The against-the-odds success of the inaugural Daylesford Foto Biennale is the latest in a string of initiatives by respected commercial photographer, AIPP life member, and recently installed local ratepayer, Jeff Moorfoot.


[Right: From Michael Coyne’s survey of the works of the Jesuit order around the world, ‘Second Spring’]

The against-the-odds success of the inaugural Daylesford Foto Biennale is the latest in a string of initiatives by respected commercial photographer, AIPP life member, and recently installed local ratepayer, Jeff Moorfoot.

Jeff’s previous achievements on behalf of the photographic community include co-organizing a series of three ‘Homeless Galleries’, where he ferretted out temporarily available vacant space for hundreds of photographers to show literally thousands of images.

He also took a modest annual prize-giving for Victorian photographic students and developed it into what’s now known as the ‘Vipsies’ – a rigorous two-days of judging of work coming from all the recognised photography courses in the state, culminating in the Victorian Photography Student of the Year travelling exhibition of 75 top-scoring student’s prints.

This was one of no less than 35 featured exhibitions in and around Daylesford that ran from June 3 – July 4, attracting and exciting photographic enthusiasts from all over Victoria and beyond.

The exhibitions were accompanied by a comprehensive series of seminars and lectures. These ranged from presentations from prominent Australian photographers (some of whom were also exhibiting), discussions on the ‘state of the art’, and a series of more technique-focussed sessions – from mastering the venerable cyanotype process through to digital colour management.

Add a weekend photographic flea market and a book fair, and plenty of convivial, open-fired snugs at which to congregate (Daylesford is pretty in June, but also pretty cold!) and the Biennale is all that a photographic type — such as a Photo Review reader — could desire.

Moorfoot has used the annual photography festival in Arles, France as something of a rough template, working from recent Arles program guides.

While Moorfoot and his gang of five or six can take much credit for the success of the festival, many local businesses (even the local Retravision store!) which offered space for exhibitions; sponsors, notably gold sponsor Fujifilm; and of course the exhibitors themselves, also helped make it happen.

Nothing of this scale and scope has been attempted in Australia before. That just a handful of volunteers have pulled it off in spite of numerous obstacles, running on about one tenth of the funding they actually needed, is extraordinary.

Planning began some 18 months ago, but by last September, Moorfoot and the remaining stalwarts in the Biennale organizing committee were inclined to give up in the face of disinterest and lack of money. Ironically, one of the reasons they pushed on was the difficulty of dealing with the moral and legal dilemmas of having already spent some of the sponsorship money, and how to disburse remaining funds!

Not only is Moorfoot the driving force behind the Biennale, he also had a small exhibition of his own work, ‘Vegetal’, in one of the numerous coffee shops in the town, even though he maintains he is retired (‘well, semi-retired,’ he says when pressed.)

‘When I was growing up my mother was always hon. secretary of this or committee member for that and I guess I just inherited that trait from her,’ was how Jeff explained his extra-mural drive.

Also on show was a retrospective of images from celebrated Black Star photographer Michael Coyne and, filling the small Uniting Church in Daylesford, a selection of massive prints by war photographer Tim Page, from Vietnam and the Middle East.

(Dennis Hopper’s photojournalist character in the film Apocalypse Now was based on Page.)

These images, which had a huge impact published in the ’60s and early ’70 in A4-size magazines almost overwhelm at over a metre wide. (Whether the current crop of pro digital SLRs could produce such crisp, high-impact prints at this size is unlikely – one of those hidden costs of progress.)

Photodocumentary of an exquisitely different kind was on show in the Daylesford Town Hall in ‘Debut’, by Anthony Scibelli, an affectionate, fly-on-the-wall study of young debutante Australians and their tuxedoed partners. If this one doesn’t evoke a smile, check your heart’s still beating!


[Above: Anthony Scibelli’s affectionate study, ‘Debut’]

Cross the street to the old Rex Theatre for something completely different again – ‘Tavastia’, by French photographer Christophe Bourguedieu. As detached as ‘Debut’ is engaging, this outsider’s view of Finland was both disconcerting, off-kilter — and quite compelling.

In a semi-abandoned wooden shed on the outskirts of town, rudimentarily patched up for the Biennale, Balmain-based photographer Anthony Browell showed a series of ethereal — and once again very large — black and white nudes taken with a pinhole camera.

Browell has used long exposures in seaside settings. The sculpted solidity of the female bodies against the fluidity of the de-focussed backgrounds disproves the old adage that there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s inspiring to see a photographer using the most basic of techniques and, over 150 years after the invention of photography, creating something fresh and genuinely exciting.

‘I decided to concentrate on the nude in landscape for two reasons,” Browell explains in his exhibition notes.

‘Firstly, the legendary English photographer Bill Brandt has inspired me all my life, and his nudes and figure work were done on the beach at Hope Gap, Seaford, Sussex, near where I lived in England as a child.

‘Secondly, Australia has an incredible quantity, and quality, of light and these large negatives require abundant bright sunlight, both to shorten the exposure time, and to sharpen the images.”

On the facing wall is another side of the photographer, an extended study of Sydney’s disappearing industrial waterfront; the silos, cranes, chimneys and sheds – ‘corrugated cathedrals’, as Browell describes them. Biennale patron Wolfgang Sievers, a pioneer of industrial and architectural photography in Australia, would appreciate this work.

‘They’re huge, brutal and crude, and these are the qualities I’ve interpreted in these photographs – to emphasise the oddity and the oversized strangeness of an environment that will soon be no more.’

While the subject matter is diametrically different, the two parts of the show ‘hang together’ in that they are both monochrome and on matte, textured paper.

A short stroll up the road to the warm and welcoming Farmer’s Arms we find something completely different yet again, an exhibition appositely titles ‘Happy Hour’. In the spirit of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, the folk at the Farmers Arms decided to travel the DIY route (‘You can use a camera, I can pose. Hey, let’s put on our own show!’).

‘They had one digital camera. Thirty one photographers (Farmers Arms patrons) each had the camera for one hour over 31 days,’ explained Moorfoot.

‘They had a big chalkboard and you put your name on the board to get on the list. Once people started hearing about it, it became that popular they had to start a reserves list.

‘There ended up being quite a few quality pictures among them,’ he added with a hint of surprise.

Another local community initiative was ‘A Day in the Life of Hepburn Shire’, a photo documentary project undertaken by the district’s primary and secondary school students. This exhibition flowed gently up the main street of Daylesford, featuring in many of the shopfront windows. At the end of the show the prints will be bound into a book to be presented to the Hepburn Shire Council.

The council’s contribution to the month-long festivities was a generous discount on hire of the Town Hall, provision of a community information caravan and permission to park it on the main street.

While from a distance this seems like a fairly modest level of support for what has the potential to develop into a world-class event for the region, who knows what other priorities the good burghers were juggling?

Tourism Victoria and the various arts funding bodies didn’t get behind it at all, and neither did the heavy hitters of the photo industry (Fujifilm excepted) see their way clear to supporting it.

Moorfoot says that the difficulty lies in starting up an event, as there’s no ‘bums on seats’-type data to encourage potential sponsors and government funding sources to put their money where their lip service is.

But it would be curmudgeonly to dwell too long on lack of vision when the Biennale has proven to be such an overwhelmingly visionary and successful event. Suffice to say that after seeing literally thousands of visitors come to Daylesford in the name of photography, with many staying over a few days, local and state government, other local sceptics and the broader photo industry will be somewhat more engaged in two years’ time.

Success, as the old saying goes, has many (step)fathers.

Roll on Daylesford Foto Biennale ’07. Australian photography needs you!

‘I’d say it’s definitely a goer,’ Moorfoot says with a smile.

The Daylesford Biennale organizing group consisted of:
President: Lynette Zeeng; Publicity: Fiona Brook; Sectretary: Cindy Cameron; Treasurer and Public Officer: Lily Andrew; Committee member: Julie Moss