Panel Discussion for Melbourne Art Book Fair

Cover of crux a small experiment in self publishing
Cover of crux a small experiment in self publishing

On Sunday the 28th of March I participated in a panel discussion at the CCP. The event was part of a larger festival that occurs each year in Melbourne called the Melbourne Art Book Fair. This year due to the pandemic it was dispersed across multiple venues for the weekend. These are my notes and only form a small part the actual conversation. Our responses were to a set of framed questions about the pandemic and its impact on out creative output. The other group members, Anne, Bill, & Mike;  responded with their own responses. I am not recording them here as we actually ran out of time and didn’t say everything we wanted to. Myself included. The questions are italicised.

Introduction

I teach photography but in my spare time you’ll find me exploring chance and time and the quotidian, as I wander around urban Melbourne looking to siphon off the unusual, the odd or the quirky. My photobooks reflect this practice. I have been interested in making pictures in the Urban Landscape since 1988. I began my photography studies in 1987. After 2 years I realised I was mostly interested in photographing the landscape and in the context of art. I spent the next 3 years undertaking a fine art degree. This allowed me to think about the what the why and how of art making. Could I try and make art this way?

The idea of making my own photobooks has long appealed to me. The idea of reaching a wide audience part of the appeal. The cost not so much. Of course here we are in the 21st century and the playing field of photobook publishing has altered radically.

Cover of What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?
Cover of What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?

How have restrictions influenced the focus of our art practice?

They mainly forced me to look backwards at my own work. While at University I was introduced to Joe Deal’s work. In particular the San Andreas Fault series. The idea that images of a constructed or altered landscape could be valuable and interesting helped me look in other directions. That process was halted during the lockdowns.
What have we worked on over the last year?
Not as much as I would have liked to.
What restrictions have I experienced?
An inability to wander and observe.
I dug into my archive, and pondered several germs of ideas that may have had some potential moving forward.

What aspects of my practice changed?

In the very beginning my work was inspired the idea of a sublime landscape. Images made in his style, and of similar subject matter were the kind I aspired to initially. As an urban dweller however most of my life, trips to the ‘wild/sublime’ were infrequent and determined by my free time.
What this meant was it was difficult to really capture imagery that was truly ‘sublime’. As the scope and approach of my image making grew and expanded so did the opportunity to share the work, sites like flickr and advances in computers and DTP meant I could now create and distribute in diverse and open ended ways.
However the pandemic changed this

How did my focus change?

I spent a lost of time watching the light, and looking inwards. Light in Australia is at its best in the shoulder periods leading up to autumn and spring. Winter light when it shines is also wonderful. Of course, light is often best in the magic hour any time of the year. Magic hour in the suburbs is easy to chase, in the outback, not so. Most ‘wild or sublime’ locations in Melbourne are at a minimum one hours drive away. So getting to this kind of location is time consuming and can be difficult, even with a car. The urban landscape is all around me. I can catch public transport there if I need and even on occasion walk. Something I do more often now using smaller and lighter digital cameras.

Was there a personal dimension?

Only in that I was looking inwards and backwards at my archive. To both future proof it and to try and draw strings with my work to make into books or to exhibit.

Was there a covid dimension?

Much of my work comes from places that few people use recreationally. So the reasons to be out at the beginning of the lockdown completely stymied my desire or ability to go anywhere vaguely interesting, thereby forcing me to look inwards and backwards.
Sitting in a room that faces north all day working was inspiration enough, I’ve always enjoyed watching the light as it traverses the landscape in front of me. In this case it was simply my backyard but nonetheless a sight I don’t normally see while at work.
My digital archives for a variety of reasons are in a state of flux. Changes in hardware and sometimes software facilitate my need to revisit them. Having extra time to do this helped as well. The only thing I really miss from lockdown is not enduring 40 plus minutes of traffic each way 4 days a week. Ideas for work sometimes come from this experience as well. Stumbling across images that made sense at the point of initial exposure but in hindsight didn’t seem quite right can take on a new life when seen weeks or years later. This is to my mind one of the advantages of analogue over digital as well as some others . That distance between tripping the shutter and seeing the result. The lockdown probably amplified that.

Was there a big picture dimension?

Only in the sense that I had time to consider my archive overall and how it could be handled in the future.
When I’m out to making pictures, mentally I occupy a ‘place’. A place that is hard to describe but very beneficial. It engages my brain in a way where I am in the moment like no other activity I engage in. Time disappears. Just a series of small decisions. Left? Right? Up? Down? Looking without thinking and at the same time only looking and thinking. This is my main motivation that almost Zen-like state I enter when alone in the urban landscape with my cameras. This approach was put on hold during the lockdowns. But by no means stopped by the pandemic, the process just extended and slowed it right down.

What new/unexpected ideas emerged?

Some germs of ideas emerged in my archive, at least one idea that did not get off the ground and needs further work.

Cover of Body Bags & Other Misdemeanours
Cover of Body Bags & Other Misdemeanours

How have connections changed?

Everyone has a project. Myself included. Some online some tangible objects. Some well-formed, some roughly mapped in my head, others complete.  Some projects may have had new connections drawn thanks to the pandemic.
However my connections expanded mainly online, Connecting with bloggers and content creators outside GAFA [Google Apple Facebook Amazon]
A list of these include but are not limited to, Craig Mod, Gary Sauer-Thompson, Suzanne Phoenix, Walking Artists Network, [UK based listserve] and many others.
Two online exhibitions meant possible new connections to another audience. These 2 exhibitions were responses to the pandemic and lockdown. So as a direct consequence they may not have existed. Although I did not make new work I just dipped into my archive for work to include.
How have existing connections changed?
Haven’t really changed maybe there has been some diversification? It’s been surprising at some levels how easy it has been to keep some semblance of creative activity going, albeit not at an intensity that I would have imagined with my time redistributed in some ways.
What new connections have emerged?
Connections that emerged were going to emerge anyway, I have been slowly edging away from mainstream web sources. Google, Amazon,Facebook, Apple [GAFA] all have become the new gatekeepers and are problematic so I’m now searching for alternative sources of information and connection. These include newsletters and old school web technologies like RSS and blogs.
How have restrictions forced new kinds of communication?
For me not new, but dipping back into old forms.

Photobook-making
How have these connections and restrictions impacted on my bookmaking practice?
When I’m out to making pictures, mentally I occupy a ‘place’. A place that is hard to describe but very beneficial. It engages my brain in a way where I am in the moment like no other activity I engage in. Time disappears. Just a series of small decisions. Left? Right? Up? Down? Looking without thinking and at the same time only looking and thinking? This is my main motivation that almost Zen-like state I enter when alone in the urban landscape with my cameras. This was made almost impossible during the lockdown periods.

Then there are projects. Everyone has a project. Myself included. Some online some tangible objects. Some well-formed, some roughly mapped in my head, others complete. Some connections enabled me to move some projects forward.

From my archives, some potentials may have made themselves obvious, it also forced me to look longer and harder and contemplate what it is I was doing or attempting to achieve. No new books emerged as part of the whole experience though.

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Author: s2

artist, picture maker, photobook creator

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