Thank you to everyone who has joined us over the past weeks to celebrate the launch of these Photobooks that the project participants have produced over the past months. This community partnership between the Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive and the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival grew from two desires; firstly to nurture and build photographic skills and passion amongst young people in our Pacific communities and secondly to address the fact that there was little content in the Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive made by photographers of Pacific Island heritage.
Images are powerful. They are ubiquitous. We live in an image-saturated culture. The rate at which photographic images are made, shared and travel globally is unprecedented. And now, more than ever, we need to be conscious of the way that images inform how we see others, how we see ourselves. For a long time, Pacific communities have been the subject of photographic documentation and enquiry – but there’s been a power imbalance.
This project was about shifting that power back to the Pacific community, to be the image-makers, and to have our lives as the subject - but on our own terms. This project was an opportunity for the wider community to see the diversity of our lives and experiences from our perspectives. And apart from making some exceptional artworks, I believe that this is how we can also begin to change perceptions and misconceptions about the reality of being a Pacific Islander living in contemporary Australia. We are not homogenous.
Mainstream media has a habit of focusing on the superficial, and reducing a group of people to a set of stereotypes for easy consumption. As a result, Pacific Islander communities in Australia are often over-represented in the media in relation to crime, sport or entertainment. For many, 'Jonah from Tonga' was the tipping point.
Projects like this and campaigns like the #Iamnotjonah are an important part of addressing the inaccuracy of media representations of our communities.
And so becoming active and informed image-makers, like the participants in this project – we can start to redress misrepresentation. Photography has always been privileged with presenting ‘truth’ and sometimes these truths can be used to justify damaging policy and have real life consequences for certain communities.
This project asked participants to create photographic narratives that represent their truths, without any restrictions about theme or content. Participants were taught how to use professional camera equipment and techniques, but were also encouraged to experiment with a range of photographic devices, from disposable film cameras, smart phones and high end DSLRs.
And so through these books, we bear witness to the diversity of contemporary Pacific identities in an Australian context. The beauty of a photobook in an archive is its permanence. These are not digital ephemera to be lost – but will have a secure an important place in the Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive.
Our participants each came to the project with varying levels of experience and objectives. Some were curious about photography, some were extending knowledge attained at highschool, some already engaged in tertiary study. Watching their skills develop over the 6 week program has been exciting and I think a rewarding experience for both facilitators and participants.
I’d like to thank the Australia Council, the federal government’s arts funding and advisory body – for funding this project. A huge thank you to our project partners, Lia Pa'apa'a, Director of the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival and Daniel Boetker-Smith, Director of the Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive; Michelle Lackenby from Papperazzi Design Studio for sharing her amazing bookbinding skills with us.
Our community liaison officers did an incredible job recruiting participants - Thelma Thomas-Lesianawai, Rita Seumanutafa and Venina held our project together and worked tirelessly to make our environment warm and inviting and kept us nourished.
We were so lucky to have such knowledgable, passionate and energetic photography instructors in Kirsten Lyttle and Salote Tawale - who gave 200% at every session and have continued to be mentors to the participants.
We are also indebted to Brad, Kat and Warren in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University for their assistance printing the books.
A huge thank you to our hosts in Melbourne the Footscray Community Arts Centre and in Sydney, Information Cultural Exchange – both provided excellent facilities and assistance each week.
Most importantly, I want to thank the participants for their dedication to the project, for being open to the challenge, for committing and being such a passionate and creative group of individuals. And my deepest gratitude to the parents, friends, partners and children who have made it possible for everyone to attend the project - thank you for supporting their creative endeavours.
Congratulations Analine, Donita, Elouise, Gardenia, Isaiah, Jacob, Jahnai, Kaithlyn-Paipai, Keelin, Léuli, Lyric, Malianive, Margret, Mériba, Nathan, Sione, Talei - the Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive now has 16 new publications made by Pacific Islanders living in Australia thanks to you.
In the words of the Mahoyo Collective, “no one can represent the way we see the world but ourselves." Let this be the first of many self-determined publishing projects, so that we may tell our stories, our way.