Photo-eye has a best of photobook list for 2021. I’m no fan of the idea. It would be impossible to survey the field comprehensively given how many are made. There are a couple of crossovers and the list of reviewers is impressive as well.
As usual I need to keep my credit card securely tucked away out of reach as I read about each book.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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 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.
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.
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
I then spent some time trimming and assembling and gluing them into 4 books
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.
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.
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 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.
The work comes from 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.
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.
All up I took 189 pictures. Below is a small selection of them in chronological order.
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.
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.
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.
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
“… 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.
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.