The volunteer organisers of the massive Daylesford Foto Biennale this year bettered the impressive inaugural festival in both scope and size.

 

The volunteer organisers of the massive Daylesford Foto Biennale this year bettered the impressive inaugural festival in both scope and size.

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Jason Kimberly managed to capture some new perspectives on the Antarctic landscape.

The second Daylesford Foto Biennale, held through June, featured a greater spread of exhibitions across a greater spread of towns in the north central Victorian Hepburn Shire than the pioneering inaugural event.

In raw statistical terms this year’s show involved almost twice the number of events of the inaugural show in 2005, and was held in six towns. By this measure alone the 2007 Biennale would be classified a triumph, but given that it was all achieved through local people volunteering their time and skills, it’s a bloody miracle!

It is not possible to “do” the Biennale in one day – it deserves at least two day trips or, even better, a stopover in one of the pretty towns nestled in the rolling hills of the Hepburn Shire. This was part of the original vision for the Biennale by its director and driving force, Jeff Moorfoot: To create an event for his local district which would also boost tourism in the slow mid-winter period.

Regrettably, the local shire council’s vision is short-sighted compared to Jeff’s – once again it has distinguished itself by not supporting what is by any measure a remarkable community initiative from their own ratepayers, and the most significant photographic project in Australia today.

What funding there was came from state and federal government arts bodies and a range of other sponsors. The shire, on the other hand, contributed little more than an invoice for the use of the Daylesford Town Hall as a venue.

This year there were 19 ‘Main’ program exhibitions and 70 ‘Umbrella’ program exhibitions. Including those involved in group shows such as the Australian Professional Photographer of the Year awards, organisers estimated up to 500 photographers contributed works to the show.

That doesn’t include those who participated in Galeria Bezdomna, a free-form open entry photography gallery to which anyone could contribute. The Bezdomna concept involves no entry criteria, no selection panels, and no participation fees. Anyone who turned up on hanging day, June 2, at the Daylesford Mills Market with the tools to hang their own work, was able to do so.

Galeria Bezdomna originated in Poland, but has also run under the title Homeless Gallery and Galeria Vagabonde. Since its inception in 2002 there have been 46 editions worldwide, including five Australian outings. (Jeff Moorfoot is also a driving force in the Homeless Gallery ‘movement’ in Australia.)

In addition there were 20 workshops dealing with everything from Cyanotypes to advanced Photoshop techniques, seven seminars, and other events such as the ‘live’ judging of the Victorian Professional Photographer of the Year and the annual muster of the Victorian association of camera clubs.

In short, you would have to be deprived of either sight or heart not to be able to find something of interest in and around Daylesford through June.

The distinction between Main and Umbrella exhibitions seems to be a little arbitrary – Main shows were not necessarily the largest collections, so presumably it’s bound up with the star appeal of the photographers, or the judgment by that most fickle of beasts, A Panel of Experts.

The 2007 Biennale featured less press-based photography than the first show, which has moved it to a more challenging, slightly less accessible place. But while photojournalism was not so well-represented, photography as a medium for making political statement was to the fore in many of the shows. Masaki Hirano’s Stumps of Silence (protesting the logging of Tasmania’s old growth forests) and David Callow’s 40,000 + 40 (the status of aboriginal Australians 40 years after the 1967 Referendum) were two overtly political collections, but statements about the state of the world, and the politics of the sexes and sexuality, cropped up in many bodies of work on show.

Another more unpredictable characteristic was a kind of technological nostalgia. There were two exhibitions featuring pinhole photographs: Steph Tout’s 360-degree colour pinhole panoramas (made by laboriously stitching a series of images together) and Peter Bowes dreamlike cityscapes. Meanwhile, Sydney photographer Anthony Browell, whose pinhole nudes were one of the highlights of the 2005 Biennale, presented a Pinhole Camera Workshop. (And there were also workshops in the Bromoil and Vandyke Brown processes, photogravure, and ultra-large format cameras!)

Another two shows basically re-purposed old photos never intended for public showing. One of these is family snapshot-type photographs of rural aboriginal life from the ’70s by John Briscoe, while the other, by Charles J Page, features decaying identification photographs of inmates from an abandoned South Korean insane asylum.

Then there’s the nowadays almost obligatory collection shot using a toy Chinese camera, this year from Jennifer K Mitchell. (That’s enough now, guys and girls: shoulder your Holgas, ditch your Dianas!).

It worth noting that, judging by what was on show at the Biennale, film is either undergoing resurgence or perhaps never went away.

Charlie Waite’s impeccable landscapes have that unmistakable ‘Blad quality as well the elegant but now-rare square format. They are eye-candy made by a very gifted eye. Stephen Tester uses medium and large format cameras and produces ‘traditional’ silver gelatin mono prints in a maximum run of 25. Kay Mack also produces silver prints in the darkroom. Julie Millowick (doubling as exhibitor and Biennale president) effectively incorporated photograms into her Traces of Memory exhibition.

National Geographic wildlife photographer Jason Edwards produces distinctive and truly amazing images on slide film, which even without the good offices of Photoshop, were among the most abstract (and to this viewer, exciting) and in the entire Biennale.

In his ‘Scratch’ project, Tobias Titz uses Polaroids to blend a portrait with a (mainly) textual contribution from his subjects to produce distinctive work which is as genuine a collaboration between the photographer and the photographed as you are likely to see.

– And this overview has really only scratched the surface of what the Biennale offered: The Rene Ellis pictures, looking as fresh, exuberant and sometimes raunchy as when they were taken; Argentinean Eduardo Gil’s forensically detailed, brutally honest portraits; Satirist Bryan Dawe’s surreal and erotic collection of nude studies; the kaleidoscopic world of Shango, Nigerian god of thunder and lightning, as interpreted via the iridescent palette of Cuban photographer Gustavo Reyes.

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From Argentina’s Eduardo Gil’s ‘Landscapes’ collection of (literally) ‘warts and all’ portraits.

All in all, this year’s festival was a real smorgasbord for anyone who likes pictures. Like a smorgasbord, not everything on the table is going to appeal to everyone, but on the whole the spread at Daylesford this year was both nourishing and tasty – and as already noted you’d be hard pressed to get to the very end in one sitting.

At this stage the Biennale Organising Committee is undecided whether to go round again in 2009. With everything done on a volunteer basis, the scope of the project is getting too large to handle, but it would be a shame, indeed shameful, if the local shire council and the photographic community – especially the wholesalers who have such a vested interest in promoting photography – let this one go through a lack of funds.

And if the State government can find any number of millions to prop up a three-day car race which annoys a significant segment of the citizenry, then surely they can find a few thousand for a 30-day celebration of photography founded on community goodwill.

See Photo Review magazine Issue 33 for the print edition of this profile which includes additional images.
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