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Sarah J. Walker: Second Sight & Pelci Manor

If you’re contemplating entering the Australia & New Zealand photo book awards (or not), peruse this post about Melbourne-based Gen Z photographer Sarah J. Walker who can credit two photobook award wins for producing her first two publications.

Book awards have already played a significant role in the career of emerging Melbourne photographer Sarah J. Walker. In 2017 she won the Perimeter Small Book Prize. She went on to win the Photobook category of the Australia and New Zealand Photobook Award 2018 with Second Sight – the book published as a result of the Small Book Prize.

The circle was completed in 2019 when she teamed up again with Perimeter Editions to publish her second work, Pelci Manor, using the credit prize from the Australia and New Zealand Photobook Award to print the book with Momento Pro.  Read on for our interview with Sarah about her publications.

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Key: MP = Momento Pro, SW = Sarah J. Walker, PE = Perimeter Editions

MP: Photo book making is just one area of Walker’s photographic practice. She works with found and archival imagery, as well as video and sculpture, and is interested in using these tools to deconstruct reality and examine ideas related to the human condition.

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Her first publication, Second Sight, was designed by Walker and Erin Callaghan, a Melbourne designer who specialises in print, typography and graphic identities. They produced the work as a 205 x 285cm, 104 page, perfect bound softcover. It was published in an edition of 500, and printed by Wilco Art Books in the Netherlands.

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MP: What is the story behind Second Sight?
PE: Second Sight takes its bearings from the adage that seeing is believing. It assumes a cynical vantage on our collective relationship with spirituality, faith, ritual and the search for meaning. Utilising the trickery of photography, it reframes and appropriates fragments of the everyday to imbue them with the loaded atmosphere of the ephemeral and the arcane.

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MP: The 2018 Australia and New Zealand Photobook of the Year judges, Teun van der Heijden, Mags King, Heidi Romano, Kriselle Baker, Adam Harding and Anita Totha, described it as, “an unsettling voice that draws on spirit photography, nineteenth century notions of hysteria, and the arcane world of secret ritual. Second Sight is a wonderful combination of photography, editing, design and storytelling. The narrative builds, changes and repeats, and the theme of ‘seeing is believing’ is reinforced and reimagined throughout the book.”

Take a look inside or buy a copy

SW: Winning the Perimeter Small Book Prize gave me the opportunity to enter the ANZ Photobook Award with something I was really proud of and felt confident about, then winning the ANZ Photobook of the Year award provided the funds to publish Pelci Manor.

I would never have been able to publish two books in consecutive years without the support of these awards.

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SW: Pelci Manor wasn’t intended for publication at the time I was creating it. I was attending a workshop at the International Summer School of Photography (ISSP) in Latvia and the outcome of was this body of work. It was shot over three days in the attic of a grand, 19th-century, art nouveau structure in the small Latvian town of Kuldīga.

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PE: It offers an ominous, curious and claustrophobic view on this historically loaded building. The site where Latvia ceded independence to Nazi occupation during World War II. Amidst Walker’s dynamic, high-flash photographs, the cavernous interior frees itself of historical shackles, morphing to assume the guise of an intensely psychological space.

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Here, endless geometrical forms stutter, shadow and repeat; graffiti, cigarette butts and dead critters litter surfaces; jagged objects and rusted tools gesture towards signs of violence; overlapping beams and joists form oblique visual puzzles. As such, Walker’s Pelči Manor feels like an obsessive thought or cerebration, looping and rearranging itself toward any and every possibility, searching for a solution that may never present itself.

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MP: Where are Second Sight and Pelci Manor sold, and to what kind of audience?
SW: I’m really lucky to be published by Perimeter who are not only a publishing house but a retailer and distributor. They sell through their bookstore in Thornbury, Melbourne, at perimeterbooks.com, via their Australian and international distribution network, and at book fairs they attend around the world, including Printed Matter in Los Angeles and New York, Focal Point in the UAE, Paris Photo Fair, Offprint London, and ABC Shanghai art book fair, where Pelci Manor was launched in September this year.

MP: How else do you get your photography and photo books seen and sold?
SW: Instagram has a really interesting part to play in getting the word out.

SJW-Insta.jpgMP: What’s your advice to photographers who want to enter photo book awards?
SW: Nothing is ever perfect but before entering the Small Book Prize I made numerous dummies of Second Sight and got as much advice and eyes on them as I could. Also, give yourself time for the project to develop and for you to figure out how the book format will serve your project.

Allow the idea of the work to be informed by the design, material and binding.

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About the author Momento Photobooks

Co-founder + Marketing Manager of Momento, creators of premium photo books + custom stationery. A 100% Australian owned + made company dedicated to helping amateur, enthusiast + professional photographers preserve their images in style at www.momento.com.au.

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