This page uploaded 28 June 2020,  last update 5 July 2020



Most of what follows applies to any art book library but fine photography is a medium in which reproduction is an art form in its own right not just a vehicle for information and illustration of art works.

The photobook whether a monograph or limited ‘artist book’, is an important part of the appreciation of photography. Just looking at exquisitely reproduced photographs is the equivalent of a gallery visit and a pleasure in itself. . A check on abebooks or some such engine, will reveal if a particular title is super rare and expensive.

The  genre is alive and well. Click here for for Doug Spowart and Victoria Cooper’s The Antipodean Photobook site . They  were commissioned by The Tate to form an Australasian photobook collection and have made  a list of the top desiderata for rare Australian photobooks.

Culling a library can be quite an emotional aspect of Parting with your art. Most photographers and photo collectors end up with quite a lot.  As it may  end up being  your family that has to undertake the task, so for their sake, at least have a plan or suggestions for disposal.

Changes in lifestyle can prompt the challenge of what to do with your archive. Melbourne photographer Rob Imhoff has downsized and  taken a two-year lease on a clean, air-conditioned space that ‘will allow me to sort my collection in what I consider to be an appropriate semi-archival environment’, to deal with is photography and his library. He warns that ordinary storage units lack dust filers and temperature.

Rob has a personal interest in the ethics of posthumous printing of photographer’s estates which will become a paper in due course. Click here for Rob’s archive site.  (My set of Rob’s original photo xmas cards has gone to my archive at the  Art Gallery of New South Wales Research Library).

So I am starting the blog with my own tale of downsizing two rooms and a dozen book cases of photo history and visual art and theory books dating back to the 1970s. Having taken on a survey collection and history of Asia-Pacific photography for the National Gallery of Australia in 2005–14, my library also doubled with new titles.

Picture Paradise: Asia-Pacific Photography 1840s-1940s

Garden of the East: Photography in Indonesia 1850s- 1940s

Famed photo historian curator Professor Geoff Batchen has described his library as his ‘engine room’. A few years after retirement,  I decided my interests should be focussed where I could best make a contribution ;  Australia the Pacific including the west coast USA and Canada, and Southeast Asia.

East and South Asia and international titles were to be culled as well as any titles I could access online or were unlikely to be needed for reference.

I have come to have an ecological epiphany  and believe that what I paid to bring in to the house, I should also be prepared to pay to distribute. I like the idea of the baton being passed to a new or different scholar. There have been moments of real pleasure in a book going to an enthusiastic new owner.

So, what follows is the ‘extreme sports’ version of library culling.

My experience in finding new homes for my books

You will find that second-hand bookshops don’t take books these days even as gifts, so charity book fairs here like Lifeline provide the easiest opportunity for your treasures to find a new home. (I will inquire what percentage of the donations are pulped).

There are also university book fairs as at Sydney University which has the annual book fair and welcomes quality donations . They are currently accepting books for this year’s fair on 12–16 September  2020

The Ballarat International Photography Festival now with a home premises and archive are open to book donations.

Over the last year or so I have cleared one room’s worth of bookcases by a combination of strategies of donations to friends, colleagues and former interns as well as public archives.

Book donations  have gone to  regional art galleries, museums and libraries and Cultural Centres. State and National Libraries dont encourage book deposit inquiries,  unless of rare or very special items.

For eg  Dubbo Art Gallery which specialises in animals in art, received both a large zoological theme  book collection.

Disposal Process

About once or twice a month I grab a load of titles from the shelves and use the National Library‘s TROVE search engine to see which of my favoured Australian libraries don’t hold a copy already.  I find the e‑hive  site useful for suggesting libraries and museums  with a theme that might align with prints or books in my collection. Got to the account list at bottom for names and links.

Trove isnt perfect. I double check the intended library’s online catalogue. The last thing the librarians want is a box with lots of books they already hold. I send the Trove  links to the chosen librarians asking which ones they want.

The books then go into tubs under the desk with institution names on.  When the tub is full the books are boxed, labelled, measured and weighed for Australia Post parcel and finally put aside for the next post office run.

Libraries don’t pay postage, so packing and do cost; an 8–12kg, 30 x 25 x 20 cm box is circa $25 depending on whether signed delivery or insured.

I have a packing room with scales and supplies. I store any cardboard boxes that come into the house like a squirrel or load up with empty boxes at Bunnings hardware stores. I keep carry bags of all sizes and every meeting and gathering is also an opportunity to match a book to a friend.

Book donations in kind are not as I understand tax deductions, but I am seeking confirmation.

First preferences for distribution has been to the National Gallery of Australia Research Library and Edmund and Joanna Capon Research Library and Archive at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (click here). The late Edmund Capon is dear to me for his friendship and support of my curatorial aspirations.

Steven Miller the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s librarian extraordinaire, is an enthusiast for building collections and archives and a scholar in his own right. The Capon Library is also normally, outside  co-vid times, open to the public and researchers including Saturdays.

So the sounds of packing tape being pulled and snipped, boxes being labelled and weighed then lugged to the post office, will be part of home life for sometime to come.


»  click here for » contents page for Parting with Your Art