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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Photobook Shop Online

Screengrsb of the new Photobook store
Screengrab of the new Photobook store

Last weekend, on the 28th of March 2021, the Melbourne Photobook Collective unveiled a new shop on our website. This means my books can be purchased by anyone anywhere in the world anytime.
Exciting times indeed.
Here is the link to the shop to buy my photobooks.
If you are interested in Anne’s Bill’s or Mike’s, visit here

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Photobook Club Melbourne?


Last weekend I participated in and helped lead a small forum discussion and talk on Photobooks. The workshop was entitled, ‘Reading Photobooks with Photobook Club Melbourne’. The event was held at the CCP in Fitzroy as part of Photo 2021

There were 8 speakers. The event lasted an hour. There were approximately 30 attendees. The attendees were split into small groups of about 10.  The speakers worked in small groups also. My group had myself, Suzanne Phoenix, and Dr. Kristian Haggblom. Each presenter was asked to bring one or two books and discuss them. In the end we all had a least 4 books each.

A small group discuss Photobooks at the CCP Fitzroy
One of several goups who discussed photobooks at the CCP on Sunday the 28th of February 2021, as part of Photo 2021 image courtesy CCP

For about 15 minutes each group there was a brief discussion about the books that were chosen. Continue reading “Photobook Club Melbourne?”

Beijing Silvermine

Beijing Silvermine is an archive of 850 000 negatives salvaged over the last ten years from a recycling plant on the edge of Beijing. Assembled by the French collector and artist Thomas Sauvin, Beijing Silvermine offers a unique photographic portrait of the Chinese capital and the life of its inhabitants in the decade following the Cultural Revolution.

Beijing Silvermine – Thomas Sauvin from Emiland Guillerme on Vimeo.

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New Photobook Idea

I have begun working on a new photobook idea. It is nothing novel. Just pictures of the 14 or so public phones that are situated throughout Sunshine. This screen grab from Lightroom showing 11 that I have already photographed.

The idea has sprung from a larger project I am working on about Sunshine, the place I live. I have repeatedly returned to several places around the suburb. At one point I noticed the phone box on the corner of Station Place and Sun Crescent which I photographed. I then found a website that lists all the public phones in Sunshine, and in one afternoon photographed 11 of them.

My research has turned up some interesting information. I will add some of this to the final book. At this point I’m unclear if I will use film or digital to make the pictures for the final book.

Map of Phone boxes Sunshine
Map of Phone boxes Sunshine

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Stephen Shore

Stephen Shore’s new book is being marketed heavily.

Here Mack books UK have published a long interview with the photographer.

I’ve always enjoyed the way he talks about picture making and cameras, this is no exception.

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Digital Printing?

This Yale website has archived an exhibition about printing.

From the site. https://printedpicture.artgallery.yale.edu/

This site explores an exhibition on the history of the printing of pictures held at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2008-09.  This exhibition and the book that it accompanied traced the dominant technologies used for printing pictures throughout the modern era.  Richard Benson, who wrote the book and co-curated the exhibition, was videotaped for approximately eight hours in the Museum galleries.   This site gives access to that entire talk with additional images and details, allowing visitors to the site to draw their own path through its contents.

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An open letter to Martin Parr and Gerry Badger

Cover of Photobook History Volume I

Recently I had call to revisit some of my receipts for taxation purposes. I was reminded immediately of a couple of purchases that I had not delved that deeply into in the 2 years I had owned them. One book required little more than a flip through  the contents page to reveal  useful but not burning questions buried within it. I was looking for idea and inspiration for my classes as well you see. This book entitled , ‘Rethinking Digital Photography Making & Using Traditional & Contemporary Photo Tools’ by John Neel will come in handy for exploring bespoke and handmade image making classes.

The other book, ‘The Camera Essence And Apparatus’ by Victor Burgin will hopefully float on or around my desk at home for a while. It may even get dragged to work. Burgin is a renowned Artist, Marxist and  Theoretician. I have on loan from the RMIT library a copy of his photobook ‘Between’ published in 1986. ‘Between’ is a  kind of retrospective catalogue, but is also a photobook unto itself, predominantly about the pictures with in it.

I am going to assume that both my readers know of my long interest in photobooks. They will also appreciate that I own the 3 volume set of the ‘History of the Photobook‘, by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger.

Some of my photobooks
Some of my books many of which are photobooks.

Reading the Burgin book, ‘Between’ got me wondering.  Was it listed in the 3 volume set by Parr and Badger? Well the short answer is no. At least not in the index of any of the books. Another author/critic whose writings I admire is John Berger. He has co-published a photobook that is also very interesting, ‘Another Way of Telling’. This too is not listed in any of the 3 volumes. My question then to Mr Parr and Mr Badger. Why are these two Artists and their books omitted from your histories? Even though Martin Parr talks about the size of the task and the impossibility to include every photobook ever made in the introduction to Volume 1. Surely including ‘Between’, and ‘A Different Way Of Telling’ should have been a no-brainer?

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