We are delighted that this collection is entering Tate’s library collection as a rich resource for our public and for academics of photobooks in these regional areas.
Assistant Curator, International Art, Tate
We’ve just completed a commissioned project where a collection of 52 Australian and New Zealand photobooks were acquired by the United Kingdom’s national collection in the Tate. Two years ago the project began as a result of our participation in the 2017 Vienna Photobook Festival and a connection with Martin Parr.
THE BACK STORY
In 2017 we presented a cyanotype/photobook workshop on the Greek Island of Skopelos. At the end to the workshop we coordinated a visit to our friends Lachlan Blair and Anna Pritz who live near Vienna in Austria. Just after we booked our flights Lachlan excitedly advised us that we would be in Vienna at the time of the Vienna Photobook Festival.
I contacted co-ordinator of the Festival Regina Anzenberger and offered to make a presentation about my research on Australian and New Zealand (ANZ) photobooks. After some conversations between Lachlan and Regina she enthusiastically accepted my lecture offer. Through some further negotiations with Regina and Libby Jeffery from MomentoPro we were able to present the ANZ Photobook of the Year finalists on a table at the Fair.
The Vienna Photobook Festival was an event of an unimaginable scale – 100+ tables of photobooks new and old, a photobook award, key identities of the photobook community and attendees from western European countries far and wide.
40-50 people including photobook aficionado Martin Parr and photo historian Hans-Michael Koetzle attended my lecture. There was quite a bit of interest about my topic and many of the lecture attendees came by the ANZ Photobook Awards table to view the books and talk more with us about our local photobooks.
Further to an earlier private meeting in the Anzenberger Gallery and his attendance at my lecture, Parr caught up with us again for a chat on the afternoon of the first day of the Festival. He mentioned that soon there would be a public announcement about his donation of over 12,000 photobooks from his collection to Tate.
Parr felt that although his collection had pretty well covered the world the one area that was under represented was the ANZ region. He had many of the big Australian names but acknowledged that there were gaps. After hearing my lecture he felt that I would be well positioned to fill that gap. He said that he would be recommending me to his Tate contacts to assist with this issue. At first I was a little daunted, but he insisted that I would be the right person for the project. I accepted the role as it would not only be an honour to work with him on the project but also a great opportunity for the ANZ photobook community.
Vicky and I came back to Brisbane in July and both began sessional work with the Queensland College of Art. A couple of months later an email came through from a Tate representative inviting my involvement in the project. I then prepared a list of ANZ books that I thought would be suitable additions to the collection. I also reviewed Parr’s collection to ensure that I had not duplicated books on his list.
Initially I suggested that I would source the books from bookshops, collectors and the photographers and that I would receive a fee for the list development and the management of the process. I mentioned that some books were quite rare and that they would be sourced from my own library as I could replace them as they became available in the future. My Tate contact came back saying that rather than what I suggested they preferred to purchase the books from a single collection and asked, ‘were my books available?’ After some consideration I agreed to take books from my library.
THE PREMISE FOR THE COLLECTION
My curation premise for the 52 books was:
- That these books should resonate with the Australia/New Zealand social, political, environmental and cultural space of post-Second World War to early 21st century.
- Where possible, I have selected works that have been referenced or identified by curators and researchers for their prominence within the photographically illustrated and photobook publishing genres in ANZ.
At this time and still today, my photobook collection is boxed and in storage. So for over a year on my intermittent visits back to our storage sheds in Toowoomba we would seek out the missing books. As we began to assemble the proposed books I became concerned about particular issues that were arising. As my collection has been built up over 50 years some of the books were not necessarily the best condition – some exhibited signs of use including shelf-wear, bumped corners and occasionally missing covers.
I wanted to be able to offer Tate the best possible condition books. Additionally, I could not find some key books that I knew I had in my collection including Carol Jerrems’ book Story about Australian women. What followed was an 18-month process of curation and research to bring together the books.
I sought out and purchased better copies of the chosen books either by online booksellers or by visiting bookshops in Australia. I contacted some of the photographers that I knew to see if ‘as new’ condition copies of the books were available. If they were what would the cost be and if possible, would they consider a donation to extend the potential of the collection. The response was very supportive with many of the photographers prepared to provide pristine condition copies of their books free of charge.
MEETING WITH MARTIN PARR
In January 2018 Martin Parr came to Melbourne to photograph the Australian Open tennis tournament. We flew down from Brisbane and arranged to meet him at the State Library of Victoria where we had about 30 of the proposed books assembled for him to review. As only a couple of books did not fit into his collection approach for the Tate I felt buoyed by the progress. Over the next 6 months I prepared a detailed bibliographic submission and significantly documented the books. We finally found the Jerrems book in a box marked ‘Photobook library extras’ in January this year.
SHIPPING THE PACKAGE
The books were protectively packaged and we arranged their shipment and it took only a few days for the consignment to travel from Brisbane to the UK. After nearly 2 years in the making Tate received the books on April 12, 2019. Once catalogued they will form part of the Martin Parr Photobook Collection with the provenance being recorded that the books came from ‘The Doug Spowart and Victoria Cooper Photobook Research Library’. The books will be publicly accessible in London in Spring 2020.
What is important to us is that books from our region are now placed within the context of the worldwide history and practice of the photobook in a significant institution. Although not a complete history of the Photobook in Australia and New Zealand it is an embryonic beginning for a broader recognition of the unique voices and stories from our part of the world and those that make them.
Doug Spowart + Victoria Cooper
We are indebted to those who supported us during this process. In particular Sarah Allen (Tate) for her coordination of the project. Martin Parr for his interest and continued support in providing a place for Antipodean photobooks in his Tate collection. We also wish to thank Lachlan Blair and Anna Pritz for making the initial connection with Regina Anzenberger, Gael Newton for her support, Helen and Donald Cole for their advice and storage of the books and the coordination of the final shipment, Des Cowley at the State Library of Victoria for the preparation of books to show Martin, Pack and Send Milton (DHL) for their assistance and coordination of the shipment to the UK.
THE LIST OF PHOTOGRAPHERS
Where the photographer has more than one book in the collection the multiple is shown in (brackets).
It should be noted that a book is the culmination of a creative process that may include the contributions of writers, poets, designers, printers and binders. In this list only the photographers are listed.
The photographer’s names are:
Michael Coyne (2)
Max Dupain (2)
Rennie Ellis (2)
Robert B. Goodman
Olive McInerney nee Olive Cotton
Charles P. Mountford
Mark Strizic (2)
PARR’s Australian book donation already included:
Robin Morrison (2)
John B. Turner
PARR’s New Zealand book donation already included:
Harvey Benge (a significant collection)
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE BOOKS and other ANTIPODEAN PHOTOBOOK activities and events follow the BLOG HERE
READ MORE ABOUT THE TATE DONATION
A PDF download of the Tate post can be downloaded by ‘clicking’ this link Tate website post on Parr donation
READ MORE IN THE INSIDE IMAGING STORY
A PDF download of the Inside Imaging post can be downloaded by ‘clicking’ this link. Inside Imaging story-R