I am currently working on making a second limited edition photobook of the Mallee Routes project. Its working title is Mallee Routes: Photographing the Mallee 2017. It basically consists of the prints of the 35mm and digital images that I made whilst I was scoping for the film images for the collaborative Mallee Routes exhibition at the Atkins Photo Lab in 2016. These 6×4 prints formed part of that exhibition. Since the exhibition, the prints have been sitting in a neglected pile in the corner of the Encounter Studio office for nigh on two years.
It was time something was done with them. Hence the idea of a limited edition book that would include a few 35mm black and white images of the South Australia Mallee that I made in the 1980s. It would have a small introduction. This is the cover image of the proposed book:
The book is to be similar in form to the Mallee Routes: Photographing the Mallee 2018 that I did to include in the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery in 2018. This too was constructed from scoping images for the large format photos shown in the exhibition, and it was, by and large dominated to libraries in South Australian and Victoria. It is what people would call an unsustainable business model, but it is a step to placing the work outside the confines of the white cube art gallery and the politics of the art market.At this stage I have the selected and edited a bunch of small prints that are currently spread out on the table in the office. There is no narrative, other than it being my first impressions of the Mallee as a bleak and empty space. This doesn’t cut it. Nor do the cliches. I am struggling to construct a series of images so as to have a dummy/ or mock-up book to show people. It’s tricky, as there is a need to use visual cures to bring viewers or readers from one picture to the next.
Another image included in the Mallee Routes: Photographing the Mallee 2017 book:
I am committed to the photobook as a mode of publication, even though there is a bit of a fetish surrounding the book as object. True, I have placed an earlier proposed photobook of mine on the back burner, but this is for financial reasons (scarce resources) for both the book and exhibition. I will prepare another limited edition photo book of scoping images for the Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery early in 2019.
The collaborative part of the Mallee Routes project starts to wind down after that exhibition as no more exhibitions are planned. This is to be expected as it was only ever envisaged to be a three year project. However, since I feel that I have only scratched the surface I will continue working solo on photographing the Mallee in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. I also need to have enough images for a solo exhibition and to produce a book of the film photos that have made with an eye to publication.
I accept that the photobook boom does appears to be over, thereby requiring a re-thinking of the form and content of the photobook–what is it and who is it is for. The new Mallee Routes book is conservative in its form rather than experimental, nor does it address the problems currently faced by photobooks. There is no intention to take these modest scoping books to international photobook festivals, nor try to have them featured in the Australian Book Review.
These limited edition scoping books are modest and low key, as they are a form of a visual diary. As such they are photo notebooks. They could have another life as a digital form in order to make the work more accessible to a wider audience. An additional aim would be to create a some sort of space for people to share their thoughts on photobooks as well as to promote the physical book and experience of looking/reading in itself.