Ballarat International Foto Biennale Photography Exhibitions Review, Part 1

The Ballarat Foto Biennale is a month long festival of photography that is run every second year. Last time it was the Daylesford Foto Biennale (DFB) but the City of Ballarat came on board for this one and, hopefully, into the future. The BFB consists of an extensive number of exhibitions, comprising a core and a fringe collection, as well as a workshop series.

As I write this, the BFB is still on. It covers the period 4th of September to the 4th of October, 2009, so there is still time to go and see it.

In this article I offer my review of some of the exhibitions. As all such reviews are, these are my personal response to the exhibitions I saw. I did not set out to see all the exhibitions. Rather, I went through the exhibition program and chose ones in Ballarat, Creswick, Daylesford and Trentham that appealed to me. Along the way I stumbled across some other exhibitions that either were not in the program or that I hadn’t intended to see.

In this first part I cover some of the Ballarat exhibitions.

The Art Gallery of Ballarat, the oldest regional gallery in Victoria, has five photography shows on.

Immediate Future is an exhibition by Tim Griffith of buildings, specifically large buildings. Tim is a hugely accomplished architectural photographer. The images on show cross over into pure art, in my view. Most use selective focus (tim shoots with view camera gear, such as the Alpa SWA medium format tilt-shift camera) to great effect. In fact many look like model shots with the carefully controlled depth of field. The large inkjet images are striking. This is an exhibition well worth seeing.

Photogenic Images by Alex Syndikas comprises mural sized images made without a camera. Models were coated in a water resistant gel and then rolled around on the large sheets of photographic paper, which were then processed. One assumes that the water resistant gel stops the developer getting to the paper and this is then removed before fixing. The result is large, colour abstract images with some representational aspects, as hands, feet, breasts, etc appear from the images. I have to say that while they initially made an impact on me, they failed to maintain my interest. I am really not sure why exactly, except to say that they seemed derivative and I was left feeling it was all a gimmick rather than having any substance. I suspect my disquiet about this work is that they seem totally process oriented, rather than focused on having something meaningful to say with the finished works or even on the aesthetics of the work. He has established he can do the process, and all credit to him for doing this. Worth seeing though, so you can make up your own mind.

Nathalie Daoust’s Frozen in Time exhibition is a series of images taken in Switzerland over a six month period. Square format and in beautifully subtle colour, the images form a narrative that leaves room for you to insert your own story. All the images, which are primarily landscape, include at least one person, often with their bottom stuck in the air. So one is left to work out for yourself just what this means. An interesting and thought provoking exhibition from this young Canadian photographer.

Slavo Decyk’s Cyclographs from Poland is a simply stunning exhibition. This is another process oriented body of work, but I found the result more original, meaningful and aesthetically effective than Syndikas’. These images are pinhole photography with a difference. Using a mechanical or manual method, the pinhole is moved. Exposures can vary from days to months. The movement of the pinhole interacts with the movement of the sun across the sky to produce these striking, abstract images. The images exhibit subtle toning and colour effects, frequently accompanied with strong, whitish lines as an image of the sun in motion. These are very definitely worth a look and provide an interesting mix of science and art.

Intimate Moments is an exhibition of books by leading Australian photographers. It is interesting for the range of work covered and can definitely lead you to a further investigation of the work of these photographers.

The Mining Exchange

Photographs, by Drex Brooks, comprises mostly images from his Brownie Camera series. The images give an individual look at contemporary life. Some could be classed as landscape images, others as social documentary. Soft, often with either subtle or strong vignetting and a mix of black and white and colour images, it is an interesting collection.

Virtuous Impressions of Metaphoric Design, by Wayne Quilliam, are large presumably Photoshopped, montages of people with landscape details, such as forest floor litter, tree bark, etc. The images are quite striking, with strong colour and lots of detail. I do have two issues with this exhibition: it is an approach which has been done to death by so many photographers (though Quilliam does use the effect very well) and I was disturbed by the different presentation of some of the images. While most appear to be mounted front of the print to Perspex, some were mounted differently and this leads to an inconsistency, given they are all hung the same way. So the work strikes me as stunning commercial photography but not really fine art.

Work by five other photographers is on show at the Mining Exchange. None of it left much impression on me, so I won’t comment on it.

Trades Hall

Isole della Memoria, by the Pommefritz Crew of Max Boschini and Mauro Manuini, comprises beautiful colour images of abandoned buildings from the Mantua region of Italy. The images are hugely appealing on many levels. They make environmental and social statements, are stunning visually and exhibit a visual texture that makes you want to touch.

The Saar River images, by Thomas Roessler, were taken by putting a camera in a box with a glass window so a shot could be taken half below the water and half above. The camera was placed well back from the glass window, I believe about 30cm, so the look is quite different to what you get with a normal underwater camera. The resulting colour images are not only an interesting documentary of the course of this river but are also individually appealing.

The next article will cover some more exhibitions from BFB 09.

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