New Zealand, photography, publishing, Wellington

Photobook-NZ

March 30, 2018

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 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 SchutmaatCarolle 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.

Whakatane, New Zealand

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.

orange abstract, Orakei Korako

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.

Bolton St Memorial Park, Wellington

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.

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