While judging a photography competition in Cambodia last year, Daniel Boetker-Smith was more than impressed by the winning series of photographs. He was partly struck by the photographs themselves, which featured women with domestic objects obscuring their faces. But he was even more struck by the fact that the photographer, a 21-year-old student from Phnom Penh, was unlikely to have her work seen or shown outside her hometown. Boetker-Smith thought this didn’t have to be the case.
A drive to address potential missed opportunities such as this was what compelled Boetker-Smith to found the Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive, an ever-expanding collection of self-published photographic publications produced in response to the Asia-Pacific region.
The intention behind the archive is to address two oversights: overlooking photography from the Asia-Pacific in favour of American and European photography, and self-published photographic publications, which are often passed over in favour of mainstream, mass-printed publications.
This Friday, as part of the National Gallery of Victoria's Melbourne Now, the archive will host the Melbourne Now Photobook Day, where 30 local photographers, printers and publishers will share and discuss their work and wisdom.
Local photography collectives including Hard Workers Club, along with independent publishers such as Perimeter Books, M.33 and Bloom Publishing, will be attending stands, while Michelle Lackenby of Paperlab.co will be delivering a workshop on producing photobooks.
This event marks almost a year since the Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive’s inception. Since then, it's been moving quickly, relocating to Strange Neighbour's Fitzroy studios in February. According to Boetker-Smith, the room, with its pine walls and bookshelves, “looks like a bookshop, except there’s no cash register”.
There are chairs to sit in while flipping through the publications and Boetker-Smith hopes to bring in an armchair to encourage sessions of leisurely reading. Every month a guest selector will be tasked with choosing 30 books from the archive for people to pluck from the shelves. Currently, there are around 300 publications for the selectors to choose from. After the Melbourne Now Photobook Day, the archive hopes to have a few more.
As for that 21-year-old student from Phnom Penh, Boetker-Smith has been in touch.
"We've been talking a little bit about how can she do a book. Her work would never usually be seen outside of Phnom Penh, but now she actually could publish a book and get it sent around the world. We can get her work seen."
Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive
395–397 Gore Street, Fitzroy
Thurs to Sat 11am–6pm