News & Commentary, Visual Arts

Ballarat International Foto Biennale returns for 2015

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The International Foto Biennale is a nice way to spend a day or weekend in Ballarat, walking from here to there, looking at photos from here and there.
First, two frames for viewing:
Frame 1: If photography can do anything it’s to offer a persuasive alternative to word descriptions. You may not get the analysis, or a contemporary contextualisation, or historical framing — but you get an opinionated image about which you can make your own judgements. With documentary work the real world seems to show through beyond the photographer’s control.
Frame 2: Photography was always based in staging, from the first image made. And with current technology, not a single photo can be trusted at face value as being unmediated.
Now, back to the show.
The only way to enjoy this smorgasbord of photography is to go with your taste — for subject matter and aesthetic. Sight first and ratiocination after. The choice is ample — everyone will find a fit. I was drawn to the documentarians, showing events a long way from the lucky country. The aesthetics went every which way, from dense hues to a grungy desaturation.
One set that caught my eye was “The Drilling Workers” by Pang Xiangliang, set in the Daqing oilfields in north eastern China which has been operating for fifty years. Pang’s photos seem like direct transcriptions of the atmosphere, a suspension of frost and oil. The aesthetic is a kind of subverted social realism, too sharp and surreal for propaganda.

I went looking for Darrin Zammit Lupi‘s “Islelanders”, shot around his native Malta. Zammit Lupi has documented the efforts of refugees trying to reach Europe from Africa by boat. Life changing events happen in full daylight.

Dave Tacon, an Australian in China, hung out at bars with names like M1NT, Richbaby, Linx and Cirque le Soir to record “Shanghai: Decadence with Chinese Characteristics”, wherein the young and rich run up tabs in the tens of thousands on Cristal et al. Maybe decadence is an international style.

What to see?
Download the Biennale Program PDF to check out the photographers — each entry has a picture and description. You might wish to see Jane Long’s anachronistic photo fantasies or David A Williams’ unhistorical constructions — both are magicked with photoshop. There’s Stephen Dupont’s Niugini portraits, Michele Vannier’s mysterious Car Graveyard. Ponch Hawkes, who has work at M.A.D.E. suggested the very “romantic” Ukranian horses by Yurko Dyachshyn.
There are many, many spaces converted into galleries, as well as exhibits in the Art Gallery. I must have visited 24 shows before retiring for refreshments. If you need a drink, coffee or cake, I recommend L’espresso, my favourite cafe in town, with minimum lighting and maximum good vibes. And there you will find a show of pictures by Melburnian Darren James. There are female nudes paired with images of clouds and planes, in small scale, running high along the walls. Clouds in my coffee, nudes on my spoon.
[box]Ballarat, 22 August to 20 September 2015. Free.
Photos courtesy of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale.[/box]

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