Ballarat International Foto Biennale 2017: Fringe

From what I can judge, it looks as if  the Ballarat International Foto Biennale  2017 (BIFB17) is starting to come together. It has a online public space as the new website has gone live.    However, there is nothing yet  about the photographers who comprise  the core programme,  what the 2017 Biennale is trying to achieve in relation to contemporary Australian photography, or what the issues the  symposiums and talks will address. My understanding is that the full program will be released in April,  with glimpses and reveals being unravelled from late January.

At this stage, apart from the portrait and icons photographic competitions, there is little public information about either the content or the  approach of the biennale.  Given that  her background  is in graphic design and strategic branding, rather than art  festival directorships  or in photography,   it is hard to form  a sense of what Fiona Sweet’s first  Ballarat International Foto Biennale will be like. Given the emphasis on visual narrative in  her   design background it will be interesting to see what  the core  idea of the Biennale’s  graphic design and visual campaign will be,  and how she will grow the regional and national brand so that it becomes a global centre for the photographic arts.

Registrations for the Fringe Program were recently  opened, and we have applied  to exhibit work from  the Mallee Routes  project in one of  the Fringe spaces.  We want to show some recent work –ie.,  some of the pictures  that we have made since our initial exhibition at the Atkins Photo Lab’s gallery  in late 2016 that explore place through the language of loss, land, culture and memory. In this mapping of  photography to place the images map critical histories, preserving place and memory by giving voice to the invisible stories. This mapping of photography to place  uncovers  traces and share experiences of places that transform over time.

 At this stage we are currently waiting to hear if our application for a particular space in the Fringe  has been successful.   

The procedure  is that you pay the money to register for Fringe,   select a space, then wait to see if the owners of the space judge  whether  your work is suitable for their space. The best Fringe spaces are non cafes and those that you don’t have to sit  the space—require local knowledge,  and they go very fast. Within hours.  If, for some reason,  the space you applied for doesn’t work out,  then you are probably plain out of luck.


According to this 2016 interview  with Fiona Sweet the theme for BIFB17 is about identity, people, and the places they come from. Sweet says:

“Performance of Identity is about people and place and we’re looking at the role of identity in the visual narrative – who you are, where you come from, your beliefs, informing how you present and creative your own identity and how that identity relates to the world…What engages us is the perspective. It’s human nature to look at other people and situations, especially with photography and we are living in an image-saturated world – it’s more prevalent than ever before and we are all hungrier for more.”

The Biennale  runs  from August 19 to September 17 and we do know Creative Victoria is supporting the biennale  as part of   its policy to provide stability to the  state’s independent arts organisations and  to fuel the state’s creative economy and cultural life.  We also know that  the Ballarat Mining Exchange building will  host the biennale’s first-ever indigenous photographic exhibition, without knowing what kind of work will be shown. There are a number of  Indigenous photographers currently  engaged in the hard and painful personal, critical and creative work to mobilise against the ongoing impact of colonisation on cultural expression and representation.

Photographers, as well as writers,  do need to help  to spell out the trauma and anxieties of (un)belonging that haunt settler culture as a result of the belated and painful revelation of Aboriginal dispossession and genocide and the repression of the white settler atrocities and violence  towards indigenous people. That settler colonial violence, with its unspeakable horrors committed against Aboriginal people,  is  Australia’s foundational trauma. Indigenous Australians  must be erased, as a prerequisite for the creation and preservation of an orderly and civilized white society / nation. The barbarism of the Australian settlement  is the dark side of the Australian Enlightenment.


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