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 images 40 in the darkroom using silver gelatine 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 way 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 suing 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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From Doom-scrolling to Darkroom

St.Albans paddock with pylons and burnt grass
Circa 1989, St.Albans 19 x 19 cm silver gelatin print. Printed 2021

Today was the beginning of the term break for me as I only work 3 days a week now. I managed to procrastinate online all morning. I fitted in some quality time in my darkroom after lunch though. I have a solo exhibition application in the works. So if I’m accepted into the space I want to have plenty of time to make the best quality prints I can. The negatives span more than 30 years of shooting film and are mostly images that I have liked for and of themselves. But may not have fitted in with other series and bodies of work I exhibited in the past.

It’s a bit weird working with such old negatives. I started in my first year of University with a Mamiya medium format TLR camera. I used Microdol-X as my developer in those days. I now use a Hasselblad as my main medium format camera. Recently switched to Xtol too, a commercial developer also by Kodak. Prior to switching I had used a home made developer called D25. I’m still using the same film though, Kodak T-max 400.

Papers too, have changed radically since 1989 when I was at University. Now most papers are multi-contrast as opposed to graded. This is actually a good thing as I feel I can eke more out of a negative using the 2 extreme filters, 00 and 5. A technique called ‘split filter printing’.

I hope then to better match my expectations of an image using the split filter printing system, and a variety of home made paper developers. Compared to my University days, when a neg may have been put aside due to it not being able to printed well on a single grade of paper.
The differences between cameras and eras seems noticeable. The developer not so much. I switched film developers mainly for environmental reasons but technique also played a part in that decision too. I touched base with an old teacher a couple of summers back and he suggested the change.

The weird part is as I’m not really working to a fixed time frame, I have all the time in the world to muck around as I make each print. Some are just “falling” out of the enlarger, others are requiring many test strips and prints. I plan on exhibiting about 14 to 18 prints. Pinned directly to the walls of the gallery.

I applied to exhibit in October 2022.

Fingers crossed.

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2022 Solo Show Application

I have applied to the Sunshine Community Arts Space for another solo show in 2022.

Here are some images that formed part of the application and potentially part of the exhibition.

The images form part of a larger archive and at one level are simply images I’ve always connected to, but not actually printed to exhibit in the past.

Like the last solo show in 2019, these prints will be small about 18 cms square. However this time I am not framing, just pinning, to the wall.

2 Friends on a location photography excursion in about 1990
Glen & Les near the You Yangs about 1990
Swamp under the Westgate Bridge about 1989
Swamp under the Westgate Bridge about 1989
Outside the National Gallery in Canberra, in about 1993
Outside the National Gallery in Canberra, in about 1993
A view from Melbourne looking east atop a skyscraper around 1990
A view from Melbourne looking east atop a skyscraper around 1990

The work comes for a place that I have been situated in since the beginning of the pandemic. Relying mainly on my archives and my darkroom. I initially set out to make a small artist book, using contact printed negs. This process lead me to realise I could make a small solo show or two from the images I collated. All up I looked at over 539 medium format contact sheets from 1988 to 2021. The first edit for the book culled this down to about 80 images. This was too many for the book I had planned. The excess images may then make up several solo exhibitions.

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Flânuering during lockdown 5.0

Melbourne was recently placed into its 5th lockdown since the pandemic began. I found this one more taxing the previous ones. By about the 7th day I decided I needed to get outdoors. I decided to walk aimlessly. Walking aimlessly is harder than it sounds.

So I decided to walk into the park adjacent to our house. Then once on the other side of the park wander in the direction of some incongruous land. This land runs between a rail siding and the medium to light industry either side of it. This gives me access to places that are inaccessible any other way. Carrying a large camera (and tripod) in this instance may not have been permitted by the lockdown rules I suspect. So I carried my small Canon point and shoot as well as my iPhone 12.

I walked for about one and a half hours. I took approximately 6639 steps. Sadly I forgot to run my mapping software as I walked, so I’m using other software to trace my route. In this instance Aperture. I took very few iPhone pictures it seems, anyway. I manually added these images to Aperture’s map feature.

screengrab of map of walk taken 23-07-2021
The place I walked, 23rd July 2021

All up I took 189 pictures. Below is a small selection of them in chronological order.

Parsons Reserve facing South East 2021-07-23 14:51:59
Parsons Reserve facing South East 2021-07-23 14:51:59
Abstraction of urban forest Parsons reserve 2021-07-23 14:49:40
Abstraction of urban forest Parsons reserve 2021-07-23 14:49:40
Trees and silos at the Western edge of Parsons reserve 2021-07-23 14:53:52
Trees and silos at the Western edge of Parsons reserve 2021-07-23 14:53:52
Wright Street Sunshine facing West with Silos in the background
Wright Street with Silos in the background, 2021-07-23 14:59:00
Linda Street Sunshine, facing South West 2021-07-23 15:04:47
Linda Street Sunshine, facing South West 2021-07-23 15:04:47
Looking North from the Freight Rail siding in Linda Street Sunshine, 2021-07-23 15:08:13
Looking North from the Freight Rail siding in Linda Street Sunshine, 2021-07-23 15:08:13
Melbourne Container Park, from the rail siding. 2021-07-23 15:10:15
Melbourne Container Park, from the rail siding. 2021-07-23 15:10:15
Looking North from the freight rail siding 2021-07-23 15:11:50
Looking North from the freight rail siding 2021-07-23 15:11:50
Track along the freight rail siding looking North with Melbourne Container Park in the background 2021-07-23 15:29:28
Track along the freight rail siding looking North with Melbourne Container Park in the background 2021-07-23 15:29:28
Facing South West overlooking the old 'Huntsman Refinery Site'. 2021-07-23 15:35:30
Facing South West overlooking the old ‘Huntsman Refinery Site’. 2021-07-23 15:35:30. Soon to be a major infrastructure site.
Melbourne Grand Prix infrastructure storage 2021-07-23 15:40:36
Melbourne Grand Prix infrastructure storage 2021-07-23 15:40:36
Pile of stone used as filler 2021-07-23 15:41:23
Texture, of a pile of stone used as filler 2021-07-23 15:41:23
Atop a rail siding overlooking Melbourne facing south east 2021-07-23 15:36:47
Atop a rail siding overlooking Melbourne facing south east 2021-07-23 15:36:47
CBD Skyline with Melbourne Grand Prix infrastructure in storage 2021-07-23 15:48:00
CBD Skyline with Melbourne Grand Prix infrastructure in storage 2021-07-23 15:48:00
Stony Creek and Environs looking West 2021-07-23 15:58:56
Stony Creek and Environs looking West 2021-07-23 15:58:56
Wright Street, Sunshine. Facing North East. Sunbury Train line in the background. 2021-07-23 16:04:52
Wright Street, Sunshine. Facing North East. Sunbury Train line in the background. 2021-07-23 16:04:52

The whole experience was definitely one of heightened senses, visual, aural and olfactory. This in my mind made the journey one that was entirely  psychogeographic, even if only partially aimless.

Some changes are occurring in this area also.  I have walked this area on and off since moving to Sunshine in 2000. When I next walk it, who knows? The ninth picture is about to undergo a major infrastructure project. This is one of the reasons I walked there. I shall return and use a film camera soon hopefully.

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Digital Garden?

screen grab my digital garden on notion
my digital garden on notion at 2021-07-16 11:30

Notion have recently changed their note taking software to make publishing webpages of notes easier.

As a consequence I have begun my digital garden here is the link

In the spirit of a digital garden it is of course a  work in progress and may expand or may not.

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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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Research & Links

Poking around online I found some interesting links.

The Photogrpaher’s Gallery in London has a faublous resource, called Viewpoints. Viewpoints offer a curated and eclectic set of perspectives inspired by the gallery’s programme and are designed to provoke new thinking around photography’s role in contemporary culture.

Some viewpoints are:-
Photography and Landscape a series of essays that examines photography’s role in defining and creating the Landscape genre. Unthinking Photography. Unthinking Photography is an online resource that explores photography’s increasingly automated, networked life. Unthinking Photography is a strand of The Photographers’ Gallery digital programme, an online platform for mapping and responding to photography’s role in contemporary culture.

Back in a few days once I’ve read them all.

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iPhones?

A view of my library made using my iPhone 12 Pro.
A view of my library made using my iPhone 12 Pro.

Over on Light Paths, Gary has a good article about iPhones and photography as a cultural activity. He compares the Kodak Box Brownie to todays iPhone.

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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?”