Pho­tog­ra­pher Steve Carr ex­plains how the sim­plest of sub­jects can be­come the most re­ward­ing of photo books via close fo­cus, cre­ative vi­sion, and in­no­va­tive think­ing


A trans-Tas­man col­lab­o­ra­tion this year sees one of Aus­tralia’s top pho­tog­ra­phy awards shared by a Kiwi pho­tog­ra­pher and Aus­tralian in­de­pen­dent book pub­lisher. Christchurch’s Steve Carr, work­ing with Mel­bourne-based Perime­ter Books, has been awarded the top hon­our at the Aus­tralian Pho­to­book of the Year event for the breath­tak­ing pub­li­ca­tion

Vari­a­tions for Trou­bled Hands. The pho­tog­ra­pher’s project beat a record num­ber of en­tries to re­ceive a $1K cash prize and $4K in Mo­mento Pro print­ing credit — not bad for a first try. An artist and ed­u­ca­tor, Steve has been pro­duc­ing works that re­flect a fas­ci­na­tion with tech­nol­ogy, trans­for­ma­tion, and the ex­cep­tional for over a decade, but

Vari­a­tions marks the first time that he has at­tempted to trans­late his process to the photo book form. The project com­prises a se­ries of over 200 images fo­cus­ing ob­ses­sively on a bal­le­rina’s hand, cropped from the rest of her body, as she dances a chore­ographed 12-part per­for­mance. As­sem­bled as a photo book, the mono­chrome se­ries be­comes a sin­gu­lar, mes­mer­iz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence unto it­self.

No mat­ter how phys­i­cally f it you are or how much gr ace you have, within the in­dus­try you need a cer­tain body type, oth­er­wise you just don’ t re­ally progress

“I al­ways wanted to do a pub­li­ca­tion, but I wanted it to be re­ally rel­e­vant for that medium,” the pho­tog­ra­pher says. That’s an ob­jec­tive he achieved with dis­tinc­tion, prompt­ing Heidi Ro­mano, the com­pe­ti­tion’s judg­ing chair, to praise the book for its orig­i­nal­ity of con­cept and beau­ti­ful ex­e­cu­tion. “It is a med­i­ta­tive ob­ject that draws you in as a par­tic­i­pant rather than just an ob­server,” she com­ments. Fur­ther em­pha­siz­ing the col­lab­o­ra­tive na­ture of pro­duc­ing the book, Steve ex­plains that his wife, Anna, is trained in bal­let, and it was through talk­ing with her about the art form that he came up with the idea for Vari­a­tions for Trou­bled Hands. “I was think­ing around bal­let, and I was talk­ing to Anna about how, when I think of bal­let, I think of feet — it’s about the ath­leti­cism of be­ing on pointe, that kind of stuff. It was her who talked to me about how hand po­si­tion is graded and as­sessed.” While leap­ing, point­ing, and spin­ning pull the causal ob­server’s at­ten­tion to the feet and legs of a bal­let dancer, the hands are of equal im­port in a suc­cess­ful per­for­mance. Ev­ery ges­ture, an­gle, and shape has sig­nif­i­cance, and be­cause — like the feet — the hands fin­ish the line of the body, they are par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant in cre­at­ing ideal bal­let shapes. The idea of dancers be­ing anatom­i­cally dis­sected in this way fas­ci­nated Steve, so he sought one out to help him ex­plore it.

The se­ries was shot by pho­tog­ra­pher Becky Nunes us­ing the high-speed Canon 5D Mark III, and Steve knew that he would need some­one im­mensely el­e­gant in front of the lens if he was go­ing to pull this con­cept off. An early trial run made this very clear. “I did some test shots with an as­sis­tant, and you could re­ally tell: I mean, she had beau­ti­ful hands and ev­ery­thing, but she just didn’t have that kind of grace.” Ca­dence, 16 years old at the time of the shoot, is a prodigy of the Royal New Zealand Bal­let, and was rec­om­mended for the project be­cause of her per­fect hand po­si­tion­ing. Steve ex­plained the con­cept of the shoot — us­ing high-speed pho­tog­ra­phy to cap­ture the minute hand move­ments too quick or sub­tle for the hu­man eye to de­tect — to Ca­dence and her mum, and they both em­braced it en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. “Ca­dence would talk about how there’s this thing with bal­let where, no mat­ter how phys­i­cally fit you are or how much grace you have, within the in­dus­try, you need a cer­tain body type, oth­er­wise you just don’t re­ally progress,” Steve re­calls. “That was why I wanted to ex­clude the rest of the body and fo­cus on the hand.” The re­sult­ing images were ini­tially dis­played as a gallery ex­hi­bi­tion, printed on mu­seum-grade Can­son In­fin­ity Rag Pho­tographique pa­per, but when he turned the project into a photo book, Steve knew that he wanted to take an en­tirely dif­fer­ent ap­proach. “There’s the idea when you’re mak­ing a photo book [that] you spend all this time

lay­ing out pho­to­graphs and se­quenc­ing it, cre­at­ing nar­ra­tives — then some­one holds your book and just kind of flicks through it,” he says with a laugh. “I like that way of en­joy­ing it, it kind of op­er­ates like a flip­book; then, if you own the book, you can take more time and look through each of the acts.” Ex­e­cut­ing the hefty, stylish book with­out blow­ing out the bud­get re­quired the in­no­va­tive de­sign ex­per­tise of Wayne Daly, with ed­i­to­rial over­sight by Dan Rule at Perime­ter Edi­tions. Dan came up with the idea of us­ing af­ford­able web-fed print­ing, in which a con­tin­u­ous roll of pa­per is fed through the press and cut to size af­ter print­ing, usu­ally used for cheap, mass­mar­ket nov­els. “I like the idea of the web-fed process rush­ing by re­ally fast, you can imag­ine watch­ing the ma­chine and see­ing this kind of an­i­ma­tion come through,” Steve says. Wayne was re­spon­si­ble for the book’s re­fined look, in­clud­ing its cap­ti­vat­ing cropped cover and jum­bled ti­tle dis­play. The de­signer cre­ated the cover font based on old bal­let-per­for­mance posters from the 1950s, then se­quenced the let­ters to em­pha­size the project’s feel­ing of move­ment. “At one point, we were go­ing to em­boss and foil the cover, but we de­cided that this sim­ple block was the thing,” Steve ex­plains. “I feel like there was a real con­fi­dence in hold­ing back there, let­ting it just be what it is.” What it is, is a photo book that many art-fair at­ten­dees can­not be­lieve is the artist’s first pub­li­ca­tion. And it cer­tainly won’t be his last: Steve is al­ready plot­ting to put his Aus­tralian Pho­to­book of the Year win­nings to­wards a new book, some­thing that tack­les mov­ing image through the static photo book for­mat. It’s not a straight­for­ward con­cept, but the pho­tog­ra­pher has more than proved that he’s got what it takes to pull off the un­con­ven­tional.

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