130627 - Prints Giveaway & Photobook Gathering Report

Continuing on from the last post on little things that matter...

I want to share a bit about how and why I decided to make this improvised prints giveaway & photobook gathering session at the end of the Eye to Eye exhibition. The simple explanation would be because the idea sounds like fun, and an impromptu closing event like this sort of made sense in the context of the exhibition itself, which was prepared rather spontaneously as well (read how it came to be on the announcement post). 

But there are more than that. I also wanted to know if people would actually want to have some prints by a photographer (me) for themselves, because 'print culture' isn't that well developed here in Indonesian photography scene. When is the last time you see someone put up some photographers' work on their wall? And I don't mean the ones for vernacular uses like wedding photographs or family portraits, but... photographic artworks, for the lack of better words. We rarely do that, don't we? I think the only time some non-vernacular photographs even get printed at all is when the photographer is preparing for an exhibition. After the show is done, typically the photographer will obtain the prints back, and one of two things happen: either he/she will display the prints on his/her own place, or he/she will store them for possible future shows. In the worst case scenario, those prints won't even see the light of day anymore. Very rarely do they change hands. 

Of course there are exceptions, for example photographic prints by artists which get sold for a hefty price by their representative galleries to eager collectors. But that only happens in the high-end art circles, and somehow only seems to apply to "artist who work in photographic medium" and not to mere "photographers". I don't know, for example, if you can acquire prints by Oscar Motuloh or Erik Prasetya. And they're well known names. Things get exceedingly muddy when you want to get prints by lesser known photographers. Let's say I love a photograph made by a peer, and I want to buy a modest-sized print to hang on my wall. If I ask the photographer about it, things will get confusing for both of us. How much should a print cost? Does it have to be in editions? Does it have to be specially prepared and printed on fancy papers? Our unfamiliarity of dealing with photographic prints will keep those questions hard to answer. 

And in a somewhat related (printed) matter, photobooks are also not that popular either. Even though recently there has been a noticeable surge in Indonesian photobook publications —with some even being relatively successful— the general acceptance of photobooks in our photography scene remains lukewarm at best. Many people, even photographers themselves, are still reluctant to purchase photobooks. The most common reason is that photobooks are expensive. To which I agree. But then again, many of those same people can get photography gears worth millions... which they will justify as investment. So why can't they think of photobooks as the same thing?

Those issues are the ones I tried to (modestly) address in this event. By giving away my prints, I'm hoping that at least the people who get them can begin thinking about photographs as real objects that you can hold, enjoy, and perhaps start collecting. If there are enough people who want these kind of prints to go around, who knows, maybe we will eventually start thinking about how we can make a fair system of trading them.

As for the photobook gathering, it's something that has actually been in my mind for a while. In Jakarta there are people who started an initiative last year to make a kind of one-day-library of Indonesian photobooks (or photobooks of Indonesia) which can be read by anyone coming to the event. You can join their Facebook group here. They made two such events so far in Jakarta which I attended both, and the acceptance has been pretty great. It's such an excellent way to see all the Indonesian photobooks you can't afford, or the rare ones which have been long out of print. And there has been talk of making local chapters of the event in other cities in Indonesia including Jogja. But there are some challenges:

  • The way the event is being organized is by gathering all the photobooks from people who have them and are willing to lend them for a day. So you can imagine if there aren't that many people who have books in a given place to begin with, there won't be much to see. Obviously Jogja has less photobook collectors than Jakarta. And if the books are limited to Indonesian photobooks only, the numbers may dwindle down even further. 
  • Even if there are people who have the books, some of them might be reluctant to lend their collection, out of concern that the books may be damaged by improper handling of the visitors. 

I thought about all that stuff and then it hit me that my show and Budi seemed like the perfect opportunity to try things out. Lir has always been designed as a hideaway place to read, the venue is small and intimate so it would only need minimal preparation, and I have books I can share, so I thought.... what the hell, I'd run with it. I made some adjustments from the Jakarta gathering though: I allowed any kind of photobooks to be brought to the event so that there would be enough books to read (I don't have a big collection!) and I only opened it for around 4 hours so I could manage it by myself. 

Luckily people (well, friends, mostly) were interested enough to come even though it rained heavily for a while, and some of them even brought a few books of their own to share! We had around 15 - 20 people in total for the relatively short duration of the event, and for a try-out I guess that wasn't too shabby. It was definitely a pleasant view to see these guys browse the books, talk about them, and choosing which prints in the gallery they would bring back home. Budi even eventually decided that people could take his prints as well (wasn't in the original plan!) so it was nice. All in all, a pretty fun evening. 

With this done, I am hoping I can make a bigger scale photobook gathering in Jogja in the future. I will need to round up more people who have photobooks collection and convince them to share it, while devising a system to make sure that they won't get damaged, or worse, lost/stolen. I also want to make it longer than just one day, though also not too long. A weekend event, perhaps? I'm thinking we can give the Jogja gathering an edge from Jakarta by featuring handmade/lo-fi/small-editioned photobooks that I know some people have been making. There wasn't much of that in the Jakarta gathering. There are also a few ideas I would love to develop as side events as well, for example I am wondering if the prints giveaway can be transformed into a print swap/exchange, so we can get multiple prints from different photographers. If done right I think it could be exciting. 

For the mean time, I would like to say many thanks to everyone who attended last week. If you have any suggestions (or even better, willing to help!) on how the future photobook event in Jogja could and should be done, let me know in the comments!


Mishbahul Munir Poetrafoto Photography said...

nice one! thank for this event :)

Jeni said...

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