of what is a photobook remains illusive. What judges think, what the entrants or others may think is a photobook may never be resolved. Although the perception of what a photobook might be does effect every aspect of the awards influencing who might enter and what their expectations of the award may be.

Also what is the nature of the selected finalists, and what book wins the awards, sends out a message to the broad range of people interested in photobooks to confirm or challenge their idea of what a photobook is.


Who made the book? Is it self-published? Or was it trade published? Was it a collaboration – did it involve a single photographer or multiple photographers with editor/s, publisher and designer/s? As all have a bearing on the book as a creative product or a commercial outcome.


What was the purpose for the book…? Is it for general consumers, niche markets or a personal record bound in book form?


Much discussion centred around concepts relating to design style, tricks of printing and binding, different papers, round fore edge corners, trendy layouts, typography, embellishments and packaging. Some books were considered derivative as certain features were part of last year’s trend or were recognised as being influenced by/taken/copied/borrowed from a recent well-known successful book. Therefore books with original concepts were held in higher esteem.

The question begs to be asked… at what point do any of these ‘derivative’ features become recognised as a visual style/form or narrative effect that contributes to the book communiqué?


The meaning and implications of collaboration.


Artist’s statements were often poorly written, or overtly academic ‘artspeak’.


One important consideration was that the book was as a total package where all of its components; concept, content, design, production values and binding were seen as creating a total creative entity.


Some common phrases from the judges were:

  • Fabric of construction
  • Economical
  • I wish I’d made that…
  • If only I could have had those images to edit…


In conclusion:

The Patrons for Australian and New Zealand Photobook of the Year Awards are Libby Jeffery and Geoff Hunt of MomentoPro. They have  funded prizes, coordinating the judging process: including judge selection, announcement events and exhibitions. Partners in the awards include Heidi Romano from Unless You Will, Photography Studies College Melbourne and in New Zealand f11 Online magazine.  Over 6 years these awards have championed photobook publishing activity and discourse and as such created a record of contemporary photobook practice in the antipodes.

The Australian and New Zealand Photobook of the Year 2016 will tour nationally in 2017… Visit the Photobook of the Year website for details.


Dr Doug Spowart





TEXT: ©2017 Doug Spowart
PHOTOs: ©2017 Doug Spowart (unless indicated otherwise)







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The photobook continues to capture the imagination of not just photographers but a broader community who enjoy ‘reading’ the visual nature of photostories. Part of the enthusiasm for the photobook lies in the diversity of the discipline from hand-made zines stapled together on the kitchen table to the slick graphic design of commercially printed books. The other major aspect of interest in the photobook is it’s accessibility – anyone can make his or her own book within the diverse range of practice. How then can the best books be acknowledged, rewarded and celebrated?

In Australia there have been awards for photographic books such as the Australian Institute of Professional Photography’s Photography Book of the Year Award, and more recently the Australian Photobook of the Year. This year for the first time, New Zealand photographers were able to enter their own Photobook of the Year Awards and have the ‘best’ books defined by a group of respected photobook judges and commentators on the art. An important contributor in the development of a critical evaluation structure for photobooks in Australia and New Zealand is the ongoing work being done by Australian print-on-demand service provider Momento Pro. Once again Momento Pro teamed up with Heidi Romano of Photobook Melbourne to sponsor and coordinate the Australian award. The creation of a New Zealand photobook award was also sponsored through Momento Pro’s local branch was coordinated with the organisers of this year’s inaugural Photobook New Zealand event in Wellington.

From April 14-22, under the auspices of the Brisbane Photobook Club, I coordinated an exhibition of the award winners and the finalists of both the Australian and the New Zealand Photobook of the Year Awards at Brisbane’s Maud Gallery. A special ‘launch’ event was followed by around a week of potential viewing time for those interested in seeing 26 of the ‘best’ books from our part of the world.

Conscious of the need to provide a ‘reading’ experience rather than the usual gallery ‘viewing’, Vicky and I installed the books within the gallery space on tables with chairs or stools. To highlight the winners, I chose to place these four books on plinths and therefore provide not only a prominent positioning within the space but also to allow a more intimate access the books without the visual ‘clutter’ of other displayed works and their readers.


The tables setup

The tables setup


Around 60 people attended the launch event. It was an unusual gallery experience as attendees found a space at a table, sat down and began reading. Moving on occasionally to the next chair and the selection of books in close proximity. A group of students clustered around certain books discussing quietly amongst themselves the book design and narrative features that interested them. I had intended to present a welcome and a short talk about the books but chose not to as it just seemed that everyone was engrossed in the process of reading. The video made in one part of the evening shows the intensity of the ‘shush — I’m reading’ vibe permeating the gallery.



That evening, and over the following days, I had many conversations with those who had come to see the show. Many attendees enquired about technical production attributes of the books. Some seemed to have been expecting a collection of books that were of a more traditional bookshop nature. Readers noted the diversity of physical forms of the photobook, how the story was communicated and the themes pursued by these successful book award entrants. Most attendees enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to cast their vote for the People’s Choice Award.


ANZ Photobooks of the Year @ Maud Gallery

ANZ Photobooks of the Year @ Maud Gallery


An interesting topic of discussion emerging from conversations with attendees related to the current categories of entry and the characteristics of the selected books. It was noted that the awarded books and finalists from both categories seemed to blur these category perceptions. This is in part because self-publishers may create ‘trade-like’ products and trade publishers may make ‘creative style products’.

Ultimately it comes down to the question ‘Did they like what they saw?’ I would say yes… although some comments related to the seriousness of selected photobooks as they often dealt with austere, conceptual themes or raw documentary – ‘Where are the happy books?’ one reader commented.

Would they come again to another Photobook of the Year showing? I would think they would. Many indicated that they would enter the next awards…

A call for entries in the 2016 Photobook of the Year Awards will be made later in the year


REPORT: Doug Spowart



(Edited from the Awards’ press releases)






The judging panel included representatives from photography, publishing and art institutions, and was co-chaired by international art consultant and curator, Alasdair Foster, and Photobook Melbourne Director, Heidi Romano. The judges assessed the physical books for excellence in photography, layout and design, and the suitability of the format for the book’s theme and purpose, resulting in a selection of 14 finalist books.

The winners were announced at the Photobook Melbourne project space, Southbank, on 25 February. “Australian photographers are continuing to embrace the book format as a means for exploring, documenting and disseminating photography, just as locally created photography books and the artists behind them are being applauded internationally,” stated Foster. “Our finalists prove that a successful photo book does not require a major capital investment or an expensive publicity machine, but it does require a strong and engaging visual narrative in a sophisticated design, as well as genuine relationships within the photo book community.”


Generation AK: The Afghanistan Wars, 1993 - 2012

Generation AK: The Afghanistan Wars, 1993 – 2012 by Stephen Dupont


WinnerGeneration AK: The Afghanistan Wars, 1993 – 2012 by Stephen Dupont, Steidl –

CommendedBelanglo by Warwick Baker, Perimeter Editions, Dan Rule –

CommendedBirdland by Leila Jeffreys, Hachette


+ The Middle of Somewhere by Sam Harris, Ceiba Foto

+ Arc by Zoe Croggon, Perimeter Editions, Asia Pacific Photobook Archive

+ Limits to Growth by James Farley, Currency Editions


Winner – Red Herring by Jordan Madge

SELF-PUBLISHED WINNER – Red Herring by Jordan Madge



WinnerRed Herring by Jordan Madge

CommendedYour love is not safe with me by Ailsa Bowyer –

CommendedLA – NY by Sam Wong and Jack Shelton –


+ By the River by Ian Flanders

+ The Smell of Narenj by Hoda Afshar

+ Magic City #2 by Chloe Ferres

+ The Moon Belongs to Everyone by Stacy Mehrfar

+ STAN by Christian Belgaux and Jack Pam

People’s Choice – The Middle of Somewhere by Sam Harris, Ceiba Foto














The judging panel, chaired by David Cook, a Senior Lecturer in photography at Massey University, Wellington, selected 13 finalist books that presented excellence in photography, layout and design, and whose format complemented the book’s theme and purpose.

“The best works presented a carefully edited selection of images, in an engaging visual narrative, with sophisticated design that didn’t overwhelm the imagery,” stated Cook, “Age and experience weren’t the defining characteristics, it was the skill of visual storytelling and the ability to combine photos with graphics, text and materials to enhance the story told by the images, to create a new artwork in its own right.”


NZPOTY Trade Winner_Purdom

Winner – From Certainty to Doubt by Mark Purdom



Trade Published
WinnerFrom Certainty to Doubt by Mark Purdom, Ramp Press
CommendedCreamy Psychology by Yvonne Todd, Victoria University Press
CommendedVernacular by David Straight, Potton & Burton

New Zealand Photography Collected by Te Papa Press
Karakia by Ben Clement, Sallyann Clement, Bloom Publishing
The Imperial Body by Fiona Amundsen, split/fountain


F.16 G3 20/25/30 by Solomon Mortimer

F.16 G3 20/25/30 by Solomon Mortimer


Self Published
WinnerF.16 G3 20/25/30 by Solomon Mortimer
CommendedCascade by Shelley Jacobson
CommendedThe Inbetween by Georgia Periam

Some kind of life in dying by Shelley Ashford
The Reality Principle by Yvonne Shaw
Waipureku by Conor Findlay
When the sun sets your eyes change colour by Solomon Mortimer & + Zahra Killeen-Chance

People’s Choice Waipureku by Conor Findlay


A PDF Catalogue of the New Zealand Awards is available NZPOTY 2015 Exhibition Brochure



All photographs of books and the individual awards text supplied by Momento Pro.
Photographs @ Maud Gallery and introductory text ©2016 Doug Spowart














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