I made a quick return to Wellington just after my walking Wellington trip to take part in Photobook-NZ book fair that was organized by Photoforum in association with the photography stream of the College of Creative Arts at Massey University and Te Papa. I didn’t participate in the masterclass for creating and publishing photobooks, nor did I submit a photobook for the New Zealand Photobook of the Year Awards. I missed the talks by Bryan Schutmaat, Carolle Bénitah and Athol McCredie at Te Papa on the Saturday as I had to mind my little stall in the book fair at Te Papa. The books on my stall included Edgelands, Abstract Photography and Mallee Routes: Photographing the Mallee 2018. Surprisingly, the book of mine that people were the most interested in was the Abstract Photography book.
I attended the opening on Friday night at Te Papa, heard the Peter Turner Memorial Lecture given by Jem Southam on the Saturday night, spend the Sunday at Massey University listening to the talks and panel discussions, reconnected with Sally Jackman (an old friend who I hadn’t seen since my time in Melbourne in the 1970s) on the Sunday night, and photographed around Newton on Monday. I flew back to Adelaide on Tuesday. All in all it was a wonderful and fruitful weekend.
The highlight of the Sunday session at Massey University for me was the talk by Katrin Koenning, a German photographer now based in Melbourne. The talk centred around the ongoing Indefinitely project, which is about the space created by her family’s migration. The notion underpinning this is that this space is not a vacuum or a void, but rather the creator of new narratives. This grew out of an earlier project Near, which was about Koenning’s migratory experience. What I found interesting in this body of work in her talk was the emphasis on emotionality, darkness, and strong contrasts between darkness and light in her pictures.
Jem Southam is critically regarded as one of the most important British photographers of the last twenty five years. I knew about his landscape work before his lecture at Photobook-NZ, and while listening to it realised that it was a variation on the one he gave in 2011 in Portugal (you can find this on Vimeo: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). But the talk was still impressive in how he conceptualised his work–going back to the same locations over a period of years and photographing the changes with his large format 10×8 plate camera and colour negative film. His impressive work combines patient observation of the land with personal, cultural and literary references.
Even though I was on the fringes of the Photobooks-NZ world, what I found so uplifting about Photobooks-NZ was the sense of community amongst the art photographers and independent book publishers (Rim Books, Bad News Books, Perimeter Books and Momento Pro) the way they welcomed strangers into their community, and provided support for one another. It was such a contrast to what happens here in Adelaide, where the predominant experience is one of isolation due to the closed cliques and living with competitive relationships.
I was on the fringes as I quickly realised that most of the participants had been art photographers for much longer than myself. They had done interesting work, were solidly connected with the institutions of art photography, had a more substantial body of work behind them, had been commercially published, and were integrated into a literary culture. I felt at home here in a way that I never do in the fragmented art photography world in Adelaide.
There were some dam good photography books at the fair–I just didn’t have the ready cash to buy them. Many of these books had images that were in opposition to the noise of the contemporary image-world as they point to emotional states, and evoke things that cannot be pictured directly, such as the sediments of history. These were often organized in terms of “albums”, rather than a collection of isolated hero prints; “albums” that opened up spaces that enabled the reader/viewer to see and feel differently.
This is a photographic language of suggestion–one that translates what is seen into something that is felt.