The long awaited 2011 Ballarat International FOTO Biennale has finally begun and presents a wonderful opportunity to see a huge and impressive array of photography from both Australian and International artists. The Core program consists of 21 shows over 7 key venues (all within 5 minutes walk of each other in the Ballarat CBD). The Fringe program consists of 66 venues and over 80 shows. Then there are projections, workshops, special events, competitions and masterclasses. Luckily there is a month to see it all….
So with that much to offer, how do you choose what to see and do? I decided to head up to Ballarat from Melbourne to see what I could manage in a day and thought I’d share my thoughts on what I liked, what was worth seeing and how I spent my time.
Before I begin, let me clarify that my thoughts are based on my own personal preference. You may love what I hate, and hate what I love – that’s the wonderful thing about art. Also, I didn’t get to see everything in one day, so many shows will go unremarked on (but I am hoping to get back and see the rest so check back in). For the record I did see all the core shows and 33 Fringe shows in the one day, starting around 10:30 and finishing around 5. We also stopped for lunch, had afternoon tea by the lake and walked nearly everywhere.
So, here we go. Starting with my favorites and then working back:
My Absolute Favourites
Colin Page: Gossamer -Venue A (C):
This work is large, bold and impressive. It features portraits taken under UV and infra-red light and the effect is both dramatic and powerful. The subjects are engaging and the skin details revealed by the lighting technique create a real sense of vulnerability about our bodies and lives. This was a standout and Colin has gone to a lot of effort to not only execute an idea but also to spend the required time, effort and money to create significant pieces of work.
John Gollings: Bushfire Aerials – Venue G (C):
John Gollings is without doubt a brilliant photographer. A reasonably small but beautifully produced series of aerial B&W photographs following the Victorian bushfires, they have a lyricism, balance and beauty which defies the subject matter. In the manner of a photographer who is on top of every aspect of the images he exhibits, these are flawless, perfect and stunning.
Frances Mocnik: The Night that follows Day – Venue G (C):
This is by far the most impressive documentary work in the Biennale. It is a touching, amusing, thought provoking and grounding view of the confronting process that occurs after death. Every image is necessary, each is multi-dimensional and each is adding to the story. I had come across this work before but there were a few images that were new and the effect on me just as strong as when I first saw it.
Great Shows Worth Seeing
Maggie Diaz: One Way Ticket – Venue A (C)
Another documentary piece that is easy to view and thoroughly engaging. Featuring B&W street documantary images from the 50′s, 60′s and early 70′s, these show a nostalgic view of places like St Kilda and Elwood Beach, Luna Park, the Melbourne Zoo and many other iconic locations in Australia and in the USA. Many of the images include candid people, with a real slice of life feel, reminiscent of Time and Life magazines. Loved it!
Tony Whincup: Playgrounds – Venue C (C)
I really enjoyed this series. It was thoughtful, concise, well executed and possessed a strong sense of colour and composition to bring it all together. The images are stark and devoid of people, yet the exploration of the spaces is such that people are front of mind when looking at the images.
Jan + Sarah Saudek: Dolce Vita – Venue A (C)
Not sure how best to describe this work. It is humorous, sexual, confronting, sad, contrived and thoroughly engaging. Of all the work exhibited, it is the least likely to be forgotten. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but a quick read about the artists history helps give the work more context (nice article here at arts hub) and gives the work a real sense of being a true extension of the photographers life. There’s also the issue of the image not on display which The Age discusses here
Duffy: The Man Who Shot The Series – Venue B (C)
The first 6 images as you walk in on the left are incredible. Black and White fashion taken in the 60′s mostly (the Vogue image 2nd along is spectacular), these are beautifully created images, with that perfect mix of style and desire. His later work (like the Bowie image on the left) is more edgy, in line with the fashion of the times. The man is a genius but I felt the show was a little hit and miss for me for some reason. I guess for a retrospective show that covers such a long period of cutting edge fashion and the work of a true trend-setter, there are inevitably going to be a range of images that appeal to different people
Louviere + Vanessa: As Id…[Creatures & Chloroform] – Venue B (C)
These were really interesting. Not my cup of tea and a long way from straight photography as a record of an event or time. These images are very much in the realm of the artworld and to be honest, their meaning was somewhat difficult for me to interpret. Yet at the same time, I couldn’t help appreciate the strong emotional response they exuded. The images have a definite strength and boldness. Some will love them, some probably won’t, but it’s hard to ignore them.
Jack Picone: Nuba – Venue D (C)
A beautifully photographed and printed series. Picone is fully immersed in his subjects world, providing an insiders perspective of a way of life that is far removed from anything we know. There is a genuine familiarity with his subjects which shines through and a strength of character in his subjects which transforms the work from mere observation to a much stronger engagement.
Istvan Horkay: One Day of Mrs Houdini – Venue G (C)
This is another show that I was extremely impressed with but didn’t connect with fully. The works are incredible muti-layered tableaux with a visual quality that is exceptional. There is obvious thought and meaning behind the many hundreds of layers that make up these images and it again creates a desire to understand the images and the artist further.
Kathleen Winder: Columba Livia – Venue 8 (F)
This was a pleasant surprise! Who knew pigeons could be so fascinating. Exquisitely photographed in a clean, simple style resembling Andrew Zuckerman, the quality of the images and their display is first class. But it’s the pigeons that are the stars of the show, constantly surprising with their uniqueness and personality. A great show!
Christian Pearson: Conversations with the Land – Venue 24 (F)
OK so this one maybe shouldn’t be here as the venue wasn’t actually open. We did however get a decent look through the window and I’m pretty sure it’s good, interesting work, featuring cubist styled landscapes which looked great (from afar….)
Darren james: Untitiled – Venue 28 (F)
Situated in a coffee shop on Sturt street, the images are a bit difficult to access due to the limitations on hanging space. As such many are set way up high near the roof. Irrespective of this, Darren has produced some lovely and intimate images that are engaging, beautifully printed and quite gorgeous. Watch out for the poetic red print inside the cafe (back right) and also the right hand image hanging in the window.
David Simmonds: Finding Sacred Space in a Secular World – Venue G (F)
David has been a leading commercial photographer for many years and his art prints are nothing short of spectacular. These are very big prints and their size both suits the subject matter and allows one to appreciate the attention to detail and perfection in each image. Stunning architecture with a themed message on a large format really makes these work.
Solid Shows Worth a Look
Judith Crispin: The Cartographers Illusion – Venue A (C) – liked many of these a lot but felt that the flow of them was difficult to absorb due to the alcove nature of their hanging. A few images that didn’t work for me but lots that did.
Chris Budgeon: What is True – Venue A (C) – These are strong pieces, with a very cinematic style somewhat reminiscent of Gregory Crewdson. Large glossy prints, a well thought out subject matter and some really interesting pieces. Unfortunately they are really hard to look at because of some serious reflection issues in the space – I was wearing a light coloured top and couldn’t escape my mirror image a lot of the time.
Lisa M Robinson: Snowbound – Venue B (C) These had some evocative images of places and items being released or held in by a snow filled landscape. Again, a strong series but I thought some of the images were a touch off making it really work.
Rodger Donaldson: All Dogs Shot – Venue B (C) A large body of work and some really interesting and often amusing images. Real slice of life stuff and I liked the style but overall was left underwhelmed for some reason.
Sarah Louise Jackson: Creatures – Venue C (C) An impressive body of work for a young photographer, featuring wild animals shown in evocative B&W canvas prints. A felt they were a bit overworked and they reminded me a lot of Nick Brandt’s work. Sarah is passionate about Animal Welfare and is using these images to help raise awareness of the issue (which I’m sure they will)
Heather Dinas: The Hymn of Kassiani and Two Brides – Venue F (C) Another one that suffered from serious reflection issues and a less than ideal installation. Once again this is a series displaying depth of thought as well as exquisite execution. The images are sensual and beautiful and it’s a shame they are so hard to take in properly.
Maleonn: Little Flagman – Venue D (C) I was quite excited to see this after seeing the preview image but underwhelmed at the actual series. Smaller pieces than I expected and again, not helped by a really poor hanging (no light on them at all) and the first couple of frames had exceptionally dirty glass. Maleonn is obviously a very talented photographer with a cinematic and cleanly designed style associated with a narrative approach and I’m keen to see more of his work.
Alfred Gregory: Significant Moments of Time – Venue F (C) I had the pleasure of meeting and photographing Alfred a few years ago and as such I’ve seen a lot of these before. As always, these are great documentary photographs. The Blackpool series continues to impress and the large prints from the Everest expedition are awe-inspiring. If you haven’t seen this work, it’s well worth a look.
Aldona Kmiec: Transient – Venue 14 (F) This was a surprise set of work that isn’t perfect but had some genuine moments of wow! Essentially street / art photography in B&W, some of the images such as the multi-exposure Sumo and some of the upside down shadow prints were very strong. I like it.
Carolyn Buckley: Shindo No Iken – Venue 16 (F) These are photographic compositions inspired by Japanese styling and textures. They’re an interesting juxtaposition and blending of photographic images that I thought worked well.
MAP Group: Mapping Ballarat 2 – Venue 15 (F) Ok, I’m a bit biased here but it really is worth a look. I’m biased as I have 3 images as part of this show but there is some genuinely good work on display, all photographed in and around Ballarat. The images by Meredith O’Shea are the standouts, with some strong work by Melanie Faith Dove and others as well. It’s also worth checking out the extended set of images by parking yourself on the street bench outside the visitor information centre where you’ll see the images projected on a TV in the window. I’d recommend coming after dark with a blanket and a mug of hot tea!
Julie Millowick: Quotations – Venue 16 (F) Julie’s work is always thoughtful, exquisitely produced and the type of work that grows on you the longer you look at it. It’s hampered a bit in this space by reflections but certainly worth a good look.
Eric Algra: Ned Kelly Was Here – Venue 29 (F) The first thing about these are they are in need of a good edit. But amongst the excess I found a light-hearted, well shot and well printed series of photos exploring the legend of Ned Kelly in a very Australian fashion. With an edit, larger prints and a bigger space, this has the makings of a strong show. Documentary in style, it reminds me of a USA road trip series, done Australian style.
Neil Cash: The Shape of Music – Venue 29 (F) These are really interesting and meticulously put together. A compilation of images and graphics based around music, these are very graphic in their design and very clean in their execution. They don’t come across as photography, more as graphic design but I liked them anyway.
Teagan Glenane: Issa’s Story – Venue 29 (F) It’s a shame these don’t have the space to breathe on the wall somewhere as they are a sensitively photographed documentary series with a really strong and emotive storyline. Unfortunately they’re a bit cramped and hard to engage with in the busy space they occupy but the quality of the work is undeniable.
Dave Tacon: Xpan – Venue G (F) A great format and some great shots from a number of interesting places in this series by editorial photographer Dave Tacon. The wide format really works in telling a story within a single frame and many of these do that very well.
Jeanne Wells: Things of this World – Venue 35 (F) These are fun and unique. They capture tiny slices of life using a wet plate collodion method and not only is the end result engaging and emotive, but the process by which they are created is on show as well.
Shows with something worthwhile (or that you might like more than me)
Les Horvat: Momentum of the River’s Flow – Venue A (C)
Anton Van Der Schoot: My Art – Venue 33 (F)
Osamu James Nakagawa – Venue E (C)
Darrian Traynor: American Fine Dining – Venue 59 (F)
Cynthia Karalla: After Death Options – Venue G (F)
Carly Michael: Air – Venue 6 (F)
Rosalind Lawson / Lynden Nicholls: Meniscus – Venue 8 (F)
Jane E Brown: Afterlife – Venue 14 (F)
Group Exhibition: Melbourne Silver Mine – Venue 38 (F)
Lea Williams / Paul X Stoney: Eclectic Decisive Moments – Venue 34 (F)
Carmel Riordan: The Mighty West – Venue 27 (F)
Gypsy Pennefeather: Cafe Bibo – Venue 21 (F)
Simon Peterswald: Chrome – Venue 29 (F)
Patricia Gabb: Polar Bears of Hudson bay – Venue 29 (F)
Mel Woolcock: View and Review – Venue 1 (F)
Emma Blee / Roger Farrell / Meredith Harvey: Inhabited Space – Venue 3 (F)
Gabrielle Hingston: Melbourne Street Scenes – Venue 2 (F)
Melanie Jayne Taylor: On the Rise – Venue 32 (F)
Lawrence Winder: Continuum – Venue 20 (F)
Jack Wilson: What Costume Shall the Poor Girl Wear – Venue 4 (F)
John Lamb: Textures of Italy – Venue 4 (F)
Lorraine Harvey: Dancing in Ballarat – Venue 13 (F)
Finally, though some shows may not be in my must see lists, congratulations to everyone who made the effort to be included in the biennale. It’s wonderful that the Biennale is inclusive enough to offer space to both experienced and new artists of varying levels of both photographic and exhibiting skills. In addition, many of the venues (in particular, but not only the fringe venues) are not well suited for photography and thus work that is excellent is often let down by the space which contains it – a necessary compromise when hosting this many shows.
Leave you own opinions and favorites in the comments below…