Adelaide, archives, black + white, film, history, people, publishing

The Bowden Archives: in publication

July 17, 2017

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.

Bowden kids, Adelaide

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.

Maslin adds:

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.

office, Bowden, Adelaide

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.


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  • Reply Stuart July 18, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Gary, you have started using this blog, and have enough contacts in cyberspace to help. Keep blogging in dribs and drabs, try using teasers and don’t forget people like Andy Adams and Self Publish be happy; I have other names and orgs I will forward them as I remember them

    • Reply Gary Sauer-Thompson July 18, 2017 at 5:26 pm

      Thanks for that. I have approached Flak Photos and Self Publish Be Happy people. We will see what turns up. It’s been mostly no response to my emails in Australia so far.

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