Events photography

Photography festival that taps into our humanity

Like a number of festivals delivered during COVID, the inaugural PHOTO 2020 faced upheaval. A last-minute postponement and rebranding saw the new biennale pushed back and relaunched as PHOTO 2021. That’s no small feat for a new venture with over 50 exhibits and event partners. But for a new festival focused on uniting one city – the most closed city in the world, Melbourne – the medium of photography has taken on an even greater sense of immediacy and connectedness.

Elias Redstone, artistic director of the festival, told ArtsHub: “Melbourne has an incredible culture of photography and visual arts. The idea of ​​this festival was to bring the sector together to collaborate in a meaningful way and create a major celebration of photography both as an art form and to consider the role it plays in life.

“In turn, this shines a spotlight on Melbourne as Australia’s photography capital – an important center for practice, study and exhibition,” he continued.

Despite being held between closings, PHOTO 2021 reached an audience of over 120,000 and had 2.7 million impressions. It was proof that there was a need for this tailor-made festival.

Redstone said: “The first learning was that we were on the right track. Despite all the challenges, we were able to realize our vision and create a world-class photography festival in partnership with Victoria’s leading museums, galleries and universities. We showed that we were serious about photography as art; that we have played an important role both in commissioning new work – many commissions have been shortlisted for awards or exhibited overseas – and in building links between the sector in Australia and overseas .

“We’ve also encouraged cultural institutions to really take their thinking about photography a step further, with incredible presentations at the Parliament of Victoria, the Royal Botanical Gardens of Victoria and the Museum of Immigration, among others.”

Conceived as a festival of exploration, PHOTO 2022 has reoriented itself and returns from April 29 to May 22 more ambitious than ever, with an immersive program staged in the city’s most prestigious artistic organizations, in its dynamic spaces managed by artists and pushing into regional constituencies. This is Victoria’s largest art biennale, and this year’s program will receive international attention.

Luo Yang, San (detail), 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Migrant Bird Space.

Dream big, then deliver beyond expectations

The PHOTO 2022 program includes the work of 123 local and international artists, across 90 exhibitions, including 50 world premieres and 24 specially commissioned projects. It’s a massive achievement, even without a tenuous emergence of a global pandemic.

“The core of what we do is quality,” Redstone said. “And to say something about the time and place where we are.

“Part of my role as Artistic Director is to invite different curatorial voices to the table, rather than impose an agenda on us, and for them to curate their own responses to a central theme of the festival. We then commission projects for the public domain to connect all sites,” Redstone explained.

This year’s theme is To be humanand a journey of 40 commissioned outdoor projects will connect the city like arteries, bringing it back to life.

Among them are large-scale light boxes along Southbank Promenade, commissioned by the City of Melbourne; a photographic and sound installation by Bidjara artist Christian Thompson in the former courtyard of the old Melbourne prison; At Atong Atem Surah James Henry’s exhibit and portraits of Kulin Nation elders outside the Old Treasury Building; Jenny Lewis’s epic documentation of people aged 0-100 displayed on over 100 meters of construction signs from the subway tunnel, to Cindy Sherman’s iconic artwork on the Fed Square facade.

“The festival is not based on people having to cross the threshold of the gallery; we brought photography to the streets. The potential reach of this is millions.

‘It was so encouraging to see people exploring PHOTO 2021 with their friends, in the streets wandering the alleys with the festival guide in hand, exploring the city and looking for artwork,’ Redstone added .

Photography is an incredibly accessible medium; it is the visual language of our time. This festival shows the public’s enormous appetite for experiencing photography as a visual art.

Elias Redstone, artistic director

“From the beginning, our intention was to showcase the most important names in photography alongside top emerging talent and celebrate the diversity of practices present in the medium,” Redstone said.

‘This year, in addition to our Icon series with Helmut Newton and Cindy Sherman, we feature exclusive exhibitions of Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing at ACMI, Deutsche Börse Prize winner Mohamed Bourouissa at Peter O’Callaghan QC Gallery and American artists Martine Gutierrez and Paul Mpagi Sepuya at the Center for Contemporary Photography (CCP) – each of them is a huge talent in their own right. Bringing all these artists together for a festival in Australia is just amazing.

The festival is also a who’s who of emerging Australian photographers, with Anu Kumar, Scotty So, Madeline Bishop, Sarah Pannell, Henry Wolff all commissioned to create new work.

Hoda Afshar, from the series Speak the Wind (detail), 2015—20. Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane.

Make a career in photography

An artist whose work eloquently embraces this year’s theme To be human, is Hoda Afshar. Monash Gallery of Art will present its critically acclaimed project speak the wind.

This follows his famous series on whistleblowers – commissioned for PHOTO 2021 – which was later a finalist for the Ramsay Art Prize (Art Gallery of SA), and has since toured biennials in the UK and Spain.

“Although we act as a curator, it is essential that these works have a life after the festival and are exhibited around the world. We are so proud that Hoda is coming back this year to create his next series, Speak the wind. This project was published by MACK (London), arguably the most influential photo book publishers in the world, and premiering at PHOTO 2022 will have a ripple effect globally.

The series explores generational trauma and, while “painfully beautiful”, as Redstone describes it, it taps into the darker nuances of the human psyche around the theme of migration.

He added: “The theme is really an opportunity for the artist and the photographer to explore their contemporary human condition and what it is today, but also for viewers to find that connection or entry point. .”

Audiences can engage with an Ecuadorian tribe struggling to save the rainforest from Chinese youth culture and deepfakes to First Nations stories.

Redstone added that in addition to exhibitions and commissioning new work, Photo Australia emphasizes professional development and mentorship.

New Photographers is PHOTO 2022’s showcase of Victoria’s most exciting new talent. Seven emerging artists have all been mentored by international artists and curators, including PHOTO 2021 alumnus Sam Contis and George Georgiou, and will feature in a group exhibition at James Makin Gallery. “Along with other programs such as our PHOTO Lab collaboration with Magnum Photos, New Photographers is one of the ways to help support the arts sector here and nurture the next generation,” Redstone explained.

“Another way is that we actively connect what is happening in Australia with the global photography community, for example Atong Atem’s 2022 PHOTO commission Surah will be published by PHOTO Editions, a publishing partnership between Photo Australia and Perimeter Editions, and distributed worldwide.

As part of a partnership set up by Redstone and his team, Atem’s work will also be exhibited outdoors at the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival in Toronto (Canada) at the same time as PHOTO 2022. behind the scenes to make sure what happens here resonates globally,” Redstone concluded.

To consult the complete program of PHOTO 2022.

PHOTO 2022 focuses on five festival districts: City Hall District, Parliament District, River District, State Library District and Fitzroy/Collingwood, as well as venues around the metropolis of Melbourne and the Victoria region.

Admission to PHOTO 2022 is free, excluding HELMUT NEWTON: in brief exposure. The Headline Talks PHOTO Live program and Photobook Weekend are free, along with a downloadable walking guide to navigate the festival on your own.