In amongst the rush to create photographic images that live only in an electronic digital world, there are photographic artists who rely on that most old fashioned of mediums to display their craft – the hand printed book.
New Zealand photographic artist Doc Ross has been earning his living from his camera derived art for since 1998 when he set up Christchurch based Gallery464. Living in the middle of one of Christchurch’s post 2011 earthquake red zones, the unassuming Ross has allowed the cataclysmic event to direct his previously landscape dominated output in a new direction. With his home/gallery badly damaged, and surrounded by destroyed buildings, it was logical that his art would start to reflect where he found himself.
For me the curiously named monograph 37 is his tour de force. The title refers to the 37 seconds that the 22 February 2011 earthquake lasted. Ross has photographed 37 people present in Christchurch that day, using a series of exposures totally 37 seconds, and requested that his sitters provide 37 words describing their experience. The aesthetic rationale behind the book is as powerful as are the portraits. The images have been created using a large format 5×4″ camera and the resultant black and white negatives have been sandwiched and reprocessed digitally.
Ross has hand printed all pages for each of the fifty limited edition copies, and had the binding done professionally. The power of this manner of recording his subjects is shown in this intense portrait of well known wedding photographer Johannes van Kan and the text written by Kan following the loss of his home and Studio he shared with his photographer wife Jo Grams. Kan writes that “I didn’t choose to be where I was when the Earthquake came. Nobody did. My experience was about my powerlessness in that moment. I knew to stay inside and maybe I am still alive because of that”.
Taking a more conventional approach to photographic book making and using a more common pathway is Brisbane based photographer Cam Attree. I have written about Attree previously, reviewing his Exhibition Naked in Baja. Nevertheless despite achieving the monumental result of having published a hard cover book, Attree is not living solely off this artistic endeavour.
Whilst Ross and Attree are at different ends of the photographic book spectrum, their commitment typifies the handful of photographers who are striving to keep alive the concept of photographic monographs.
As a committed photographer myself (with NO hard covered books to my credit) I find it a point-of-honour to support and encourage these artists in their endeavours. Purchasing such a craft piece and placing it on your bookshelf is a clear way in which to do this.