The Shape of a Photobook Project; BIFB 2021

Below is the transcript of the presentation I gave online with the other members of MPC at the Ballarat Photo Bienalle photobook weekend on the 17th of October 2021


The Shape of a Photobook Project?

It’s an interesting question and thanks to Anne for proposing it.

my latest publication 'contact?' a book of 26 tipped in silver gelatine photographs
My latest publication ‘Contact?’ a book of 26 tipped in silver gelatine photographs.

My most recent book is a DIY style book of ‘tipped in’ photographs.
Ideas for books don’t come easily to me nor do they arise from singular “AHA” moments, their creation often come from an idea or an experience, however small and inconsequential. Mostly the ideas toss and turn in my head for some time before I sit down and actively look for pictures to include, rarely do I make pictures with a book in mind. That is until the last few years anyway.

Some Background?

I have been a practising artist since 1987.

My interest in photobook making was sparked by exposure to photobooks at college in the late 1980s and was kicked up a notch in the mid 1990s when I realised if I learned a computer program like Aldus Pagemaker or Quark I could create a polished book that looked anyway I wanted. It was to take a Masterclass with Marshall Weber and Stephen Dupont in 2015 to get me to see beyond the established codex of a photobook and to think of book making in a different light.

A selection of books I have published over the years.
A selection of books I have published over the years. From high end trade books to lo-fi Zines

The above books span more than 12 years of experiments with the book form. All self published, from the polished Art & Mathematics, to the handmade, Body Bags & Other Misdemeanours. In these books software figured heavily in their production, my latest book however comes from a craft perspective, where the use of computer software has been minimal.

The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century by Richard Benson, May Castleberry, Jeffrey Fraenkel
The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century by Richard Benson, May Castleberry, Jeffrey Fraenkel
The Photobook: A History, Vol. 1, 2, & 3 Martin Parr, Gerry Badger.
The Photobook: A History, Vol. 1, 2, & 3 Martin Parr, Gerry Badger.

Influences?

Two formative books [see above] that have shaped my research, interests and tastes since college are:-
The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century by Richard Benson, May Castleberry, Jeffrey Fraenkel
The Photobook: A History, Vol. 1, 2, & 3 Martin Parr, Gerry Badger.

Amazon and the internet changed the way I find and purchase books radically. Which in turn feeds the process. It feels to me that the photobook has undergone somewhat of a Renaissance over the last 15 or so years and sources of information about them are almost overwhelming. Nearly anyone who publishes photobooks will have a website, newsletter and instagram feed at a minimum.

The cover of my latest photobook. Contact?
The cover of my latest photobook. Contact?

My most recent photobook is titled Contact? It is a DIY style book of ‘tipped in’ photographs, in a purchased visual dairy that was spiral bound but had blank pages. I Initially imagined it as an edition of 3 with 1 Artists Proof. The book ended up with 26 pages in total and 26 tipped in photographs.

One of two double page spreads in my newest photobook Contact?
One of two double page spreads in my newest photobook Contact?

The idea itself can be traced back to several conversations I had in the years since meeting the rest of the Melbourne Photobook Collective. Firstly Stephen Dupont one of the masterclass facilitators, where MPC first crossed paths suggested ‘tipping in’ work as a way to create a desirable book object, after I showed some work from a long running project I have been making using large format film during the workshop. [see below]

a box of contact prints that helped drive the creation of my latest publication 'Contact?'
A box of contact prints that helped drive the creation of my latest publication ‘Contact?’

This planted a seed.

Inside my newest photobook, Contact?
Inside my newest photobook, Contact?
A short piece of background text from page 2 of my newest photobook, Contact?
A short piece of background text from page 2 of my newest photobook, Contact?

Fast forward to about 2019

A discussion with a colleague at work pointed me to a blog post by Blake Andrews. Blake had written a post about a tipped in photobook he made using an existing sketchpad and small enlargements from a larger pile of discarded prints he made in other darkroom sessions.

Lastly coffee with a former teacher pushed the project forward after we talked about paper used in silver gelatin printing that convinced me Blake’s idea was suitable to pursue my own ends.

All the while I was thinking about history, memory and the archive. I was also sorely missing my time spent outdoors with my cameras.

My usual method of working involves looking back over contact sheets or digital files looking for connections between the images. These connections might lead to a book idea or an exhibition proposal. But having not had the chance to get out and look for new picture making opportunities I decided that there was enough in my archive to make a book.

At this point we were well into our second lockdown. I kept coming back to the idea of walking in a city with a camera. Something I took for granted until the pandemic began.

My archive of 120 film contact sheets, from 1987 to today.
My archive of 120 film contact sheets, from 1987 to today.

My Archive?

My archive itself spans more than 30 years of picture making. All up more than 530 or so contact sheets, each with 12 pictures. It actually took several hour long sessions to ‘consider’ them all. Peppered throughout were some images that for a variety of reasons resonated with me for many years, these also helped the process tick over.

The only selection criteria for the images at this point, was that the image have enough visual strength to stand out as a small contact print. I had decided very early on to only contact print these images which in turn drove the choice in book format. A6. Blake’s method was intriguing but I had other ideas on how I wanted the finished object to look.

A contact print from a roll of film shot in Canberra in the early 1990s from my latest photobook, Contact?
A contact print from a roll of film shot in Canberra in the early 1990s from my latest photobook, Contact?
Forty images after several edits, seen here in aperture, in no particular order.
Forty images after several edits, seen here in aperture, in no particular order.

My first edit yielded about 80 possible images, which I roughly printed digitally. Then edited down to about 40. I had yet to solve the issue of how the book would look with so many images, this weighed on my mind as I printed 4 sets of  40 images in the darkroom using silver gelatin paper.

The printing process, took several days, as I way making 4 books, I had to print each image 4 times.
The printing process, took several days, as I was making 4 books, I had to print each image 4 times.

After staring at the 40 images spread in front of me on a wall in my darkroom dedicated for this purpose I managed to edit the sequence down to 26

Final edit of 26 images in order, organised suing Aperture Apple's pro level photo management tool
Final edit of 26 images in order, organised using Aperture Apple’s pro level photo management tool

I then spent some time trimming and assembling and gluing them into 4 books

The second double spread in my new photobook Contact?
The second double spread in my new photobook Contact?

At one point I realised disassembling the books made some aspects of the production easier. Thanks to the spiral binding. A process driven result.

This helped the page count, as I removed more than 2/3 of the original pages.

Final thoughts

Overall this was a satisfying exercise, I’m not convinced however, the object achieves the look and feel I was hoping for. In my mind it was going to be a unique yet luxurious object. I severely underestimated the skill level to achieve this. I may use this technique with a different size scale and binding approach in the future.

Thanks to Fiona Sweet and Ballarat International Biennale for organising this event.

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Author: s2

artist, picture maker, photobook creator

2 thoughts on “The Shape of a Photobook Project; BIFB 2021”

    1. Thanks Gary. The text is copied from Guy Debord’s Society of the spectacle, chapter 7,[Territorial Domination] #174. Yes a rethink on final presentation is required. At this point how and what I would do is speculative. Restrictions easing and a return to one level of ‘normal’ means I can go back to working in my usual way. So as an idea it most likely will sit on the back burner for at least 12 months.

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