I have never seen any copies of Doug Spowart’s Photo.Graph that was published in the 1990s or the earlier News Sheet apart from a post on the Brisbane Photography Scene 1993 written by Ian Poole on the wotwedid blog that Spowart runs with Victoria Cooper. It’s a pity because Photo.Graph was designed to fill a gap in the discussion, critique and commentary about a segment of the photography discipline within Australia.
Poole is a familiar figure in photographic culture because he is a cross over between an advertising /commercial photographer (20 years) and an exhibiting art photographer. Familiar in the sense that art photography in the 1970s and 1980s was kicked started by advertising /commercial photographer starting to teach at art schools and private photography schools. Athol Smith and John Cato in Melbourne are good examples of this figure. Poole is different to them in that he had a post-graduate degree in visual arts from Griffith University. So he is well placed to assess Brisbane photography in the early 1990s.
The article is starting point for a discussion about Queensland contemporary art photo practice and its a survey of events by the individual commercial and art photographers working in Brisbane and Queensland in 1993 –their exhibitions, travels, plans and books– just over a decade before the formation of the Queensland Centre of Photography. One of the photographers mentioned by Poole was Marion Drew. Others were Carl Warner and Richard Stringer. All are currently practising. What the article indicates is that photography was flourishing in the city of Brisbane in the early 1990s under the Labor government of Wayne Goss. The corruption that had gone on so long under a National Party Government of Bjelke-Petersen in the Moonlight State was in the past. Brisbane was no longer a big country town.
The article is basically a snap shot without context where context is history. Surprisingly,, Robyn Stacey was not mentioned as there was no looking back in order to relate the 1993 present to the recent past, such as Robyn Stacey’s hand colour photos of regional Queensland entitled Queensland—Out West which blurred the lines between high art and pop culture.
Stacey’s body of work was partly nostalgic as it was a road trip revisiting the hot and quintessentially Queensland lifestyle of timber houses, subtropical plants, and laconic locals in towns such as Monto, Murgon, Gayndah and Kingaroy on her first trip back to Queensland after three years living interstate. The hand-colouring references the promotional notion of the postcards of the 1950s and 1960s that depicted scenes of iconic Queensland tourist spots like the Gold Coast or the Great Barrier Reef.
Nor does the article attempt to look at Brisbane photography as a whole in relation to what was happening nationally and internationally, or how this photography related to the then current postmodern art and post-colonial discourse. Nor does it assess whether the body of work of the photographers mentioned constitutes a regional photography that was ignored by national institutions, such as the Sydney based Photofile or the Australian Centre of Photography. Was the Queensland work ignored, for instance? If so, why not assess the industrial archaeology ago Richard Stringer with that of Bernd and Hilla Becher?
Questions abound from this history: what were the roles and influence of the Queensland University of Technology and the Queensland College of Art . These are not mentioned or assessed even though the latter had only separated from the TAFE vocational system and become incorporated into Griffith University two years earlier in 1991. What impact did that incorporation have on a vocational photographic education (commercial, advertising, photojournalism etc)? What was the relationship between these two institutions or to the other art institutions?
Other questions arise. Where did Photo.Graph or photography fit into the Brisbane small magazine scene, alternative art spaces or artist run initiatives in the early 1990s? Where did Brisbane photography fit into the new wave of Australian photographers that matured in the 1990s? Was there any relationship between this photography and the research into photography into Queensland was beginning to be undertaken by masters and doctoral candidates at Australian universities.