I was unable to participate in the Unless You Will conference or symposium at RMIT in Melbourne that took place during 17-19th February 2017. This was unfortunate for me, since the symposium was designed as a physical meeting place for art photographers, but it was one without an online conversational dimension. So I am currently in the dark about what took place or what the key ideas that were presented and debated.
Though I know that Unless You Will was founded by Heidi Romano, who also directed the inaugural Photobook Melbourne festival, I am out of the loop. For example, I failed to submit my Abstract Photography: re-evaluating visual poetics in Australian modernism and contemporary practice book for the 2017 Australian Photobook of the Year Award. I just didn’t know about the award. I felt that I should have, given my shift away from exhibitions towards producing photobooks.
The blurb for the Unless You Will conference says that this symposium seeks to cultivate interaction and connection within photography:
As a kind of visual meeting place or think-tank it provides is an opportunity for the photographic community to share different practices, gain insights into other artists’ work and inspire critical discussion around emerging trends and ideas in photography and visual culture….The aim of the symposium is to search for avenues beyond the traditional in presenting photography.
The central aim of the Unless You Will project is to connect Australian photo creatives with their overseas counterparts around visual storytelling. That suggests that the photographers involved with, or connected to Unless You Will, are working within the tradition of long-form documentary storytelling.
I couldn’t attend the Melbourne conference. It was too close to my backended trips to Christchurch, New Zealand and phototrip in Tasmania. I’d only been back in Adelaide for a few days, and I needed to be in the Victorian Mallee on a photoshoot for the Mallee Routes project on Sunday.
There are no abstracts online for the symposium and so it it is currently not possible to find out what were the various speakers were outlining as avenues beyond the traditional in presenting photography. We do have an archive of the Unless You Will online Magazine from 2009, but, unfortunately this archive is currently without links. So at this stage I have no idea what was put forward by the various speakers about how to think beyond the horizon of photography in the ever-evolving photographic landscape.
The Australian speakers were Alana Holmberg, John Feely, Raphaela Rosella, Katrin Koenning, Alan Hill, Isabella Capezio, Madeline Rehorek of Dysturb, Kristian Häggblom, Min Manifold, Judith Crispin, Nikki Toole, Hoda Afshar, Kelly Hussey-Smith and Libby Jeffery from Momento, Australia’s first print-on-demand photo book production company.
The overseas speakers include Gareth Phillips, Nico Baumgarten, Ying Ang, Talia Herman, Philip Montgomery, Lars Boering from the World Press Photo Foundation, Jared Mossy, Mustafa Abdelaziz, and Bryan Derballa.
I guess that we dig into the various websites to see if the documentary informed work that they are producing gives us any insights to think beyond the horizon of the traditional presentation of photography. A quick look of these websites suggests that the 3 year collaborative Mallee Routes project works within this documentary tradition, whilst the emphasis on photobooks on Unless You Will website indicates photobooks– an interplay of photography, writing and the printed page—as stepping beyond the traditional presentation of photography.
Why so when books of photographic images have been around for at least a century? I have a library of them. Maybe it is the shift to opening up the photo- book as a new field of study in photographic culture; that is a shift away from looking at an individual photograph or image on its own to a reading of photographs as a body of images in the form of a book? That would then suggest the collaboration between the photographer, editor and designer, which when contextualized in terms of the internet, can be seen as opening up a new field of study. The renaissance of the photobook has been a consequence of online digital culture in that it has made books available as never before as well as highlighting the specific qualities of printed matter.
But why photobooks rather than art photography online?