Photobook/NZ 2018 - A view from the stalls
Wellington 7 - 11 March 2018
Reviewed by Christine McFetridge.
Wellington has long been my favourite New Zealand city. It’s the first place I experienced independence as an adolescent, spending school holidays with my Great Aunt in Brooklyn; her home was surrounded by native bush with a spectacular view out to the harbour. The feeling of being in Wellington; its cultural sensibility, and the very physical presence of the landscape and the weather, makes it the object of rather romantic longing for me having since immigrated to Melbourne, Australia. It almost goes without saying, then, that I anticipated my travel to Wellington to attend a festival celebrating photobooks, another of my favourite things, very highly.
Photobook/NZ is a biennial event, held this year at Massey University and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa from 7 - 11 March, dedicated to developing and strengthening connections within the international photobook community and building a national and international audience for New Zealand photobooks. This year’s festival comprised artist talks and panel discussions, an exhibition, a masterclass and a photobook fair.
I arrived on the afternoon of Thursday 8 March, following the festival masterclass, at the Engine Room for the opening of ‘Photobook as object / Photobook who cares’, a remarkable exhibition featuring a live photobook making performance by Michiko Hayashi, Ryo Kusumoto and Tammy Law in association with Yumi Goto and the Reminders Photography Stronghold; and a selection of photobooks by Reminders Photography Stronghold alumni. It’s an exhibition I dearly wish I’d had more time with.
The events due to take place over the weekend began with a celebration on Friday night and the announcement of the New Zealand Photobook of the Year Award, won by Allan McDonald and Rim Books for ‘Carbon Empire’. Reaching this point in the day was also something of a relief for me, as I’d picked up the final copies of my photobook ‘The Winter Garden’ from the printer only an hour prior. In addition to this, the photobook fair, which included photobook artists and publishers from New Zealand, Australia and further abroad, opened. I represented Melbourne photobook publisher M.33 and it was great to see so many people engage with and respond positively to our books. In addition, the fair presented an important opportunity to exchange and share knowledge with others.
Most memorable for me were the artist talks by Katrin Koenning, Bryan Schutmaat and Jem Southam. Though individually compelling, when I considered the talks as a whole they became part of a larger discussion about photography and the function of documentary in a fine art context. What resonated the most for me was the way each artist spoke about the importance of walking in their practices and the value of engaging with one’s immediate environment, camera in hand. Following these talks was a panel discussion about photobook distribution, Yumi Goto’s lecture about the Reminders Photography Stronghold and a lively debate about whether Instagram is the future of photographic publishing.
Photobook/NZ’s inclusion in the New Zealand Festival’s Writers and Readers Festival was another pleasure. It was delightful to hear Teju Cole speak about his favourite 12 photographers. I also attended an insightful discussion between celebrated New Zealand photographer Peter Black and writer Steve Braunias, where they talked openly about the experience of collaborating on their photobook ‘The Shops’; a very personal and moving document about the decline of locally-owned businesses in small-town New Zealand. Further, the festival coincided with Shaun Matthews’ important exhibition ‘Incursion’. His series of digitally manipulated photographs, featuring common weeds found in New Zealand, were printed on fabric and positioned over areas of native planting at Otari-Wilton’s Bush, Te Papa and the Wellington Botanic Gardens to emphasise the destructive nature of these plants on the local environment.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience of Photobook/NZ. It was creatively stimulating and a wonderful platform to connect with new and old friends. The only downside to participating as a stallholder at the book fair was having to negotiate which talks to attend on Saturday 10 March, as they were run concurrently, and I was unable to see Carolle Bénitah or Athol McCredie speak. Aside from this Photobook/NZ 2018 was well organised and promoted, and I appreciated how helpful and informative the website was.
Prior to and at the time of the event, I’d been thinking about many ideas that over the course of the weekend were raised in different ways; whether during an artist talk, panel discussion, conversation or by picking up a photobook at the book fair. I felt energised by my presence at and involvement with the festival and consequently, for me, it was a huge success. I’m already looking forward to Photobook/NZ 2020.
Christine McFetridge is a New Zealand born photographer and writer based in Melbourne. Her book 'The Winter Garden' was published in 2018 as a limited-edition photobook by M.33 and Bad News Books.
All event photos by Geoff Short. More photos can be viewed here.