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Julie Riley, like Glenn Busch, uses text and pictures in book form to open up her chosen subjects. She presents a detailed study of what seem like very particular spheres of interest. On second look, however, there is something to be gained by making a connection to more general themes.
Both of her two books (Men Alone, 1990 and Our Town, 1993) are published by Reed Books, and follow a style which may be termed social documentary or commentary.
‘Men Alone’ concerns several men who have for various reasons, and periods of time, chosen to isolate themselves from others, while ‘Our Town’ looks at small town New Zealand by concentrating on the particular town of Reefton.
Both books use extensive interviews with individuals, edited to read as a monologue by the person interviewed, similar to the approach in Glenn Buschs' Working Men’. Unlike Busch, Julie Riley uses a number of images around the subject, or connected with their interview, to bring another angle to the story.
How successful, commercially, these books have been, I'm unsure, but the success in producing an interesting, captivating and insightful book is beyond doubt. Of course, reproduction quality is always something of a tradeoff against final sale price, and probably a reasonable compromise has been made here. A few pictures cry out for better quality, and it is always disappointing to see how highlights and especially shadows lose out in books.
Riley is one of very few New Zealand photographers who have tackled this genre of book, have found a publisher, and have made it into print. No doubt publishers take a risk with such books, but New Zealand needs more, and needs to support the photographers who will make them possible.
A book in a similar vein has been recently published by Arrow Press. Called Beyond Thames Street, it is a look at the town of Morrinsville, by photographers Phil Crawford and Mark Munro. The format is a series of 105 straightforward b+w pictures with captions at the rear of the book.
It is interesting to compare the different approaches to a similar theme. Although in the latter, there is much more emphasis on the pictures alone, the photographers have decided not to individually credit them, taking the emphasis off themselves, and the 'photographic' worth of the images, and more onto the content and overall impact.