The Bowden Archives is is now in publication. I took the image files to the publisher–Wakefield Press— on Monday, the 17th July. I still have the text, or rather the three texts, to finish. I am currently struggling to get them into some short of shape. The overall argument is still very implicit and fuzzy, and the arguments of each of the texts are still hazy. I have another month to get the texts to flow, and once that is done I will finally have a draft of the book .
A book is the next stage after publishing the images online in Flickr and then a WordPress blog. It is very much a DIY project at a time when there is a substantial attack on knowledge, inquiry and, cultural memory caused by the austerity regime imposed by conservatives. This has seen ongoing public funding cuts to science authorities, universities, research programs, museums, archives, galleries and the public broadcaster along with a general dismissal of photography as a naïve, indulgent or downright irresponsible way to spend one’s time and energy.
At this stage the preface is entitled ‘Living in Bowden‘, the second essay is entitled ‘Alternate Photographic Histories’ and the third text is entitled ‘Photography, Memory, Place’. The idea behind the book is to give a grounding to this style of regional photography; one that breaks with the positivist conception of documentary photography in the art institution by making the shift to hermeneutics and interpretation. This means that the photos are made rather than taken. It is a small and modest step to helping create a strong, critical visual culture to counter the latent anti-intellectualism directed at those people who want to talk/write about the ideas on which photography rests, as well as making images.
The problem that I have discovered from the earlier Abstract Photography book is that making the photos and producing a book is only part of the story. Once the book is done the other part of the story comes into play: namely, the distribution of the book and getting some reviews of the book. I am currently finding being a publisher difficult, and I have had little success in this so far. The central motivation for the book was to get it done. The distribution and reviews is to help foster a space for critique at a time when the major media outlets in Australia relegate the arts to a subset of the conservative world of entertainment and there has been big cuts to the funding of the arts by the Turnbull Coalition government.
I do appreciate that traditional publishing with its classic, offset-printed, hardcover photobook is not an option in Australia—the classic publishing formula is to multiply your unit cost by five to determine the cover price. Which means that if your book costs $20 per copy to produce, a traditional publisher would charge $100 per copy – which is, of course, an extraordinarily high price, one that makes the book unsellable.
Yet the book is something that the online digital media cannot provide and it stands for something people would want to keep rather than throw in the recycling bin the next day I am aware that a new visual culture is emerging after the digital turn with the DIY photography books, zines, independent publishing and art fairs movement. This is most developed in the UK (Self Publish and Be Happy is a good example) and the US (eg., Flak Photo), and the indie movement there indicates that there is an option of bypassing the traditional gatekeepers to reach audiences directly. However, the online photography magazines like Time Machine Magazine in Australia do come and go though.
Sue Maslin, the Australian film producer, has made some interesting comments about how publishing and distribution of creative works has shifted. Referring to the small creators, which include most of the arts, and the independent film producers, she says in reference to publication:
We’ve had this idea that were content producers. I am trying to shift that idea. We are not content producers. Content is only half the equation. When I spend seven years or so making a feature film and deliver it, I am only half way through my job. The other fifty percent is making it sticky, working out how you are going to connect with audiences, which started years earlier.
Right now content is everywhere, so in and of itself it doesn’t have much value. So what is going to make the difference if you want to build a sustainable business? The thing that makes a difference is your capacity to really connect with people. That is where I see producers and creative entrepreneurs heading right now…the currency is not the content – the currency is the attention. That is the new currency, that is what is bought and sold now.
This is the hard lesson that I have been learning –getting attention. I have realised that content –ie. photos–doesn’t have much value in the world of social media and that the problem is connecting with audiences. My lack of experience in getting attention and creating an audience means that there is no currency for the Abstract Photography book.
So how do you do that?
I haven’t used social media to raise money for my projects such as Tasmanian Elegies or the collaborative Mallee Routes , nor have I bothered to use social media to find allies and advocates for these projects. To be honest I don’t really know how to tap into the new visual culture. I have linked photography to the humanities with The Bowden Archives by exploring ideas around memory, interpretation and place order to counter the narrow, inward looking horizons of contemporary photography. The photography world really does need critical voices since it still exists in isolation as a discrete object, which be held, bought and sold.
But how do you get attention to this Australia? How do you reach audiences directly?The centre of the indie publication scene is in Melbourne–eg., Photobook Melbourne where photobook makers, publishers, designers and enthusiasts who gather in the city each year to hear talks, see books, share ideas, inspiration and woes. This shows that photobooks are a capable and relevant platform for disseminating exciting work events they aligned with the exquisite artist’s book–ie., unique objects which can incorporate some quite handmade, unique elements that remain within the niche of devotees and those wealthy enough to buy what remains essentially a luxury item. Melbourne also has Perimeter Books, who have an online as well as a bricks and mortar bookshop.
So somehow I have to plug into this indie scene, since this is the DIY culture is where I am currently situated.