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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New Photobook progress report

My current Photobook’s silver gelatin contact prints are taking a bit longer to print than I initially imagined. After about 20 plus hours I’m at the half way mark. Just over 20 prints.

In the interim, between dealing with other aspects of my life, I have been considering the text component of the book. These ideas sometimes come to me while in my darkroom.

notebook notes from my darkroom workbook
notebook notes from my darkroom workbook

So using a pencil, I scrawl them down in a notebook that lives beside my enlarger. After I finish up, I digitise them and then add them to my notes both Apple note and Voodoo Pad . I then digitally transcribe them to make searching them easier later. Some ideas include the idea of the flaneur and by extension ‘The Situationists’ and the idea of the derive. Society of the spectacle by Guy Debord is proving especially fruitful.

I actually ran out of silver gelatin paper and had to wait till the shops opened to buy some more. Adding another delay.

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New Photobook?

I have begun a new book idea.

It is going to be a small book, physically and in the number of copies I make. Three and an artists proof.

It will be approximately 42 small silver Gelatin contact prints. Tipped into a 110 gsm cartridge paper book.

Some working titles include:-

  • [sub] urban gothic,
  • The map is not the territory
  • “…looking back…”
  • Forty two
  • 42
  • “… the sum or the parts…”
  • The path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom.

The images are drawn from my archive stretching back to 1989. All shot on medium format film. The whole process has been enlightening and made possible in part by Gary’s interview . We collaborated on part 1 and I deep dived into my archive to consider some responses to his questions. Part 2 is going to be forthcoming.

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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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