A Pound of Pictures, by Alec Soth

Alec Soth: A Pound of Pictures from Fraenkel Gallery on Vimeo.

In a video made in connection with A Pound of Pictures, his book from MACK and accompanying exhibition, Alec Soth talks about his process for working on the series. Soth explores “the different ways in which photographs live in the world,” as objects that reflect “the desire to memorialize life.” Soth also describes his approach to deciding what to photograph, by paying attention to what attracts him to certain scenes and subjects. Learn more: https://fraenkelgallery.com/exhibitions/alec-soth-a-pound-of-pictures

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Summer 2021-2022

For the second year running the skies in Melbourne have been far more photographic and overcast than I remember in summer.

I really exploited this in the quiet period from when I started my holidays to the new year. Many construction sites are closed at this time of year. This makes it even easier to photograph these places. I have shot more than 3 rolls of 120 film and about 20 sheets of 5×4 film. The results at this point seem pleasing.

This year I didn’t borrow a digital DSLR from work so the only digital files I’m making are using my iPhone.

These are the images I’m adding to this post. I also used the quiet time to scout a few possible locations moving forward. I’m very interested in the infrastructure projects going on right now all around Melbourne. In particular I’m interested in the ones that are close to me ie the inner west.

These are going to change the fabric of these suburbs. For better or worse I don’t know. But change they will and I’m trying to capture as much as I can, while I can.

Melbourne Docklands, 2022-01-04
Melbourne Docklands, 2022-01-04 12:33:53
Melbourne's Infrastructure is booming
Docklands Melbourne 2022:01:04 11:52:0
Melbourne Docklands 2022:01:04 11:38:27
Melbourne Docklands 2022:01:04 11:38:27, looking east over the former wholesale fruit market
Footscray Road and construction 2022:01:04 11:31:35
Footscray Road and construction 2022:01:04 11:31:35
Footscray Road facing east, 2022:01:05 16:33:31
Footscray Road facing east, 2022:01:05 16:33:31
West Melbourne Facing east 2022:01:08 16:37:43
West Melbourne Facing east 2022:01:08 16:37:43
West Melbourne, near Dynon road facing east, 2022:01:08 16:28:47
West Melbourne, near Dynon road facing east, 2022:01:08 16:28:47
West Melbourne train yards facing east, 2022:01:08 16:37:31
West Melbourne train yards facing east, 2022:01:08 16:37:31

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Project’s end?

Eight years after I began making the same picture on each day I was at work. Always at 8:30. Always from the same position. The project has now ended.

The changes in the scene that were most notable, were the weather. Others included the tree.

Often the picture made at 8:30 in no way reflected the weather for that day either before or after 8:30. Which isn’t reflected in the imagery itself.

The linchpin, that helped me decide to end it was the removal the tree. The tree had suffered some damage in the storms we had 10 days or so prior, and in the interim someone decided it needed to be removed entirely.

Here’s the first picture made in February 2014.

And the last made in December 2021.

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Photobooks of 2021

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.

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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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A new social network?


I recently discovered Ben Crosser.
Ben Crosser focuses on the cultural, social, and political effects of software.

He asks. What does it mean for human creativity when a computational system can paint its own artworks? How is an interface that foregrounds our friend count changing our conceptions of friendship? Who benefits when a software system can intuit how we feel? To examine questions like these, he constructs interactive experiences, machines, and systems that make the familiar unfamiliar, revealing the ways that software prescribes our behaviour and thus, how it changes who we are.

He has created a social network that works the opposite way to most. You are limited to 100 posts, there are no date and time-stamps, and no reason to connect or expand your network. As an interactive piece it is interesting, you can reply to people if you want. Replies don’t count toward your message limit.

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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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