Brisbane-based artist Tammy Law has won the 2018 Australia & New Zealand Photobook Award – People’s Choice prize of $500 cash and $1,500 Momento Pro print credit. Her book, Permission To Belong, attracted 57 of the 268 People’s Choice votes collected over the last eight months as the Award exhibition travelled through Australia and New Zealand. This recognition is in addition to the book’s shortlisting in the 2018 Singapore International Photo Festival, and selection for exhibition at Photo Bangkok 2018, and in Photobook As Object during Photobook New Zealand in March 2018.
The judges described Permission To Belong as:
“an artist book with beautiful tactility and immaculate editing … the physicality forces you to spend time with it, while the handmade nature reflects the fragile and tattered lives of its subject – the Koren people – a group we know little about.”
And you can see just how complex and multi-sensory the book is in this video teaser:
Following her win, we interviewed Tammy about the creation process and meaning behind her book, and share it with you now.
What is the purpose of the book?
Like many of my projects, Permission To Belong is a reflection of my experience as a child of Chinese migrants, and the bubble of Asian-Australianness I lived as I was growing up. Then my travels through Asia as a young adult inspired me to explore the concepts of migration, home and belonging. It was the families from Myanmar (Burma) who have resettled in countries abroad, and who I befriended in Brisbane, that were the foundation for Permission To Belong.
How did the project start?
As a personal project that was never envisioned to become a book but it turned into a PhD, then a book, with help from mentors in Australia and at the Reminders Photography Stronghold in Tokyo.
How did you get to work with the Reminders Photography Stronghold and what was their impact on your project?
I met Yumi Goto, the founder of Reminders Photography Stronghold, as a 21-year old aspiring photographer in Osaka, almost 12 years ago now. Yumi and her husband Masaru have been a huge part of not only my book project but my photographic practice as a whole. I also met Jan Rosseel through the Photobook As Object workshop and worked alongside him and Yumi during a 2017 workshop. They often gave conflicting opinions so it was definitely an exercise in knowing what I wanted, what my personal vision was, and deciding whether or not their feedback complemented that.
How did you decide what additional text, graphics or materials to include?
Adding ephemera and extra materials was largely the suggestion of Yumi. The specific elements I chose to include was totally based on the stories and experiences of the people in the book, and were selected after working with individuals and families for a period of five or more years.
How many dummy or preliminary versions of the book did you make?
Fifteen dummies, plus many more half-formed attempts at the case! The final version is a 145cm x 195cm, 105 page coptic-bound book and box, laser printed onto three types of Japanese paper.
How did you decide how many copies to create and how long do they take to make?
The edition number of 95, is based on the calling code for Myanmar/Burma, and each book and box set takes six hours to hand print and bind.
How did you figure out the book’s RRP and where do you sell it?
Book sales have spanned Australia, New Zealand, US and Europe. The RRP was established following advice from Yumi and other book makers. To be honest, I made these books as a sign of respect to the people who shared their stories and their lives with me – this was not an exercise in profit making for me. People should consider it lucky to break even.
How did the Burmese community respond to your book?
I’d actually call them the Burmese diaspora, as most of the families are originally from Burma but identify as Karen, rather than ‘Burmese’. The community really embraced the process and there was such trust placed in me. It has been a privilege to have people so open to sharing their stories with me, and to see their reactions has been really moving. I’m still making special editions for community members as some even provided me with clothing for the material that you see on the cases!
Your top advice for Australian and New Zealand photo book creators?
Have a clear vision of what you want for the story that you are telling. Don’t be afraid to seek advice, and have open conversations with members of the photo book community who are more knowledgeable and experienced thank you.
What’s your next photography project?
I always have two to three projects on the burn. One of my current projects explores words that are used to describe refugees here in Australia. I want to debunk some of the terms like ‘boat people’ and disrupt some of those stereotypical narratives.
The other project is a deeper investigation into the untold/buried stories of the strong women within my own family that reflect the history of Chinese women and their migration stories from China to Australia.
Your favourite photo book?
Miki Hasegawa’s book Internal Notebook really inspired me. Miki herself is also an amazing mentor and maker who has played a major role in my bookmaking practice.
I also really love Foreigner by Daniel Castro Garcia.
Buy Permission to Belong
JPY$12,600 (approximately $AUD175)
Here Tammy speak
Tammy will be presenting at PhotobookNZ in March 2020, alongside one of her creative idols, Cristina de Middel.
Find out more