Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

Posts Tagged ‘State Library of Queensland


with 2 comments

CODEX X Papers – Journal Cover+Text Page


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.



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


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





All photographs ©Doug Spowart




TWENTY-Documentary photography in Queensland

with 2 comments

SLQ TWENTY Webstie header


We are excited to announce that a selection of our Nocturne photographs of Queensland are featured in the new State Library of Queensland exhibition TWENTY: Two decades of Queensland Photography



ABOUT COOPER+SPOWART: Nocturne Imaging Projects

Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart making Nocturne images

Photography is integral to the way we capture, interpret and share our experiences and deeply considered views of our world.

For around ten years we have been photographing the visual transformation of small towns and suburban places in those last moments of daylight and into night. Our intent is to capture this transient magical atmosphere of twilight where the afterglow of sunset combines with the illumination of streetlights and the room lights from inside houses that say someone is home. Additionally as some photographs created at this time require long camera exposures, the image captured shows the ghostly, blurred movement of people and car headlight trails.

The experience of nocturnal light is seductive yet uncanny. It connects us to the sustained beautiful melancholy felt when listening to Debussy’s Clair de lune while simultaneously evoking the unsettling, dark moments of a film noir movie.

Over the last seven years we have significantly documented as artists in residencies and personal projects communities including Muswellbrook, Grafton, Armidale, Bundaberg, Toowoomba, Miles, Cygnet, Wooli, Castlemaine, Murwillumbah, Bribie Island and numerous central NSW and Victorian regional towns.



@ www.nocturnelink.com




FROM THE SLQ Website: The 56 photographers featured in TWENTY represent the incredible diversity of Queensland’s documentary photography community. Some are well-known, some are emerging, some have been practising their craft for years relatively unknown. Some studied photography, some are self-taught. They are all dedicated to documenting Queensland and their work has allowed State Library to develop an astonishing visual archive of our state in the contemporary era.

Michael Aird
David Allen
Anthony Anderton
Patricia Baillie
Stephen Booth
Hamish Cairns
Brian Cassey
Darren Clark
Suzanna Clarke
Jacqueline Curley
Rodney Dekker
Heidi Den Ronden
Jo-Anne Driessens
Justin Edwards
Leif Ekstrom
Liss Fenwick
Peter Fischmann
Amanda Gearing

Juno Gemes
Craig Golding
John Gollings
Troy Hansen
Josie Huang
Kelly Hussey-Smith and Alan Hill
John Immig
Reina Irmer
Daryl Jones
Cassandra Kirk
Marko Laine
Cameron Laird
Madeleine Marx-Bentley
Dominique Normand
Glen O’Malley
Chris Osborne
Renee Eloise Raymond
Mick Richards

Hannah Roche
Troy Rodgers
Brian Rogers
Dean Saffron
Jeremy Santolin
Cathy Schusler
Sarah Scragg
Arthur Liberty Seekee
Clare Sheldon
Doug Spowart and Victoria Cooper
Reuben Stafford
Brodie Standen
Jason Starr
Richard Stringer
Garry Taylor
Shehab Uddin
Alf Wilson
Marc Wright








The man who photographed every house in Australia

with 2 comments


in the State Library of Queensland and the exhibition HOME: a suburban obsession


Imagery Gallery – with my mother and business partner Ruby Spowart


From 1980 to 1995 I was co-director, with my mother Ruby, of Imagery (photography) Gallery (1). The gallery operated in 3 locations in South Brisbane two of them being on the corner of Grey and Melbourne Streets. Although our main business activity was a photographic gallery and workshop we were also suppliers for specialised equipment for photographers – one of them was the famous Leica 35mm camera. As a Leica user myself since the early 1970s my special knowledge of this equipment was not so much from the point of view of a salesperson but rather as a user of the full range of Leica cameras, projectors, enlargers, binoculars and accessories in my documentary and art photography practice.


In the late 1980s or early 1990s an elderly man visited the gallery and exhibited an interest in Leicas. He mentioned that has had been a professional photographer and that he used the older screw mount Leica gear. Initially I saw him as a potential purchaser, though in time and after many visits I realised that this was not to be the case. His name was Frank Corley and I found him to be a storyteller. With each visit came my understanding that he enjoyed the opportunity to talk with someone interested in his life.

Frank lived in Annerley and dined every evening at Sizzlers – he called it “Zizzlers”. He was a dapper man with a hat and very well dressed. His visits to the gallery were easily accomplished by train as the gallery was situated just over the road from the South Brisbane Railway Station.


Frank’s camera

At one stage in 1994 Frank indicated that he had some Leica equipment he wanted to sell and invited me to his home. I went with my partner Victoria Cooper to his Annerley home. On entering the house one came in contact with the enormity of Frank and his wife’s life as in every room there was ‘stuff’. His partner in his business his wife Eunice had passed away by this time. Everything had a story – a watercolour painting of Central Australia by Ewald Namatjira (if I remember correctly), Frank recounted was purchased by him when he was photographing homes in Alice Springs. He bought the painting from the artist who presented work for sale at the front gate of the caravan park from which Frank was operating his business. We went from room to room looking for the items he wanted to sell which finally amounted to some very out-dated photographic paper, an enlarging easel and an old Leica Focomat enlarger.

We did a tour of the back yard in which were parked several vehicles. One was the now famous Cadillac (though not pink in colour as often described), another was a little like a Bedford delivery van. We went inside and in the back of the vehicle was a compact darkroom, enlargers, trays, and rolls of processed film in special cardboard gridded boxes. It was cramped but functional – later I was to discover that Eunice was the darkroom operator. I had a lot of respect for that lady and her workspace.

In a lean-to shed at the back of the property Frank reached into a large cardboard box and pulled out a handful of black and white prints of houses. He had already told me of his Pan American Home Photographic Company business of photographing houses from the Cadillac (and other vehicles) as he drove down the street steering the car with his knees taking photos. These photographs were subsequently processed and printed and salesmen, sometime Frank himself, would then call back at the houses and sell prints that could be mounted on cards or calendars. The company brand phrase was From Our Home to Your Home.

I looked around and saw maybe 8-10 boxes the size of which would have been 80cmx60cmx60cm and each box was crammed full of prints. I asked how did he end up with so many photographs? His answer was that at the time the sales tax on photographic materials was 27.5% and as he did not have a sales tax exemption number for his business he paid tax when he bought film and photo paper. At the end of each financial year the value of the tax on the unsold photographs could be claimed as a sales tax credit. The volume of work he was doing that was unsold amounted to a reasonable credit but the prints needed to be retained along with other taxation documents for many years. These photographs came from a time 20-25 years earlier and had not been disposed.


Some Corley house photographs    Source: State Library of Queensland

I reached into one of the boxes and pulled out a bundle of photos. What I saw were very ‘straight’ photos of houses all with very similar framing, usually recorded almost as plan elevations. The houses look dated to perhaps 20-30 earlier and I sensed that I was holding in my hands a documentary photography history record. I asked Frank what would happen to these photographs when he moved on… his answer was that they’d probably be sent to a silver recovery plant or dumped. Ohhh! I thought. Before leaving Frank that day he posed for a couple of portrait photos with his trusty Leica IIIg.

Frank Corley circa 1994

At this time in my photodocumentary practice I had undertaken re-photography projects where early photographer’s pictures were relocated and re-imaged as a way of showing the passing of time. My own history making photographs and also from building my own collection of photographs from the beginnings of the invention of photography 150 years earlier meant that to me these images were special and needed preserving. I couldn’t let them be lost, not only because they represented Frank’s life work, but also for their historical value.

On leaving Frank’s home I worked through some ideas with Vicky as to what could happen with Frank’s photographs. At the time I was a valuer for the Australian Government’s Taxation Incentives for the Arts a program where the value of donations to cultural institutions could be used as a tax credit for the donor. I had been involved in valuations for the State Library of Queensland so I made contact with some of the people I knew there. I must have sounded convincing, as there was interest in the work from SLQ Field Officer Niles Elvery. I contacted Frank who said that he would be happy to donate the photographs to the Library and in due course I travelled in a Library station wagon driven by Niles back to Frank’s place.

I’m not sure how we fitted the boxes into the station wagon but I remember it being a tight fit. Frank signed a document that Niles had brought with him and we travelled back to the Library. We reckoned that there were around 12,000 photographs.

A few months later I heard via Frank’s solicitor that he had died and that any items that Imagery Gallery was holding of his pending sale needed to be returned. I was somewhat taken by Frank’s passing and as he seemed to be without friends or family around I thought it appropriate that I write an obituary which I published in a journal I edited called PHOTO.Graphy, ISSN 1038-4332 – The Christmas edition, v. 6, 1995. It reads:


Unknown to most of us Frank Corley, a travelling photographer passed away on October 19, 1995. I suppose we all die eventually and our life’s work, the photographs we make are left to the destinies of those who possess them. In a life full of entrepreneurial activities Frank owned and managed a transport business, caravan parks and a lolly shop. A fascination for photography led to the formation of Pan American Studios. Street photography and in particular photographing houses was his big passion.

I call him the man who photographed every house in Australia because if you ever spoke with him about it he made you believe that he did. Frank Corley won’t be missed by many but his legacy ~ his photographs, will live on in private family archives but most significantly through the donation of around 12,000 prints of Queensland homes presented to the John Oxley Library, Brisbane in June this year. This fragment of Frank’s work would have been lost except for a fluke of meeting with me and his generosity.

I just wish there could have been more time to record the experiences that he so happily shared with me.

Doug Spowart   6/11/95


The years went by and memory of Frank and his donation were for me a faded memory. In 2015 I was granted a Siganto Foundation Artists’ Book Research Fellowship at the SLQ. One day I met a volunteer called John Wilson at the library and I found out that he had been working for years in trying to unlock the Corley code for the photographs, what town – what street? We spoke about his method of working which was hindered by limited information available in the bundles of prints and scant markings on the prints. John had street directories from Queensland towns which he had identified street names and had himself been out on the road looking to confirm hunches.

Soon after this meeting I met Denis Peel and became aware of the work that the Annerley-Stephens History Group had done in identifying many of Corley’s home photographs from the Fairfield, Annerley, Yeronga, Yeerongpilly, Tennyson and Moorooka areas. As a volunteer group they held meetings, provided teams and individuals with Corley photos who then went out looking to identify houses. A significant Phase One report was generated by the group in 2015. Additional research was subsequently prepared. By June 2016 they reported that they had located over 3000 matching houses. I visited one of their meetings and was impressed by the energy of the volunteers. In 2017 The Annerley-Stephens History Group were awarded the John Oxley Library Community History Award for their continued and highly successful community project. The activities of the group were supported by the State Library through access to the photographs and later aided by the digitisation of the collection that has only recently been completed.


SLQ Home Website Banner

With the growing interest in the Corley Collection and the recognition of its value as an extensive and unique record of Queensland houses and suburbs the SLQ scheduled the planning and preparation of the exhibition which they have entitled – Home: a suburban obsession. As the facilitator of the donation and my knowledge of Frank and his work I have assisted Chenoa Pettrup and Adam Jefford from the Asia Pacific Design Library wherever possible in the preparations for this show. As an artist/photographer and researcher I appreciate the efforts by the exhibition coordinators to involve appropriately talented and skilled personnel to give this event the opportunity to capture community interest. Special commissions for inclusion in the show include Ian Strange‘s large-scale charcoal rendition of a Queensland home, an  installation by Queensland artist/designer Jennifer Marchant and an immersive Brisbane virtual reality streetscape by [f]FLAT. Assembled in the exhibition space were artists’ books, books, catalogues and photographs from the SLQ collections that highlighted the idea of ‘home’ and included Ed Ruscha, Bernd and Hilla Becher and Australian photographer John Gollings and his Gold Coast works. Alan Scurr, a Leica camera collector collector from Toowoomba loaned camera items for a display of the camera equipment that Frank used.


Entry to the exhibition Home: a suburban obsession

Entry to the exhibition Home: a suburban obsession


The Home: a suburban obsession offers many significant opportunities:

(1) It reveals how suburban architecture looked 40 or so years ago,

(2) It provides an opportunity for contemporary Queenslanders to connect with their homes of the era,

(3) The historical nature of the photographs will be a provocative agent for nostalgia and, for some solastaligia,

(4) It enables us to appreciate unusual photographic business activities and the partnership that exists in many small photographic enterprises, and

(5) It celebrates the value of the physical photograph as a time capsule.


The Internet may have given us the modern invention the Google Street View but in a way the Corleys were doing it 40 years ago – the evidence is in the nearly 62,000 photographs in the collection. Though it is interesting to consider how the digital age and the Corley Explorer Webpage will provide the key to unlocking the code to enable every one of the Corley’s houses to be located and revisited anew.  The process has started and according to SLQ sources the Corley Explorer in the first few weeks has enabled a further 14% of the collection to be identified. SEE the Stories webpage HERE.

Back in Frank Corley’s shed nearly 25 years ago I could never had imagined how those boxes of house photos could provide the amazing opportunities that we are just now encountering with this exhibition and other uses yet to be discovered. But I did know one thing and that is I could not allow them to be lost. I’m sure that Frank would feel quite chuffed that his unsuccessful unsold photographs have finally found success and have made the journey from his home to a their rightful home in the history of Queensland.


Dr Doug Spowart

(1) LINK TO: The Imagery Gallery Archive is held in the State Library of Queensland

In the exhibition – I muse that this man was Frank looking at the interest his work has now received…


Various links and associated reports and reviews of the Corley Collection follow:


The SLQ website for the exhibition:   http://home.slq.qld.gov.au/

SLQ Home Website Banner


Photographs of the exhibition’s opening event on December 6, 2018


My video of the exhibition opening



2 Special commission video projects produced, directed and edited by Shih-Yin Judy Yeh. These videos present the story of Frank and Eunice Corley and the SLQ work with the Corley Collection.


SLQ The Corley story Video



A video describing the SLQ’s  story about the Corley collection, includes information about the donation, conservation and investigation



A link to the Annerley-Stephens History Group’s Corley project HERE


An SLQ event with Denis Peel and Kate Dyson talking about the Annerley-Stephens History Group project HERE


Frank Corley Wikipedia HERE


ArchitectureAu article HERE


Brisbane News / Sydney Morning Herald Article HERE






All photographs © Doug Spowart unless othervise credited. The copyrights in other material and website resides with their relevant copyright owners.


MONTAGE+THE ARTISTS’ BOOK: a paper by Victoria Cooper

leave a comment »

Victoria and the ARTISTS’ BOOK YEARBOOK 2018-9


 I’ve recently had a major paper on my research into the montage and artists’ books published in the ARTISTS’ BOOK YEARBOOK 2017-8 edited by Sarah Bodman from the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) at the University of the West of England. The paper covers ongoing research which was undertaken as part of my Siganto Foundation Research Fellowship at the State Library of Queensland.



Here are the first 2 paragraphs from the paper




Each time I am drawn into the montage image as a reader, I experience a liminal moment – I am at a threshold where I will enter into an unknown space. Although I may recognise familiar characteristics in each fragment I am disorientated by their juxtaposition in these hybrid images. My focus for the Siganto Research Fellowship in the Australian Library of Art (ALA) collection, at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) is to review and study this liminal reading of the montage through the edges and joins of the fragments. In this research I am guided by the writing of Pierre Bourdieu, Roland Barthes and Sergei Eisenstein to orient myself in the reading and articulate my findings from the perspective of the reader. Also underpinning this research is the extensive history of combining, gluing, montaging, and collaging of image work in many mediums including film, photography and book making.


During my fellowship, I have reviewed over 100 artists’ books and many artists’ statements held in the ALA. The scope of this research was limited to particular works of Australian artists including Peter Lyssiotis, Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison. However selected works by British artist Helen Douglas and other international artists from the ALA collection were also considered in my research to include an international perspective. As I am a montage maker and thinker, I have decided to include some artists’ books that–although by the artist’s definition are collage– I ‘read’ as montage. My focus is on the visual ‘reading’ of the combined fragments through their edges and the spaces between. There are also considerations for the combination with mixed media including sound, photography and drawing.

This investigation does not set out to define a lexicon for montage or collage for the makeri and as such, in the writing, I will refer to the image works I am researching as montage/collage.

[i] See my blog post for the Australian Library of Art, State Library of Queensland, http://blogs.slq.qld.gov.au/ala/2016/05/27/reading-montages-perceptions-dilemmas-edges-and-resolution/


Key books that I discuss in the paper are from the following artists:

Peter Lyssiotis, Feather and Prey, (1997), Masterthief Enterprises, Melbourne

Peter Lyssiotis, Products of Wealth, (1997), Masterthief Enterprises, Melbourne

Lorelei Clark, Brisbane: River City, (2010), Lagoongrass Press, Brisbane

Jack Oudyn, The very first book of fish, (199?), Micro Press, Ormiston, Queensland

Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, And we stood alone in the silent night, (2008), Melbourne

Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, Salvaged Relatives, Melbourne

Lyn Ashby, 20 minutes, , (2011), ThisTooPress, Victoria

Helen Douglas & Zoe Irvine, Illiers Combray. (2004), Weproductions, Scotland

Dianne Fogwell, Gene Pool, (2000), Edition & Artist Book Studio, Canberra School of Art, Canberra


You can download a copy of my paper HERE

PLEASE NOTE: This download version contains colour photographs of the books discussed – the Yearbook is published in monochrome.


Thank you to all the artists who gave permission for their works to be photographed and presented in the publication.

Enjoy — and I would appreciate any comments you may have about the paper…


You can buy your own hard copy of the Yearbook from UWE HERE

UWE Publications website












with one comment

Post event resfreshments on level 5 of the SLQ

Post event refreshments on level 5 of the SLQ



The Program: The Siganto Foundation Fellowship artist book series 2016 – April 17


From 10am-1pm – White Gloves Room, level 4. The Siganto Foundation Fellows presented a display that featured their research and creative works which included research papers, artist books, drawings, letterpresses and prints. The Fellows spoke with attendees about their work and research outcomes. Participating in the Fellows White Gloves event were Peter Anderson, Lyn Ashby, Julie Barratt, Victoria Cooper, Marion Crawford, Jan Davis, Clyde McGill and Doug Spowart.

At 1:30pm on the Knowledge Walk Stage on level 1 – Clyde McGill presented Looking for Place, a performance for his artist book.

At 2pm The lecture component of the event was opened by Chief Executive Officer and State Librarian, Sonia Cooper. This was followed by a presentation by guest, UK artist and designer, Guy Begbie who talked about his current interdisciplinary arts practice. Following on – Dr Victoria Cooper, the 2015 Siganto Foundation Fellow, talked about her research into the use of montage in the State Library of Queensland’s artists’ book collection.

From 3.30pm attendees enjoyed refreshments in the SLQ Boardroom on level 5.




Siganto Foundation Fellows in the White Gloves Room

Siganto Foundation Fellows in the White Gloves Room


Clyde McGill performing Looking for Place @ SLQ Sigantio Artists Book Series 2016 event

Clyde McGill performing Looking for Place @ SLQ Sigantio Artists Book Series 2016 event


CLYDE McGILL: Looking for Place, a performance for artist book (an extract)

Crossing the river under the Goodwill bridge, knee then neck deep in the warm water, not too salty, navigating around the mangrove roots, expecting to hear mud crabs clanking and whistling, curling my toes just in case, alloneword, who calls me fictivefriend, if only he knew, shows me another pressed flower (soggy) and a leaf. Then a pterodactyl feather he says was floating down from Mt Bartle Frere last night, I suggest it was the southern end of the Glass House Mountains. It looks like it’s from the ibisosaurus between GOMA and SLQ. We are dodging the rivercat (aow carrying our bag of sandwiches above his head), the tide is running. Finally making our way over to HMAS Diamantina to borrow her (alloneword thinks we’ll have to pay), in our bid to sail her along the Diamantina River (there is water). It’s an incredible resonance of names and place, isn’t it fictivefriend, he asks. Soon we’ll picnique (no replacements found, typeahead here) on the shores of the Inland Sea. We drip mud as we tell the man at the dock entrance about our project, it’s exciting, he raises his eyebrows, says what(?) looks away and closes the gate.


SLQ VIDEO of the performance: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/audio-video/webcasts/recent-webcasts/clyde-mcgills-performance

Clyde McGill performing his artists' book Looking for Place

Clyde McGill performing his artists’ book Looking for Place

Clyde McGill performing Looking for Place @ SLQ Sigantio Artists Book Series 2016 event

Clyde McGill presents a fragment of his presentation to Dr Marie Siganto.



Christene Drewe from the SLQ introduces the program for the day

Christene Drewe from the SLQ introduces the program for the day


Guy Begbie presenting @ Siganto Seminar Series 2016

Guy Begbie presenting @ Siganto Seminar Series 2016




Guy Begbie is an interdisciplinary artist, bookbinder & university associate lecturer.

As an artist, he makes book works influenced by a core interest in parallels between bookbinding structures & architectural forms.

He works in a variety of media, that includes traditional bindery materials, drawing, painting, printmaking, sculptural casting and filmmaking.

His work uses non-linear narrative and sculptural forms to investigate further innovative structures for the book and the potential in its transition from a closed two dimension to an opened three dimensionality.

The notion of a contained space in the book is of particular interest, both conceptually and physically, with book works alluding to spatial qualities in architecture and the built environment.

Filmic and time based qualities are also examined in other book works, using painterly printmaking media to present visual distillations of memories of place and the the fleeting moment.

The relationship of the book juxtaposed with the solid non-paper based artifact is also of concern and is tested through placement and the filming of constructed books and cast objects that both share some common aspects in media and construction methodologies.

This dichotomy of the kinetic book structure and the static cast form, is re-scaled in projection and further informed by the sound of the book, captured through recording the making and placement processes, then configured to provide audio soundtrack supporting the moving visual image.


SLQ Video of Guy’s presentation: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/audio-video/webcasts/recent-webcasts/guy-begbie


Dr Victoria Cooper presenting @ Siganto Seminar Series 2016

Dr Victoria Cooper presenting @ Siganto Seminar Series 2016



A segment from Victoria’s presentation follows:


Montage Readings: Informed by History


There is a long tradition of artists and designers creatively combining images.

Photomontage or combination printing has its origins in late-nineteenth-century pictorial photography, most notably in the work of Henry Peach Robinson and Oscar Rejlander.

Then in the early twentieth century, Russian filmmakers, notably Sergei Eisenstein, pioneered the practice of montage in motion picture films to present animated visual concepts and to record the passing of time. Also in the first part of the 20th century, there was the work of the German and Russian visual artists including Hanna Höch, George Grosz, John Heartfield, El Lissitzky and Alexander Rodchenko used the “cut and paste” mediums of photocollage and photomontage to create political and social commentaries.

The surrealists such as Max Ernst, and Salvador Dalí and many other artists of this movement used the montage/collage to create visual contradictions referencing the uncanny connection between psychology of dreams and familiar experiences of the world.

Bauhaus teacher, pioneering designer and experimental artist László Moholy-Nagy became well known for his creative use of photomontage with text and image to construct innovative posters and page designs for his visual narratives. In a 1925 text, Painting Photography Film, Moholy-Nagy described this work as photoplastics.


My Project

Rather than see the concept of montage limited to that of a special case of film editing, he argues that the montage … is a principle to be found underlying artistic construction of all kinds

Eisenstein’s original concept of montage was that meaning in the cinema was not inherent in any filmed object but was carried by the collision of two signifying elements.

Geoffrey Nowell-Smith Eisenstein on Montage, in Towards a Theory of Montage, 2010 pp. xiii-xvi

From the research I was drawn to the montage as a way of thinking and making. In this Fellowship I am now engaged with the montage and its ‘reading”. In this project I intended to investigate the montage through the Reading the elements… their Edges, Borders and Intervals.. or their ‘collisions’ The act of cutting and splicing in the creation of the collage/montage assigns new meanings and readings to the individual fragments. Each element, fractured by tearing or careful cutting (whether physical or virtual) before the blending, overprinting, or collage construction phase, forms the basic structure, a mise-en-scène, or syntax, of the final visual composition and narrative work.

I am interested in the differences of reading that is created through of the visible edge As opposed to the Fused and the seamless edge of the elements in montage.

These edges, whether seamless or visible, always refer to the nature of its original content, as in the grafted fruit tree where the origins of the elements are still evident. The narrative then becomes embedded or montaged inside the reading of the image or the page.


More to follow in a subsequent post on this Blog. The SLQ will post a video of the presentation shortly


SLQ Video of the lecture: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/audio-video/webcasts/recent-webcasts/victoria-cooper


We offer our thanks to the SLQ team: Christene Drewe, Sharon Nolan, Bec Kilner, and Janette Garrard and also to the Dr Marie Siganto and the Siganto Foundation for their support of this event.



leave a comment »





Recently Victoria’s ongoing research on the topic of montage in artists’ books was published. This paper discussed Peter Lyssiotis’ work and the use of photomontage.


‘Fractured Worlds’ (i) : Considering the photomontage work of Peter Lyssiotis


Photomontage is the cause before it becomes the picture.  . . .
For me, ideas present themselves as a presence. Their full realization depends not so much on thinking them, but rather in making them…. (ii)

Spanning several decades of artists’ book production, Peter Lyssiotis’ work both openly probes contemporary political issues, while in many books, presents an enigmatic personal vision through his poetic visual narratives. Lyssiotis is a not only an artist and maker of books he is also a reader; he has an extensive knowledge of literature along with historical and contemporary thinking on art. Inspired by the political montage work of German artist John Heartfield, Lyssiotis brings to his photomontage compositions well researched and deeply considered thought processes. As he creates his montage work, Lyssiotis will often have metaphorical conversations with Heartfield. In a recent personal communication Lyssiotis poetically expressed this deep connection:

The shadow of John Heartfield always crosses the work I am making. Sometimes he’s so pleased he smiles and sometimes he gets so annoyed his shadow becomes pitch black. . . (iii)

In my research at the ALA, I look at Lyssiotis’ work not only for its content but also for the deeply considered and painstaking aesthetic work behind each montage production in image, page and book. In his statement in Products of wealth (cited in the epigraph) he discloses how the power of the work is developed through the making. It is this Material Thinking (iv) process that informs my ‘reading’ of the artists books I have chosen to engage with in this research. All artists’ books are invested with rich imagery drawn from the artist’s mind and hand, including computer or photo-mechanically generated and composed narratives.

As a reader of these books I now hold the object that represents the time spent problem solving, the years of knowledge in making and working with materials, the conceptual development of all elements that is the book–whether simple or complex, the aesthetic choices for image, page and text design, the many small or big decisions that are embodied in this work of art that is made to be held and considered by a reader.  My challenge now is to find a way to share these insights with you as a distant reader who is unable to take in the necessary sensory and haptic experience of reading these works of art. In this blog I share my ruminations and questions that inspire me to read and read again many times these books of wondering and wandering, which are deeply poetic and sometimes melancholic.

I chose, Feather and Prey, for the deeply considered and poetic use of the page; the balance and arrangement of image, text and white space. Alternatively, Products Of Wealth has politically motivated photomontage prints tipped-in or glued onto the page. These are two very different ways of composing a narrative with photomontage and text and ultimately presented two different experiences for reading the montage.

Feather and Prey is bound in black leather with details of red leather on the spine and embossed images on the front and back covers.

Covers of Feather and prey by Peter Lyssiotis.

These embossed images at the beginning and end importantly announce that the reading starts from the cover rather than from inside the book. Along with this distinctive book binding, the use of fine art papers and considered printing processes, suggests a reverence in the reading of each page.

The photo-elements in Lyssiotis’ montage narratives are no longer records of reality but now have emerged, through a process of poiesis, as visual codes with a new life and purpose:

In these images giant moths are nibbling away at the perfect mechanical reproduction that photography promises. They don’t rely on the traditional borders of a photograph to tell them when to start and where to finish. They don’t want to be a photograph; they would prefer to be maquettes for pieces of sculpture. (v)

These new hybrid images create a disturbance within the familiar routine of everyday practice and present an alternate way of perceiving and referring to the world. The visual semiotics of reality that photography represents is now channeling through montage–new spaces for imagining–a poetics of dreams.

But what characteristic does Lyssiotis identify in each element as he carefully separates them from their original contexts? Does this question really matter, as each fragment will be transformed having little relationship to its origin. These montaged elements are then fused together perhaps as a metaphorical act of transcendence and then placed or montaged within the page.

These fragments of images and text strategically appear across the white space in the book. In a short exegetic essay or artist’s statement on this book Lyssiotis discusses his intention for the white space in the book:

The white spaces here constitute something unassuming: a whiteness more like a whisper; something neutral.

In the whiteness there are things the photographic paper has not been allowed to reveal; these are not omissions, they are commissions … of sins, failed intentions, of habit. (vi)

I turn the pages and they ‘whisper’ of something hidden where only hints and clues are allowed through as the photomontage emerges through the white space. A cherub holds a curtain rope that reveals a narrow view of the sky behind.

Feather and prey by Peter Lyssiotis

Does the white space hide knowledge from the reader as if in a white out or a fog? Or is Lyssiotis creating a collaborative space with the reader to bring to the reading their own narrative or composition–a psychological montage of memory and life’s experience?

Lyssiotis’ texts are evocative, poetic and political and appear sparingly in different places on each page. The texts and their aesthetic placement on the page–a mise en page (vii) –add to the layering of the reading as a montage. In Feather and Prey Lyssiotis signals that perhaps there could be shifting meanings arising in the reading of the words and their visual placement on the page. In the book he writes:

Words always arrange themselves to tell

The same story: that things will change

But words are heretics and later,

In the fire they will deny it all.

In Products of Wealth the montages  (viii) are not embedded in the page but rather pasted over the white space where the page becomes the carrier rather than part of the message.

Products of wealth by Peter Lyssiotis

These images become windows–looking into a montage hybrid world that may seem alien to us but paradoxically it is of us. Looking into the space of the image–rather than the page as in Feather and Prey–I am transported to a place where there is no space left to think… claustrophobic. The view shows the reader terrifying and perhaps even diabolic territories for consideration and reflection.

The edition consists of six separate books stored and presented in a bespoke box.

Products of wealth by Peter Lyssiotis

The books are bound using the simple pamphlet style, perhaps referencing the tradition of the political publication. The covers of the books are red and the box is covered in red and black cloth again suggesting the political nature of the reading. As I read, I notice that the 3D relief pattern of the letterpress texts (ix) seems to bite emphatically into the paper.  Lyssiotis’ choice of font styles along with the red and black font colours also adds to the political tone that is invested in the photomontages and the binding. In book 6, Lyssiotis writes about the montage:

In these montages, the planet isn’t about to explode; the explosion has already happened. What is left is a fractured world

Finally, I find it interesting to note that these books were produced in the same year, 1997, and yet each have quite different approaches to the montage of image, text and page. Can these differences point to a deeper comprehension of the value in and values of visual reading? In this kind of reading the psychology and memory of the reader can be engaged in the transference of something more than knowledge and information.

So is the montage a space for questions rather than answers?  Reading these artists’ books is in some way also a montage where the visual narrative and the artistic intention is adapted and interpreted by the memory and mind of the reader. Perhaps the nature of the montage hybrid including the page could be comprehended in terms of gestalt. As it is greater than the individual parts–the montage can be a holistic comment or reflection on the cultural and human questions of its historical location.


Victoria Cooper PhD

Feb 2016


(i) Peter Lyssiotis, 1997, The Products of Wealth, Book 6: Political Photomonteurs Can Give You The Courage To Eat Bricks, Masterthief Enterprises, Melbourne.
(ii) Ibid.
(iii) Handwritten note sent by email to the author, February 23 2016. In this note, Lyssiotis presents an evocative and intriguing discussion on the montage works in his books Feather and Prey and The Products of Wealth. Although seemingly a dialogue between himself and Heartfield, it is more a self-critique informed by the Heartfield polemics and the political montage. This note will be published in full with the permission of Peter Lyssiotis in a future article I am writing on his work.
(iv) As presented in: Paul Carter 2004, Material Thinking, Melbourne University Publishing Ltd, Melbourne. In many ways this book is a philosophical discussion on the work and methodology of the artist including: the interaction with their materials, the intellectual nature of the artists’ visual research and their resulting art.
(v) In the ALA original Materials Archive there are several boxes of Peter Lyssiotis papers. This quote is cited from unpublished writing discussing his book “Feather and Prey” Call Number: item #29358/3 box # 13331.
(vi) ibid.
(vii) This references the mise en scène in cinema theory.
(viii) The montages are black and white archival fibre-based silver gelatin photographic prints where Lyssiotis worked with Robert Colvin to print for this publication.
(ix) Texts were handset and printed by Nick Doslov, Renaissance Bookbinding


ABBE: Artists books Brisbane Event 2015

with 2 comments



For many years Queensland had a diversity of artists book activities: the bi-ennial Artspace Mackay Artists Book Forums and Libris Awards, the once yearly Noosa Artists Book Events and the Southern Cross University Acquisitive Artists Book Awards. Also contributing to this fertile artists book environment the State Library of Queensland’s Australian Library of Art which included the SLQ’s Siganto Foundation fellowships, ‘white glove’ presentations and events.  Added to this were exhibitions and artists book fairs coordinated by Grahame Galleries and other shows at scattered venues. With the recent demise of the Mackay, Noosa and Southern Cross events their absence was felt by the artists book community.  Now a new event has emerged to add to the SLQ and Grahame Galleries support of the art – the Artists Book Brisbane Event (ABBE). Over July 16, 17 and 18 ABBE featured a triptych of activities; a conference, an exhibition of books, an artists book fair and allied exhibition events at the State Library of Queensland, Grahame Galleries, The Studio West End, the IMA and Impress Printmakers Gallery.

The conference sought to address 3 main themes relating to the artists book:

  • post literacy
  • materiality/the haptic
  • the nature of reading artists books.

Three keynote presenters lead the program:

Sarah Bodman presents her keynote lecture

Sarah Bodman presents her keynote lecture


If a post-Literate society might also encompass new ways of thinking about reading, we could think of contemporary artists’ books as a site of practice beyond that of McLuhan’s sign posting of the invention of moveable type as fundamentally responsible for how the Western world physically reads: “along the straight Lines of the printed page.”

We seem to have already moved from Linear to non-linear reading; we are used to flitting through digital screen-based texts, and losing our attention through a multitude of online multi-tasking. Physical engagement with artists’ books provides us with spaceto breathe, a slower rhythm of ingesting information and time to reflect, so what about the artists who are making them? How are artists engaging with the physical book now?

These examples focus on celebrating the book as a physical container used by artists to: re-present language, offer performative reading, view how reading is perceived, appropriate text from novels and instructional manuals into new works, or to transform information from the virtual into the physical.

BRAD FREEMAN presents his keynote lecture

Brad Freeman presents his keynote lecture


Brad Freeman’s Lecture focussed on JAB, the Journal of Artists’ Books, that supports critical inquiry into artists’ books. Since 1994 JAB has published interviews with contemporary artists whose primary medium is the artist book, reviews of artists’ books, and essays about historical issues and contemporary artists and their work. JAB has a two pronged approach to culture creation via publication arts; an educational approach with critical writing and documentation of current activity; and second, a creative approach with publication art-exploring the creative potential of print and the book by commissioning artists’ covers (letterpress and offset), artist designed pages, and artists’ books made especially for insertion into JAB.

Lyn Ashby presents his keynote lecture

Lyn Ashby presents his keynote lecture

LYN ASHBY (Abstract) – POSTLITERACY AND ARTISTSBOOKS: Coming to our senses with a modern mythic form

This presentation is a speculation on the idea that contemporary artistsbooks may be the laboratory for a new literacy, and that in honor of the quietly evolutionary nature of this new literacy, we might call it “postliteracy”.

As background, it explores how our centuries of standard literacy and its attendant conventions of pictorial space and chronological, narrative time, have privileged a specific code in the representations of our language systems (both image and text) and their operations across the page and through the book. The prescriptions of these conventions and the domination of the line and the grid onto the look of language have come to minimise the participation (and uncertainty) of the senses in the direct process of apprehending meaning with language forms.

But the pages of artistsbooks are often filled with the explorations of other ways that language forms can activate a lively, sensory involvement with the page space, or how meaning can be formulated beyond the limitations of chronology.

Some of these experiments involve the invocation of pre literate, oral language structures that work more by the devices and grammars of music, song and myth than the usual strategies of standard literacy. in this way, the contemporary artistsbook may be the hardcopy home of a modern, mythic form.


Doug Spowart performs his lecture 'I'm about to 'read' a book'

Doug Spowart performs his lecture ‘I’m about to ‘read’ a book’

Photo from ABBE Artists Book Conference July 16, 17 & 18 2015 at the Queensland College of Art

Victoria Cooper presents her lecture ‘The Grafted Image: The Montage’

Tim Mosely presents in the lecture room

Tim Mosely presents in the lecture room

Presenting/Participating at the conference


  • Lyn Ashby
  • Sarah Bodman
  • Sara Bowen
  • Deidre Brollo
  • Helen Cole
  • Victoria Cooper
  • Marian Crawford
  • Daniel Della-Bosca
  • Fiona Dempster
  • Caren Florance
  • Jenny Fraser
  • Brad Freeman
  • Angela Gardner
  • Noreen Grahame
  • Bridget Hillebrand
  • Joel Lardner
  • Marian Macken
  • Tim Mosely
  • Adele Outteridge
  • Mikhail Pogarsky
  • Doug Spowart
  • Kym Tabulo
  • Wim de Vos
  • Gabriella Wilson
Invite – 'Books by Artists'

Invite – ‘books by artists’

books by artists’ in the Webb Gallery, QCA

The ‘books by artists’ exhibitors

  • Isaac Brown
  • Blogger_dad
  • Penny Carey-Wells
  • Victoria Cooper
  • Caroline Craig
  • Fiona Dempster
  • Hesam Fetrati Angela Gardner
  • Annique Goldenberg
  • Alannah Gunter
  • Institute of Modern Art Cassandra Lehman-Schultz
  • Alison Mackay
  • Judy Macklin
  • Heather Matthew
  • Tess Mehonoshen
  • Christine Mellor
  • Tim Mosely
  • night ladder collective
  • Naomi O’Reilly
  • Adele Outteridge
  • Mona Ryder
  • Rose Rigley
  • Glen Skien
  • Doug Spowart
  • Wim de Vos





Artists Book Fair


Artists Book Fair stallholders

Sue Anderson + Gwen Harrison

Sue Anderson + Gwen Harrison

Lyn Ashby

Lyn Ashby

Sara Bowen (no image taken)

Photo from ABBE Artists Book Conference July 16, 17 & 18 2015 at the Queensland College of Art

Deidre Brollo with Christene Drewe and Helen Cole


Penny Carey-Wells

Centre for Regional Arts Practice (Cooper+Spowart) (no image taken)

Marian Crawford with Sarah Bodman

Marian Crawford with Sarah Bodman

Daniel Dell-Bosca with Victoria Cooper

Daniel Dell-Bosca with Victoria Cooper

Robyn Dempster + Fiona

Robyn Foster + Fiona Dempster

Caren Florance

Caren Florance

Robyn Foster (no image taken)

Brad Freeman  JAB

Brad Freeman JAB

Angela Gardner

Angela Gardner

Griffith Centre for Creative Arts Research (no image taken)

Impress Printmakers: Sue Poggioli + Jennifer Stuerzl

Impress Printmakers: Sue Poggioli + Jennifer Stuerzl

Institute of Modern Art

Institute of Modern Art

Sheree Kinlyside

Sheree Kinlyside

Clyde McGill

Clyde McGill

Heather Matthew

Heather Matthew

Anita Milroy book – 'Biography of a Physicist'

Anita Milroy book – ‘Biography of a Physicist’ (Image supplied by the artist)

Adele Outteridge + Wim de Vos

Adele Outteridge + Wim de Vos

QCA Gold Coast (no image taken)

silverwattle bookfoundry

silverwattle bookfoundry (Tim Mosely)

Peta Smith

Peta Smith


ABBE participants also visited Grahame Galleries, The Studio West End and the State Library of Queensland


The SLQ White Gloves team Christene, Helen and Jeanette

The SLQ White Gloves team Christene, Helen and Jeanette





ABBE was an initiative of the Griffith Centre for Creative Arts Research and was coordinated by Dr Tim Mosely and Dr Lynden Stone.

All photographs  © 2015 Doug Spowart


Creative Commons-by-nc-nd.eu

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


with one comment

Doug Spowart at the SLQ with his Security pass

Doug Spowart at the SLQ with his Security pass


A PHOTO OPPORTUNITY: Looking for photos in the Australian Library of Art

As the inaugural Siganto Artists’ Book Research Fellow I have had an opportunity to access the State Library of Queensland’s resources including the significant artists’ book collection held in the Australian Library of Art. During the Fellowship I have engaged in specific research related to my proposal and in doing so it has enabled the creation of a much-needed critique on photography and the artists’ book. It has enhanced my understanding of the photography and artists’ book creative products and has placed me in a position of knowledge of these disciplines, the nature of these creative works, their collection and description.


In this research my particular interest is in the intersection of photography and the artists’ book. Over a four-month period from October to January in 2014-5 I worked in the Fellows Room and in the Repository at the SLQ. During this time I engaged in a variety of activities that related to my proposed research activities. These included:

  • A review of artists’ books in the Australian Library of Art collection looking for the presence of photography
  • Creating and using a spreadsheet in which the review was logged
  • Documentation of books containing photography
  • Selected books were considered for critical evaluation

Robert Capa’s ‘Slightly out of focus’

I was also interested in books that have emerged as being significant in the newly documented history of the photobook and also the ALA’s acquisition of contemporary photobooks. I found in the library’s general collection many key seminal photobooks like Robert Capa’s 1947 Slightly out of focus: [the story of a war photographer], Henri Cartier-Bresson’s 1952 The decisive moment, and Richard Avedon’s 1976 Portraits. While some of these books are difficult to find, expensive to buy, and have been re-released in modern printings the original book is an important touchstone for those interested in photographic history. The ALA collection also revealed surprises with my discovery of a Japanese ‘Provoke era’ book from the 1960s and Broomberg and Chanarin’s ‘The Holy Bible’ from 2013 – both books representative of key approaches to the photobook and the use of photographs in creative book publishing.


Doug Spowart in the SLQ Repository

Doug Spowart in the SLQ Repository

I attended the library usually 4-5 days per week. After an initial settling-in and establishment of my methodology for work I began near-daily research in the Repository. I usually worked on a 3-hour time limit per session during which I viewed and reviewed as many books as possible. My methodology involved direct contact with the book and an engagement with the physical and the metaphysical. I held each book, I turned each page, I read each word (where text existed), I made my assessment and logged the results of the appraisal on my spreadsheet and photographically documented the book. It was a slow and intense process that has resulted in a significant resource which has the possibility to reveal interesting facts about the photo in the artists’ book.

An integral aspect of the review process was the haptic experience of encountering the book, opening its enclosure, clamshell or paper wrap, and sensing the book’s activation by this act. I found that these books were entities to themselves, a containers for sharing the artists’ vision, idea or narrative. Some perhaps were being read for the first time in a while. And in the quietness of the Repository the books revealed themselves to me… At the end of each 3-hour session I was quite exhausted. Although the ALA staff were always interested to hear my report of the favourite ‘book of the day’.

What intrigued me was the diversity of the media and the message that artists place in the creative vessel of the artists’ book. I found myself seduced as much by books of abstract, textural or other non-photo print forms as I was with books with photographs in them.

Working through the library’s catalogue I often found myself looking up obscure books, different editions of books, photographers, topics and references allied to my research interests. I would request these items and they would be delivered to me. I would stack and categorise these books relating to different research interests. Subsequently, as my desk grew with more and more books, I requested a printout of my personal loans. The librarian assisting me looked surprised as the printer spat out around 50 items. One of my life follys is collecting books and there came a time when this personal library-in-the-library would need to be returned, as I was to exceed my loan limit.

Doug Spowart reading a book at the SLQ

Doug Spowart reading a book at the SLQ

During my Fellowship I was able to develop and complete a significant paper outlining a way of categorising the presence of the photograph in the creative book production genres of artists’ books and photobooks. Entitled, A Photo Spectrum: Book genres and photography, it encompasses the limited edition livre d’artiste through artists’ books, zines, self-published photobooks, designer photobooks and limited edition deluxe photobooks. This paper is presently being held by an American publisher to be included in a book on the contemporary photobook. I intend to discuss this outcome in the seminar. Another paper about contemporary photobooks written during the Fellowship entitled, Everyone a publisher, was published in the recent special issue on artists’ books in the State Library of Victoria’s La Trobe journal. I also coordinated and chaired a forum on The OTHER Photobook – Artists’ books and Zines at the Photobook Melbourne event in February, and in May I spoke on Encountering a photobook at the Talking Culture Symposium of the Auckland Photo Festival. The Siganto Fellowship assisted in providing me with time and a place where my activities could be dedicated in the pursuance of my research.

Doug speaking at the Auckland Festival of Photography

Doug speaking at the Auckland Festival of Photography

As a result of the Fellowship I am working on projects that include the presentation to the SLQ of a strategy for the continuing purchase and collection of contemporary photobooks in the ALA. Still in development is the preparation and design of a book of selected works from the ALA collection that were fundamental to my research thesis on the photo in the book.

At the Siganto Artists’ Book Seminar (Click here for the Blog post) I will present a paper outlining the curious and interesting aspects of my ALA review including amazing books that need to be seen, held, and pages turned so that they can share the maker’s communiqué, and stimulate the reader to encounter … the photo in the book.


Dr Doug Spowart

2014 Siganto Artists’ Book Research Fellow


LIGHT READINGS: the photograph and the book – An SLQ White Gloves event

leave a comment »

Flyer for the event

Flyer for the event


Light Readings: The photograph in books from the SLQ Artists’ Book Collection and the Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection


On Sunday April 6 a group of around 25 artists book and photobook dillettantes attended a special ‘White Gloves’ event at the State Library of Queesnland. Assembled in the viewing room on level 4 was a selection of artists books and photobooks that addressed the topic of the photograph and the book. The 43 books were drawn from the SLQ’s Australian Library of Art Artists’ Book collection, the SLQ General Library, supplemented by books from the Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection. The book’s selection was curated by SLQ Senior Librarian Helen Cole and Doug Spowart. Those attending the event were given a presentation by Doug Spowart to introduce the rationale for the selection. A discussion paper by Spowart is included in this blog post along with a bibliography of the selected books.


Doug Spowart presents an introduction   PHOTO: Victoria Cooper

Doug Spowart presents an introduction …….PHOTO: Victoria Cooper

SLQ White Gloves event - Attendees viewing books

SLQ White Gloves event – Attendees viewing books



Doug Spowart’s discussion inspired by the ‘Light Readings’ event: A nomenclature for photos in books 


For one hundred and fifty years the making of ‘quality’ photographs had been almost exclusively the domain of the professional practitioner. Outside of the professional photography scene vernacular photography, made popular due to the enabling technologies of ‘you press the button – we do the rest’ companies like Kodak, usually produced results that were of an inferior standard. There were of course exceptions – ‘prosumers’, as we would call them today, image-makers from the camera club movement, dilettantes and artists whose visual acutance and mastery of process suited photography.

Today digital technology has interceded and now anyone can make photographs. From a range of informed sources it is easy to predict that nearly a trillion photographs will be made in 2014. These images from phone camera snaps to video grabs, from high-end pro digital cameras to surveillance satellites, as well as a plethora of straight and enhanced images will be made and used for a range of outcomes. It seems that now anyone can make a photograph and almost anything can be done with it.

Like photography the publishing of books was once a closed world, as it required specialist processes, skilled artisans and financial entrepreneurship. But this powerful structure of gatekeepers too has also been dissolved by the empowering digital technologies of computers, software, computer-to-press and print on demand workflows. Making books has never been easier. Photographers particularly have embraced the opportunity and launched a revolution creating all kinds of photobooks to extend the bland form of the traditional photobook. Bruno Ceshel, founder of the photobook publishing and promotion enterprise Self-Publish Be Happy, comments that:

From the stapled fanzine assembled in a student bedroom to the traditionally printed photobook, these publications not only reshape our understanding of the medium but offer exciting and sometimes radical ideas. (Ceschel 2011)

Whilst photographers have embraced this new found direct publishing paradigm artists have made books with photos in them for decades. For them the processes of printmaking and multiples that they employ, along with access to printing press technology, is accessible and ‘doable’. Additionally artists have experimented with communication concepts that included the democratic multiple publications. Artists employ a range of media and the photograph was just another tool that they could access to create their art.

A significant connection between photography and the artists book is discussed by Anne Thurmann-Jajes and Martin Hellmold in their 2002 exhibition and catalogue ars photographica. They state that: ‘In very general terms, it is possible to say that half of all artists’ books produced to date have been based on photographs.’(Thurmann-Jajes and Hellmold 2002:19). It is interesting to note that the first book of the modern American artists book genre is Ed Ruscha’s book of photographs entitled Twenty-six Gasoline Stations.

The artist’s use of photography has created a degree of frisson. A point of contention for photographers was their ownership over the term ‘photographer’. Essentially photographers claimed that while artists may have made photographs, only photographers made ‘real’ photographs – artists just took photographs. Ruscha provocatively denounced the preciousness of the fine art photography movement that came out of the 1960s and announced that all he wanted out of photography was ‘facts, facts, facts.’ (Rowell 2006:24)

Thurmann-Jajes and Hellmold go further in that they propose differences between the artist and the photographer in the conceptual aspects of making a book based on photographs:

The authors of photo books followed photographic tradition, according to which the photograph as such was decisive, becoming the bearer of meaning. … By contrast to the photo book, the artists’ book is not the bearer, but the medium of the artistic message. (Thurmann-Jajes and Hellmold 2002:20)

Interestingly, the photobook and the artists book share a lost history that Johanna Drucker discusses in her 1995 book, The Century of Artists’ Books. She states that:

The photographic book became a standard of artists’ book activity, and its history belongs to the early 20th century in which the concept of the book as an artistic form was taking on a new, vital identity. (Drucker 2004:63)

Drucker adds:

These were works which were considered avant-garde, experimental, and innovative when they were made; they broke with the formal conventions of earlier book production, establishing new parameters for visual, verbal, graphic, photographic, and synthetic conceptualization of the book as a work of art … they were part of a history which was temporarily forgotten at the time artists’ book emerged in the 1960s. (Drucker 2004:63-4)

Despite these shared histories and theories of ‘differences’ the nature of the creative process, the disciplines of artist and photographer may present an interesting conundrum. Nancy Foote, for example, may question the ‘us and them’ argument by her observation in a 1976 article in Artforum, The Anti-Photographers that: ‘For every photographer who clamors to make it as an artist, there is an artist running a grave risk of turning into a photographer.’ (Foote 1976:46)

Today the photograph continues to pervade all kinds of books by artists, artists–photographers, photographers and photographer-artists in collections like the Australian Library of Art at the State Library of Queensland. At this time it is important to review the field of creative book production that utilises the photograph and consider what has been created to date and in the SLQ collection, as well as look for emergent trends.

In this research project Senior Librarian Helen Cole and I have collaborated to bring together a selection of books to survey the nature of the photo and the book. Whilst most books have been sourced from the SLQ Artists’ Book collection some books have come from the SLQ general area and some, mainly emergent photobooks have been drawn from my personal collection. In bringing these 43 books together in the one ‘white gloves’ space there has been an ability to create come kind of order from the divergent practice.

It would take a courageous and brave commentator to propose a definition or a canon for the photo and the book. Instead I will suggest a spectrum of activity and assign some characteristics that may aid those interested in the topic to compare, sample and discuss. I will use the term nomenclature as it best describes the devising or choosing of names for things in this type of discussion.

As the visible light spectrum has a rainbow of seven main colours this discussion has seven as well. Each has a specific characteristics and terms associated with it – although, at times certain books may challenge attempts to place them within this spectrum. The 7 colours are:

1. Red – The ‘Classic’ trade photobook

2. Orange – Print on demand trade-like photobook

3. Yellow – Emergent – PhotoStream* [of Consciousness] or Insta-photobook*

4. Green – Photozine*/ broadsheet / newspaper

5. Blue – Experimental’ or ‘Freestyle’ artists book

6. Indigo – Artists book

7. Violet – ‘Classic’, ‘Book Arts’, Livre d’artiste book

                  *Names I have considered to best describe these emergent forms

This spectral approach accepts the notion that the use of the photograph may be by either photographer or artist, and the nature of their creative products may enable their books to reside in generic areas. In many ways the transition of the rainbow metaphor from red to violet could represent the pure book forms of the photographer at one end and the purest artist form at the other at the other. This suggests that 1-4 would be photobooks conceived and produced by photographers. And those books in 4-7 would be principally books made by artists using photography. And at times the nature and form of the book may defy this nomenclature and be in a grey area, or a tint or shade, or even a blend of colour opposites!

Just as Johanna Drucker found when she attempted to define the artists book my categorising the practitioner’s discipline and the type or style of a book that they make also may be challenging. Drucker came under fire even though she predicted that her proposition would ‘… cause strife, competition, [and] set up a hierarchy, make people feel they are either included or excluded’ (Drucker 2005:3). More recently, in 2010, Sarah Bodman and Tom Sowden from the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England sought to define the canon for the artists book in the 21st century. They did this by creating a survey of world practitioners of book making by artists in every conceivable outcome, including the emergent eBook. They found that the heirarical form of a tree diagram was ‘too rigid and too concerned with process’ (Bodman and Sowdon 2010:5). They discovered that their respondents wanted to alter the diagram to satisfy the, ‘cross-pollination that is often required by artists’ and added in, ‘connectors across, up and down to bring seemingly disparate disciplines together.’ (Bodman and Sowdon 2010:5)

Rather than a rigid definitive structure, I present this spectral organization a guide where we can bring some concepts into a critical debate that will extend the ideas, and the motivations, behind those who create these communicative devices. Ultimately researchers, and those interested in engaging with and exploring the nature of the photo in the book, will add their voices to the conversation. Then new dialogue, scholarship and opportunities for thought on the topic will advance understanding of the book that carries its message with the photograph.

At the end of this blog post I have included the bibliography of selected books for the ‘Light Readings’ event.


Dr Doug Spowart     April 14, 2014


Bodman, S. and T. Sowdon (2010). A Manifesto for the Book: What will be the canon for the artist’s book in the 21st Century? A Manifesto for the Book: What will be the canon for the artist’s book in the 21st Century? T. S. Sarah Bodman. Bristol, England, Impact Press, The Centre for Fine Print Research, University of the West of England, Bristol.
Ceschel, B. (2011). “The Best Books of 2010.”   Retrieved June 6, 2011, from http://www.photoeye.com/magazine_admin/index.cfm/bestbooks.2010.list/author_id/68/.
Drucker, J. (2004). The Century of Artists’ Books. New York, Granary Books.
Drucker, J. (2005). “Critical Issues / Exemplary Works.” The Bonefolder: An e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist 1(2): 3-15.
Foote, N. (1976). “The Anti-Photographers.” Artforum September: 46-54.
Rowell, M. (2006). Ed Ruscha Photographer. Gottingen, Steidl Publishers.
Thurmann-Jajes, A. and M. Hellmold, Eds. (2002). ars photographica: Fotografie und Künstlerbücher. Weserburg, Bremen, Neues Museum






A Bibliography of the selected books

From the Artists’ Book Collection of the Australian Library of Art, State Library of Queensland and the Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection



Red – The ‘Classic’ trade photobook


American Cockroach

Photographs by Catherine Chalmers

Essays by Steve Baker, Garry Marvin, and Lyall Watson

Aperture, 2004

(Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection)


Afghanistan, or, The perils of freedom

Stephen Dupont 1967- ; Jacques Menasche 1964-; Stephen C Pinson; New York Public Library : 2008


Steam : India’s last steam trains

Stephen Dupont 1967- ; Mark Tully

Stockport : Dewi Lewis :1999


Foundphotos / DickJewell

Dick Jewell

London : s. n. :1977


FromMontelucotoSpoleto : December1976

Sol LeWitt 1928-2007.

Eindhoven Netherlands : Van Abbemuseum ; Weesp Netherlands : Openbaar Kunstbezit :1984


Journey of a wise electron

Peter Lyssiotis 1949- ; PeterLyssiotis 1949-.; PeterLyssiotis 1949-.

Prahan, Vic. : Champion Books :1981


Eat : Jan-Mar 2001

Jo Pursey

Sydney, N.S.W. : J. Pursey :2001


Tour of duty : winning hearts and minds in East Timor

Matthew Sleeth 1972- ; Paul James (Paul Warren), 1958-

South Yarra, Vic. : Hardie Grant Books in association with M.33 :2002


Signs of Australia

Richard Tipping 1949-

Ringwood, Vic. : Penguin Books :1982


Intimations : with selected poetic responses by Michele Morgan

Gordon Undy

Surry Hills, NSW. : Point Light :2004




Orange – Print on demand trade-like photobook


Various fires and MLK

Scott L. McCarney 1954-

Rochester, N. Y. : VisualBooks :2010


Reportage : a retrospective 1999-2009.

Robert McFarlane 1942-; Jacqui Vicario; StephenDupont 1967-; National Art School (Australia); Momento Pro.

Bondi Junction, N.S.W. : Reportage :2010



Flashback : SE Queensland flood event January 2011

Julie White

Strawberry Hills, N.S.W. : Momento :2011



Yellow – Emergent PhotoStream* [of Consciousness] or InstaPhotoBook*


Iris Garden
Wiliam Gedney

Designed by Hans Seeger

Little Brown Mushroom, 2013

(Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection)


Moved Objects
Georgia Hutchison and Arini Byng
Perimeter Editions
Melbourne, Australia, 2013

(Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection)


Lost horizons

Scott L. McCarney 1954-,

Rochester, NY : ScottMcCarney/Visual Books :2008


Call of the wild

Matthew Sleeth 1972- ; Josef Lebovic Gallery.

Sydney N.S.W. : Published by Josef Lebovic Gallery :2004


Signed up : 22 postcards

Richard Tipping 1949-

Newcastle, N.S.W. : Artpoem :c2010



Green – Photozine*/ broadsheet / newspaper


Radiata, 2013

Jacob Raupach

(Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection)


LBM Dispatch #6: Texas Triangle

Alec Soth and Brad Zellar
Little Brown Mushroom, 2013
Edition of 2000

(Spowart+Cooper Photobook Collection)



Blue – Experimental’ or ‘Freestyle’ artists book


Ten menhirs at Plouharnel, Carnac, Morbihan, Bretagne, France

Jihad Muhammad aka John Armstrong 1948-

Hobart Tas. : J. Armstrong :1982


Detour ; Kõrvaltee

Christiane Baumgartner 1967- ; Lucy Harrison 1974-; Grahame Galleries + Editions.

Leipzig, Germany : C. Baumgartner & L. Harrison :2004


No diving II : evidence

Peter E. Charuk

Hazelbrook, N.S.W. : P.E. Charuk :2005


The story of the gorge

Victoria Cooper 1957-

Toowoomba, Qld. : V. Cooper :2001



Victoria Cooper 1957- ; Photographers of the Great Divide.

Toowoomba, Qld. : Photographers of the Great Divide :2005?


Space + Time

Ken Leslie ; Grahame Galleries + Editions.

Atlanta, Ga. : Nexus Press :2002


The river city : eyewitness document

Helen Malone 1948-

Yeronga, Qld : H. Malone :2011



Ron McBurnie 1957-

Townsville, Qld. : R. McBurnie :1996?


Portrait of an Australian

Jonathan Tse 1967-

Robertson, Qld. : J. Tse :1998



Marshall Weber 1960- ; Christopher Wilde; Sara Parkel; Alison E Williams; Isabelle Weber; Booklyn Artists Alliance.

New York : Booklyn :c2002



Normana Wight 1936- ; Numero Uno Publications.

Milton, Qld. : Numero Uno Publications :2009


High tension

Philip Zimmermann ; Montage 93 : International Festival of the Image (Rochester, N.Y.)

Rochester, NY : the author :1993



Indigo – Artists book (Inkjet – gravure – photopolymer – screenprint)


Lost and found : a bookwork

Lyn Ashby 1953-

Vic. : ThisTooPress :2007?


The ten thousand things

LynAshby 1953-

Victoria : Lyn Ashby, Thistoopress :2010



JanDavis 1952-

Lismore : J. Davis :c1995



Tommaso Durante 1956- ; Chris Wallace-Crabbe 1934-; Elke Ahokas

North Warrandyte, Vic. : Tommaso Durante :2011


Terra Australis

Tommaso Durante 1956- ; Kay Aldenhoven

Warrandyte, Vic. : TommasoDurante :2003



Noga Freiberg 1962- ; Peter Lyssiotis 1949-.; Masterthief Enterprises

Burwood, Vic. : Masterthief :2003


Deeply honoured

Fred Hagstrom ; Densho Digital Archive.; Carleton College (Northfield, Minn.). Archives.

Saint Paul, Minn. : Strong Silent Type Press :2010


Cars of the fifties : book number 247

Keith A. Smith 1938-

Rochester, N.Y. : KeithSmith :2006




Violet – ‘Classic’ ‘Book Arts’ Livre d’artiste book


Through closed doors : 7 paraclausithyra

Susan J. Allix 1943-

London : S. Allix :2005


A gardener at midnight : travels in the Holy Land ; from drawings made on the spot by Yabez Al-Kitab

Peter Lyssiotis 1949- ; Brian Castro 1950-; David Roberts 1796-1864.; Nick Doslov; David Pidgeon; State Library of Victoria.; Masterthief Enterprises.; Renaissance Bookbinding.

Melbourne : Masterthief :2004


New branches on an old tree

Susan Purdy ; Blue Moon Press.

Melbourne : Blue Moon Press :2006


List concludes.



SLQ White Gloves event - Attendees viewing books

SLQ White Gloves event – Attendees viewing books




Creative Commons-by-nc-nd.eu

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.




Text: © 2014 Dr Doug Spowart         Photos: ©2014 Victoria Cooper and Doug Spowart







leave a comment »


The wide view


The trouble with artists’ books  

State Library of Queensland – May 4, 2013


The quote “artists’ books … as popular as tatoos” was an opening remark by gallerist Noreen Grahame


All great seminars, forums, conferences and meetings stir discussion and commentary; The trouble with artists’ books seminar was no exception. We approached a number of artists book people to contribute to this blog post responding to the stimulus created by the event – I have included their responses after my introductory comments.


In Volume 7 of the Bonefolder e-journal  I reported on the dual artists book events of the 2010 Artspace Mackay Focus on Artists Book V, event and the 3rd Libris Awards. In this report I commented on the speaker’s presentations and reviewed the artists book award. I then concluded that these events were integral to the development and maintenance of a community of practice for those who make artists books in this country.  Three years on the energy and enthusiasm for artists’ books remains however the Mackay Focus event has been abandoned and some awards events have slipped from their usual place in the yearly/bi-yearly calendar.

We are indeed indebted to the Siganto Foundation and the SLQ who in 2012 made possible the Keith Smith and Scott McCarney workshop and seminar, and this year the The trouble with artists’ books seminar. It seems to me that artists book community in this country has a great appetite for information, connecting with the heroes and heroines of the discipline, learning about methods and techniques as well as participating in camaraderie with their peers.  My concluding words in the Bonefolder report recognised the importance of events such as Artspace’s Focus on Artists Books and the Libris Awards as they invigorate the discipline and the art of artists books … The significant response to this seminar indicates that the pace and frequency of artists book events should not slacken – we want more!

The Bonefolder report concluding comments were:

Awareness of the origins of the discipline of artists’ books and the Australian context as well as issues of contemporary and emergent practice is a unique outcome for FOAB. Where else in Australia this year would one be able to experience, or participate in a program where issues as diverse as Avatars making books in their second life, the death of the book/author, wild books and zoo viewing of books, propositions for new perceptive literature, mail art and the products of psychometry being resolved as artists’ books? Perhaps attendees should be warned of the ride that they would encounter.

Central to need for the FOAB, as an event, is its ability to pull together artists’ book interested people and provide a forum for them to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Artists’ bookmakers are individual artists, sometimes collaborators, librarians, academics, gallerists and collectors are isolated as islands of interest in their usual place of activity. But at FOAB they meet, greet, mingle, chat, discuss, argue and get down to the flensing-out of ideas, polemics and concerns about practice and the book as a work of art. This blend of interested parties forms the nucleus, the hub, of the discipline within this country – without it, there would only be individual soliloquies in the wilderness



Julie Barratt

Julie Barratt   –  Artist

I guess really briefly what I got from ‘the trouble with artist book ‘ talk if I was going to quote is ” it seems the trouble with artist books is that there are too many to love!!!” On a more serious note I guess for me it always comes down to how we talk about/define an artist book, as an ongoing discussion.

Almost on a daily basis when I had the gallery (I always had at lead a few artist books on display) people would ask what these books are! How to define them without quoting Johanna Drucker?  Should there be categories i.e. Sculptural, digital etc etc. How do we expect the audience to understand them if we as practitioners have difficulty talking about them? But how do we agree on a definition?

That’s what I imagined the forum to be about because ‘isn’t that the trouble with artist books’? Having said that I thoroughly enjoyed the forum and think there need to be many many more of them when in fact there seem to be less (Mackay forum? ) so that the discussion can continue….

Its always a pleasure to catch up with the artist book community, feels like a reunion every time!



Maureen Trainor portrait

Maureen Trainor

Maureen Trainor  –  Photographer and QCA Masters student

I found these presentations to be very informative and inspiring.

The content and sequence of the presentations were dynamic.

By breaking down the delivery into the three different viewpoints the three Keynote speakers were engaging and thought provoking.

Starting with Helen Cole presenting ‘the Librarian’s view’, Noreen Grahame presenting ‘the Gallerist’s view’, Jan Davis presenting ‘the Artist’s view’ and ending with an interactive audience time for ‘questions and answers’ was right on target with information.

The Hearsay team discussing their project was fantastic. Combined with humour and wit they certainly kept the attention of a diverse audience.

I truly enjoyed the afternoon and felt I could of stayed into the night with more speakers and presentations.




Monica Oppen

Monica Oppen  –  Artist and collector

The Trouble with Artists’ Books (and the Libris Awards)

Coming away from the SLQ seminar where the attendance was so strong and having attended the opening and announcement of the Libris Award at Artspace Mackay the conviction that has risen strongly in my mind is that there is a real need for events such as the SLQ Siganto Seminar. The strong attendance not only indicates a real interest in the topic but a desire of artists to reconnect with others working in the field. As Helen writes in her post about the Libris Awards, and I can vouch for it, there were very, very few artists there but also no other significant persons from the institutions who have an ongoing interest and involvement in artists’ books were there. The tyranny of distance and the associated costs of travel and accommodation will only be overcome by creating an event that is worth travelling for.

The topic The Trouble with Artists Books is pertinent and complex and was way too big to handle in one afternoon; a multi-day conference could have been structure around this topic. Time restrictions meant that Jan Davis and Noreen Grahame could only touch on, hint at and introduce the work/books from which a broader discussion could have expanded. The sense that there is a need for these seminars (judging from the attendance numbers) also hopefully indicates a need for more rigorous, mature critical discourse around the genre, a breadth of conversation and argument. Does the constant discussion of definition and the non-committal responses from ‘those who should know’ arise from this lack of discourse? I don’t consider the definition ‘if the artist calls it a book, it is a book’ to be an adequate, exciting nor empowering definition unless some force is allowed to work in opposition to it, that demands a justification, demands some critical analysis. The lines will always be blurry but this could be an energizing force and contribute a dynamism to the genre. By not taking a stand are we in fact leaving definitions to the gallery? Surely the gallery as a medium is the antithesis of the (artists’) book. The gallery is exposed and extraverted; the book is enclosed and introverted. Always it comes up, the problem with exhibiting artists books— this is because books are not meant to be exhibited, they are meant to be read. What are the implications for the genre if books are only viewed in the gallery, and more seriously if the gallery maintains a ‘no touch’ policy? Ironically, making a (artist’s) book was originally about abandoning the gallery; about the subversion of the commercialism of the art object. The book was meant to be a free-floating object in wider society. Where is that rebel spirit?

A hundred more questions could be asked. I hope the SLQ seminar is not a one-off but gives an impetus to more symposiums throughout the country.

Monica Oppen 14/5/13


Judy Barrass

Judy Barrass

Judy Barrass  –  Artist

THIS COMMENTARY COMES FROM JUDY’s BLOG – ‘Critical Mass’ http://www.criticalmassblog.net/2012/?p=2568

No one can agree on what they are, or even where the apostrophe should be placed, but a seminar on artists’ books at the State Library on Saturday drew a crowd.

It was a  rare get-together of artist book makers and officianados, with attendees travelling from other states and regional Queensland just to attend the two-and-a-half-hour seminar and catch up with old friends.

According to the speakers, librarian Helen Cole, gallerist Noreen Grahame, and artist book maker and academic Jan Davis, artist books are problematic. That’s not just because no one seems to be able to agree on a definition, but also because they are hard to store, hard to display, and are not usually included in mainstream collections or exhibitions. They attract mostly a smallish group of makers and collectors and don’t sell in large numbers. Despite this, artists’ books draw a passionate audience of makers and supporters whenever they are on show (or whenever there’s a seminar).

Queensland has been a leader in the artist book phenomenon. The Queensland State Library is a significant collector, and Grahame Galleries took an early leading role. Artspace Mackay and Noosa Regional Gallery added public gallery support to exhibitions and collecting.

Someone suggested that it’s an inbred audience made up almost entirely of artist book makers, but a show of hands in the crowd on Saturday debunked this myth since at least half the attendees were not makers. Still, as Noreen Grahame remarked, artist books are a sort of ‘underground’ movement outside the mainstream.

I can’t help wondering if this is merely a question of naming. By calling these artworks ‘books’ they are relegated to the collections of libraries rather than art galleries, or they exist in a no man’s land between library and gallery. Nonetheless I have seen many works in public art gallery collections that could (or perhaps should) be called artist books. The boundaries are thin and flexible, and this was evident at the seminar. The mantra seems to be that if the artist calls it a book then it is a book.

One of the more interesting questions on the day was about the growing number of artist books that exist only in digital format. Helen Cole said the library was considering how these books might be collected and preserved, but indicated it was extremely difficult, particularly as technology changes so rapidly and formats and software become obsolete. Noreen Grahame solved the problem by referring to digital books as ‘ephemera’, and Jan Davis thought the number of artists working in the digital realm was small.

Following the discussion, a very chatty audience enjoyed a scrumptious afternoon tea and the  launch of Hearsay, a large format collaborative artists’ book by artist Euan Macleod, printmaker Ron McBurnie, and writer Lloyd Jones. They apparently didn’t worry too much whether or not their work was or was not an artist book, but have sensibly hedged their bets by also producing the pages as a portfolio of unbound prints (in case anyone thought it wasn’t art, or more probably because the portfolio might be more saleable than an artist book ).

The seminar ‘The Trouble with Artist Books’ was sponsored by the Siganto Foundation through the Queensland Library Foundation.

The State Library artist book collection is part of the Australian Library of Art.

(Thank you Judy for allowing this re-posting in this blog)




Wim de Vos

Wim de Vos  –  Artist

‘The Trouble with Artists Books’

The lecture sponsored by the Siganto Foundation was very well attended by a large audience of art practitioners, administrators, and lovers of Artists Books, and was introduced by the new head of the State Library, Janette Wright. The speakers were Helen Cole, Senior Librarian of Special Collections at the Library; Noreen Grahame, Gallerist and long time respected promoter of the Artist Books within Australia and Internationally; and Jan Davis, Academic, and practitioner of Artists Books at Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Technically the lecture was informative, ran smoothly and was very well presented.

It was great to see so many practitioners (well over half the audience) and the general public, as this event facilitated a forum – to share, and some time to catch up with friends and colleagues. This has over the last few years become non-existent with the loss of the Art Space Mackay Artist Book Forum. Also the Noosa Regional Gallery’s ‘demise’ of the Artists Book annual exhibition was a sad occurrence. In addition, both venues offered successful workshops with renowned National and International Practitioners in the Visual Arts to nurture the visual arts and the book.

Many aspects of the development of Artists Books were addressed. Helen Cole addressed the ‘Trouble with Artists Books’ from a Librarian’s point of view, in that, because they were ‘Artists Books’ and diverse in so many ways, the logistics of preservation, cataloguing and storage were ‘Troublesome’. Furthermore, it was stated that the ‘Galleries’ had passed the Artists Books onto Libraries to display and make use of them, and by making Libraries the custodians of the ever-growing phenomenon of the Artists Book.

The concept of Artists Books is generally not an easy topic to present. It is in fact generally not understood at all. A friend recently pointed out, ‘I didn’t even know that an artist book existed, but as I have learnt through the language of art over time, I can say, I view this process as Book Works by Artists.’ A major exhibition of books of this nature: DAS BUCH was presented at the Queensland Art Gallery in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and the Goethe Institut in Germany during 1992. This was, I’m sure, a huge influence on art practitioners and the public. At the time, it placed an emphasis on the ‘Book as Object’ in a context never before experienced in the Antipodes. There has been no major exhibition of this type in a public gallery in this State, since.

As I am a practising artist and maker of prints, paintings, and sculpture, and work with a wide variety of materials, the book as object comes naturally as a medium to extend my practice. It has in fact tied together all my processes of making art, including text, giving me the freedom of story telling on many levels.

I observed, as the afternoon progressed, that in the presentation not all aspects of Artists Books practice was being fully covered and explored by the presenters. This became, indeed, troublesome. There is actually content within books, books with text, images and text, objects and materials, and so on. There was very little mentioned on the subject of the Sculptural Book or the Photo Book. A visual list WAS presented with images of the types of books that were in the collection of the Library. But no further elaboration was offered to those in the audience that were not already ‘in the know’. The State Library of Queensland has one of the largest collections of Creative & Historical books in the southern hemisphere.

Let it be said that we can be proud of a comprehensive, diverse, eclectic and public collection of books – particularly in the collection of Contemporary Art practice in Queensland and beyond. It is promoted that it ‘may be visited at any time, by appointment’.

I recognise that there is not time to cover everything fully. This made duplication and repetition even more irritating. Time may have been used more productively.

The lecture continued with the history of the Artists Book and it’s growth within Australia over the last 30 odd years. This painted an impressive picture of collections and practise over that time. Artists were mentioned who were instrumental in its development, but presenters did not go far enough on this issue, and failed to mention key motivators: artists both local and international. There was a ‘flow of words’ promoting a few artists over and over again. When the presentation of ‘Favourite Artists Books’ was introduced the theme of the lecture was totally abandoned. We were presented with a self-indulgent diversion as to what the book may mean only to the ‘literate Artists Book fans’ present.

It would have been more useful to give the audience an indication of how they may wish to learn more about Artist Books through the public and private system. There was enough talent and experience behind the microphone to impart this information. It seemed much of this lecture was preaching to the converted.

Afternoon tea on the terrace was followed by the launch of a collaboration of an Artist Book created by two well-known visual artists:  Ewan McCloud and Ron McBurnie, and the writer Lloyd Jones. This was a very good presentation chaired by Suzi Muddiman: Director of the Murwillumbah Regional Art Gallery in NSW. This gave the opportunity for the layperson to experience the processes of collaboration in art making.

As there are no indications of any follow-up lecture or activities relating to Artist Books, it would be worthwhile to plan something on the promotion and educational aspects of Artists Books. I am sure it would be a great success.

A ‘large bouquet’ to Helen Cole in particular, and the State Library, for organising this generally informative and pleasant afternoon. We look forward to a more expansive event in the future.

Wim de Vos




Peter Lyssiotis

Peter Lyssiotis  –  Artists book-maker and photomonteur


Peter’s letter


A vodcast for the event is available at  http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/audio-video/webcasts/recent-webcasts/siganto-seminar


Cheers  Doug+Victoria



© Of all texts resides with the authors

Photograph of the SLQ Theatre, Julie Barratt, Monica Oppen, Wim de Vos  © Doug Spowart 2013. Self-portrait of Maureen Trainor ©2013. Judy Barrass portrait supplied by Judy.

Creative Commons-by-nc-nd.eu

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.




%d bloggers like this: