My day at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale.

Now that I'm well rested, I'll walk you through the parts of the Foto Biennale that I did manage to check out. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to visit as many exhibits as I wanted to. 5 degrees, crazy rain and winds that nearly rolled my car over, made the trip a little less pleasing. It's easier when you have company, but when you're alone, you don't really have the motivation to brave such weather. 

So how did I spend my day at the Foto Biennale? Well I left home (Croydon) at around 9am and reached my first stop, Sebastiaan's (where the Melbourne Silver Mine exhibit was being displayed - my photographs included - first time I had my photographs exhibited, needless to say, I was giddy with excitement - crappy phone photographs of the exhibit here), at around 11am. 

After buzzing around Sebastiaan's checking out the work by my fellow Miners (members of the Melbourne Silver Mine), I headed out to check a core exhibit at The Mining Exchange located at 12 Lydiard St South where I ended up spending most of my time.  

It featured a retrospective of John Cato, portraits by Erika Diettes, conceptual work by Elisabeth Zeilon, adult self-images by Hester Scheurwater, collodion wet plate portraits (and one still life - if I remember correctly) by Sonia Macak and a conceptual self-portrait series by Youngho Kang.  

An animal carcass ripped in half with an agonized expression, laid upon the stump of a cut down tree. 

This image perfectly symbolises the violence man is capable of and his cruelty towards nature. 

Title: Man Tracks #9r

Copyright: John Cato


I started off by checking out John Cato's work, which was exhibited in small rooms towards the right as soon as you enter the main hall of The Mining Exchange. I wasn't too familiar with his work since he was a landscape photographer and I, well, I appreciate landscape photography, just not as much as street/urban photography or artistic photojournalism. But seeing his work in print for the first time made me realize what I had been missing. The way those prints were presented reminded me of Eugene Smith's style. Deep rich blacks, heavy contrast, slightly grainy and very very moody. It began with his tree study photographs that (from what I read on the exhibition card) he devoted nearly 10 years to. The topic may not sound too interesting to some (myself included) but he managed to make the relatively similar images look worlds apart from one another. And each one of them (to me at least) looked like a masterpiece. The natural lighting, contrast, framing, everything was simply perfect. The tree study series being as brilliant as it was, didn't blow me away (not that I was expecting it to). It was his 'Man Tracks' series that really got to me. One photograph in particular, 'Man Tracks #9r'. It may seem gruesome to some of the viewers, but I took a snapshot of it with my phone simply because I couldn't get enough. I starred at that photograph for almost 20 minutes I think. Even then, I had to pull myself away. It is one of the most hauntingly beautiful photographs I have ever seen.  

Next up was Elizabeth Zeilon's work titled 'Passion Paris'. These were abstract double exposure photographs of, I think, Parisian women and the female sculptures around Paris. Highly captivating and moving images indeed. My favorite of the series is titled 'Bathilde'. 

After that I viewed Youngho Kang's work, that is displayed in mammoth proportion on the walls right opposite the two aforementioned exhibits. One can only imagine what was going through the photographer's head when he made those images. Lunatic, maniac and genius were the words that came to mind.   

The rest of the exhibits at The Mining Exchange were of no less caliber. The portraits by Erika Diettes were emotional and captured the pain of her subjects well. I must add though, one or two of them felt a bit staged.     

The collodion portraits by Sonia Macak were something I was very interested in since I had never physically seen a wet plate print in real life. And I was not disappointed at all. The prints were surreal and a bit too real at the same time. It felt the person was physically present when I looked at them. It was a rather odd sensation. The portraits themselves were brilliant. Not trying hard at all, they were what they were. Simple, natural and honest. The people who hung the display, however, didn't do a good job in terms of lighting them. They were hung in similar rooms as the ones I mentioned above and were lit the same way as well. Because of that, they seemed a bit too dull. As far as I know (and please correct me if I'm wrong), collodion prints are best viewed in direct-ish light.  

That's all the stuff that I viewed. I didn't view the exhibit by Hester Scheurwater simply because I'm not too keen on looking at a 10 foot snatch. Friedlander-esque nudes are one thing but amateur, vulgar photographs of ones genitalia is another - no matter how mythical the concept. From what I've heard, though, it's quite a show, which has made me curious. I might drop in on a later trip (if I make it back there). 

I suggest checking out the free online version of the Foto Biennale's catalog rather than paying $20 for the print version. Click here to check out all the catalogs (click on either one of the three magazine covers you'll see on the linked page). Also, first thing you should do when you get there is to head down to The Mining Exchange and just outside it, there's a shop. They'll have a program schedule there. Pick that up! It has all the information you need for all the exhibits (venues, dates, timing, etc.).   

On the way back to Melbourne, I took a detour through Clunes, a small town near Ballarat, and made a photograph of some cows at a distance.