August 25, 2017

Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up - 25 August, 2017

This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up - my musings on the 2017 Ballarat International Foto Biennale which opened last week and FotoEvidence and World Press Photo join forces.

Ballarat International Foto Biennale

Last Friday I headed to Ballarat for the launch of the 2017 Ballarat International Foto Biennale. The festivities kicked off on Friday night with the opening of the blockbuster David LaChapelle exhibition at the Art Galley of Ballarat. The festival has clearly pinned its hopes on this show with the city's mayor revealing they hoped to attract 50,000 this year to the festival when the last one in 2015 drew an audience of 15,000. You have to admire their ambition and I hope it is a success. But with pretensions to such grandeur, there are some concerns with the festival that need to be aired.

In general I was underwhelmed by the core program, and thought the use of venues could have been better. In particular the Tell exhibition in the Mining Exchange seemed swamped by the size of the venue. And the exhibitions in the little ante rooms or alcoves in the Exchange were so poorly lit and presented that they might as well have been hung in the bathroom - in fact the lighting was better in there! There are some highlights of course. Ich Werde Deutsch (I become German) is an interesting show, and the Post Office Gallery is one of the better venues. Also the group show Rearranging Boundaries has an impressive international line up of documentary photographers, but the lighting of the show was disappointing and I was particularly irritated by lamps clamped to the top of photographs.

So let's cut to the chase. The biggest problem I have with this year's festival is that it promotes a facade of international standing, but underneath is wracked by amateur practices. There, the elephant in the room is now visible!

This is especially evident in the hanging of the Martin Kantor prize (above a photo I took of one of the finalists). With a first prize of $15,000, it's no measly photo comp. It was revealed to me today that 18 of the 27 finalists have penned a letter to the festival organisers to complain about the way their work was treated. Hung on industrial wire fencing, without any covering, you could see the backs of images, as above. The lighting was awful, and there was no information about the photographs save for a few scrappy pieces of paper marking the numbers and names, which we were told to give back as they didn't have enough. It was amateur hour! And knowing the efforts and expense photographers went to in order to put forward their best work, framed and delivered, it is no wonder the majority of entrants were furious.

This amateur approach is also evident in the lighting of the fashion retrospective Reverie Revelry which featured the amazing work of the late Robyn Beeche and Bruno Benini amongst others. I was horrified at how badly lit this show was, the high ceiling fluorescent lights throwing an awful, flat cast over the dim room. I've seen Beeche's work before and it is transformational when handled properly. I was also one of the last to interview her before her untimely death and know she would have been incredibly disappointed.

It is difficult enough for photography to hold its head up in the art world without these kinds of impediments. For all the bluster of the festival and its new direction, some money should be spent on curators who have training and know how to hang and light a show. Curating is an art in itself.

And lastly, there is the trend for festivals to charge photographers several hundred dollars to enter the Fringe. These photographers pay for the privilege of hanging their works in cafes and businesses where it is virtually impossible to view them with any semblance of sophistication or respect and that is infuriating. This grab for money at the expense of the artist is an age old rort and quite frankly photographers deserve better.

One Fringe exhibitor confided that the venue where their work was to be exhibited was less than cooperative, charged them the full rate for catering (they were encouraged by the festival to hold an opening), plus there was no hanging system and no lights. After the festival had taken their money there was no help forthcoming either. It's no wonder that after that experience, this unnamed photographer won’t be exhibiting at the next festival.

I'm always hopeful that things can change. Let's see a festival in the future that is more about celebrating the actual photographs and showing respect to the photographers, than talking a good game and coming up short.

FotoEvidence and World Press Photo join forces

It was announced yesterday that FotoEvidence and World Press Photo Foundation will collaborate on the annual FotoEvidence Book Award which will be known as the FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo.

As a previous jury member for the FotoEvidence Book Award I am very excited about this collaboration and the opportunity for even more people to see this important work. It's great news!

The annual FotoEvidence Book Award recognises one photographer whose work demonstrates courage and commitment in the pursuit of social justice. From 2018 the newly named award will see the winner and two other selected finalists also exhibit their work during the World Press Photo (WPP) exhibition in Amsterdam where the winner’s book will be featured. Additionally, the book will be shown at various other WPP events around the world.

This is a great achievement for Svetlana Bachevanova the publisher of FotoEvidence who has worked tirelessly to bring these important stories to publication.

She says: “We at FotoEvidence are excited about our partnership with the World Press Photo Foundation because of our shared commitment to excellence and new initiatives in documentary photography and photojournalism. After seven years and sixteen FotoEvidence books, we expect the FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo to expand our reach to a worldwide audience, strengthen our mission promoting social justice, and increase our support for photographers who demonstrate courage and commitment in the pursuit of human rights.”

Lars Boering, managing director of the World Press Photo Foundation also commented: "We’re delighted to be working closely together with FotoEvidence on the book award. The World Press Photo Foundation is expanding all areas of its activities, and as part of that we’re more committed than ever to promoting visual journalism that addresses social justice. We understand that photo books which address these topics occupy a special but challenging place in the photo book market, and we want to bring this work to our large global audience. The FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo will build on the commitment of Svetlana and her team and help to further our joint mission.”

August 18, 2017

Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up - 18th August, 2017

This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up it's all about the 2017 Ballarat International Foto Biennale.

Special Feature:
2017 Ballarat International Foto Biennale

(C) Meg Hewitt Tokyo is Yours - Fringe

Opening tomorrow in the Victorian regional centre of Ballarat, an hour's drive from Melbourne, the 2017 Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) runs for four weeks. Its expansive program promises to showcase work that appeals to a broad audience and the success of the festival is largely pinned on its major drawcard, the blockbuster David LaChapelle exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

This exhibition, which is ticketed (a first for the festival), has received considerable publicity and is advertised on billboards, trains and in the media showing a new level of promotion for this regional event.

LaChapelle's celebrity profile is clearly a great asset for the festival, and his works, some of which you can see in this post, are larger than life, drawing on religious art history tropes and celebrity tackiness. His photographs are lauded in the art world and if nothing else, are most definitely eye-catching, although this type of photography doesn't interest me, as my readers know! Nor does some of the more conceptual photography on show, much of which leaves me cold.

But there are most definitely exhibitions which have caught my attention and for those documentary lovers you won't be disappointed having made the trek to Ballarat. From the Core program my top pick is Rearranging Boundaries, a group show curated by Australian documentary photographer Aaron Bradbrook and featuring the work of Zanele Muholi (South Africa), Tanya Habjouqa (Jordan), Abbas Kowsari (Iran), Wei Leng Tay (China) and Remissa Mak (Cambodia). You can read my feature article on this exhibition in Saturday's Australian Financial Review Weekend.

There are also a number of exhibitions in the large Fringe program which are worth checking out - Lloyd Williams Rustic Remnants, MAP Group's Beyond Borders 2017, Meg Hewitt's Tokyo is Yours and Helga Leunig's Three Weeks in Havana, Tony Evans' The Faces of Sovereign Hill - to name a few. In fact, the Fringe has more appeal for me than the Core this time around.

This year's BIFB is headed by new festival director Fiona Sweet, who has swept into the job, and Ballarat, after a successful career in design and I suspect her background is reflected in the choice of some of the exhibitions such as Reverie Revelry: Fashion Through Photography and LaChapelle. Sweet's agenda, to take the festival from its regional roots and elevate it on the national arts calendar, is ambitious as it is hard enough to get audiences to galleries in the capital cities let alone country towns. Let's hope the program with its stars and its breadth heralds success.

If you're in Melbourne, then it's an easy drive down the highway. For those interstaters, make a weekend of it. I'm sure you won't be disappointed by the program, or by Ballarat, which is one of the most beautiful Victorian country towns, its Gold Rush architecture a visual treat in itself. There's good coffee and food to be found too. So do your bit and support the Arts, because they are vital to the health of our society and shouldn't be undervalued or ignored.

BIFB in pictures - a random selection

Core Program

Rearranging Boundaries
Ballarat Trades Hall

(C) Abbas Kowsari

(C) Remissa Mak

(C) Tanya Habjouqa

(C) Wei Leng Tay

(C) Zanele Muholi

Reverie Revelry: Fashion Through Photography
Ballarat Mechanics Institute

This group show features the work of Robyn Beeche, Noé Sendas, Prue Stent and Honey Long, Nancy de Holl and Matthew Linde.  

(C) Bruno Bernini

(C) Robyn Beeche

(C) Honey Long and Prue Stent, Wind Form 2014

David LaChapelle
Art Gallery of Ballarat

(C) David LaChapelle

(C) David LaChapelle

Fringe Program - a selection
(C) Meg Hewitt Tokyo is Yours

(C) Helga Leunig Three Weeks in Havana

(C) Helga Leunig Three Weeks in Havana

(C) Lloyd Williams Rustic Remnants

(C) Lloyd Williams Rustic Remnants

(C) Tony Evans The Faces of Sovereign Hill

Ballarat International Foto Biennale
19 August - 17 September

August 11, 2017

Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up - 11th August, 2017

This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up - Christian Thompson documents the world's chronic waste problem with a focus on Ghana, the Bob and Diane Fund calls for entries and a new exhibition at Sydney's Blackeye Gallery. Next week a special feature on the 2017 Ballarat International Foto Biennale.

Photo essay:
Christian Thompson - Waste

(C) Christian Thompson

More often than not photographs do need captions, but in the case of Christian Thompson's visual documentation of the waste problem facing Ghana, these pictures speak for themselves. The west continues to send its waste to foreign shores, and what isn't delivered in containers on ships (which is a huge energy resource drain), washes up on the beaches. And we are all complicit. It is time to stop producing so many things that can't be fixed or can't be safely recycled. Consumption is killing the planet, and its people. For all the things we know today, and for the amazing leaps in technology, we as a species are irrefutably stupid, greedy and bent on our own destruction.

And it is not like we haven't seen images of this kind before. The late, great Stanley Greene's brilliant series on eWaste sent shivers down my spine, especially when he told me how ill he felt shooting in these confined, toxic spaces. But still, he continued to work convinced the world needed to see.

(C) Stanley Greene - India

Greene is not the only one to risk his own health in order to expose these stories.

In India, China and Tibet UK photojournalist Sean Gallagher has documented the environmental degradation caused by industry and mining on the environment.

(C) Sean Gallagher - Tibetan Plateau

Russian photojournalist Vlad Sokhin has photographed communities in the Pacific at risk of disappearing with the rising of the ocean, such as Kiribati.

(C) Vlad Sokhin - Kiribati in the central Pacific ocean

And Canadian Edward Burtynsky has shown the ravages of mining on the landscape.

(C) Edward Burtynsky

These are just a few of the dedicated photographers turning their lens on one of the biggest, if not the biggest, issue to face humankind this century, the destruction of our planet. We have the visual and scientific evidence. Where is the social and political will? As these photos show, we are not doing enough.

(C) Christian Thompson

(C) Christian Thompson

(C) Christian Thompson

(C) Christian Thompson

Entries Open:
Bob and Diane Fund

(C) Maja Daniels

Swedish photographer Maja Daniels was the inaugural grantee of the Bob and Diane Fund Grant created last year by Gina Martin in memory of her parents. In an interview with the New York Times in 2016, Daniels said that she spent a year getting to know the staff and the relatives of patients at the St. Thomas de Villeneuve hospital in Bain-de-Bretagne, France. It was only after developing these close relationships that she picked up her camera. Over the next two years, she photographed those living with Alzheimer Disease or dementia. The result is Into Oblivion,  a beautiful, poignant and very human story, told from the heart.

The grant round for next year opens on 1 September, 2017. You can find out more here

(C) Maja Daniels

(C) Maja Daniels

(C) Maja Daniels

(C) Maja Daniels 

Exhibition: Sydney
Black Lines - Group Show

(C) Chris Round

This exhibition which is currently on at Blackeye Gallery in Sydney’s Darlinghurst features an eclectic selection of photographs that focus on the built environment.

The show includes works by Chris Round, David Manley, Tom Evangelidis, Rob Tuckwell, Tom Blachford, Damien Drew, Rhiannon Slatter, Chris Walters, Terrence Chin, Luc Remond, Rodrigo Vargas, Gary Sheppard, Vin Rathod, Jade Cantwell, Richard Glover and Kate Ballis. 

It’s an engaging collection that shows the photographers' individual approaches and perspectives in capturing our urban environments. 

(C) David Manley

(C) Rhiannon Slatter

(C) Chris Round

(C) Tom Evangelidis

Until 20 August
Blackeye Gallery
3/138 Darlinghurst Road

August 04, 2017

Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up - 4th August, 2017

This week Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up goes back to Hong Kong with Benny Lam's Trapped, plus some personal insights from a recent trip.

Photo essay:
Benny Lam - Trapped

According to the Society for Community Organisation, in Hong Kong more than 200,000 people live in what are described as 'Coffin Cubicles,' tiny, cramped spaces that house individuals and also families with children. Pressured by unemployment, rising housing costs and overcrowding, many find themselves with little choice. Greedy landlords divide up rooms and buildings, illegally, and charge more than $USD250 a month for the privilege of living in a room the size of a broom closet. 

Photographer Benny Lam's expose is shocking. He told National Geographic's Proof that through his series called “Trapped,” he "wants to illuminate the suffocating dwellings that exist where the lights of Hong Kong’s prosperity don’t reach. He hopes by making the tenants and their homes visible, more people will start paying attention to the social injustices of their circumstances.

“You may wonder why we should care, as these people are not a part of our lives,” Lam writes on his Facebook page. “They are exactly the people who come into your life every single day: they are serving you as the waiters in the restaurants where you eat, they are the security guards in the shopping malls you wander around, or the cleaners and the delivery men on the streets you pass through. The only difference between us and them is [their homes]. This is a question of human dignity.”

(C) All photos Benny Lam

You can read his story and view more images at National Geographic Proof.

Hong Kong Domestic Workers' Day Off

One Sunday when I was in Hong Kong recently I saw these congregations of women. They were sitting on the sidewalk, on overpasses, outside hotels and up-market shopping centres. At first I thought they were homeless, although the sheer numbers refuted that notion. Quickly I learned their stories.  

Hong Kong’s live-in domestic workers are entitled to only one day off a week. With no place of their own, every Sunday they congregate on the streets, a practice that has been going on since the 1980s. 

Thousands of mostly female Filipino migrant workers bring food, drink and music. They sit with their friends on pieces of cardboard spending the entire day outdoors, and often staying until late into the night. They eat, dance, play cards and chat about their lives and their families who they have left behind - often these women have to leave their own children and travel afar to earn money for the family. 

Most of these women are abused by their employers - underpaid, underfed and forced to live in accommodation that in some instances takes the form of a mat on the floor of a closet. The majority work 16 hour days. 

But some domestic workers are beginning to organise and in recent months there have been protests for improved working conditions. 

Yet another glimpse into a side of Hong Kong that is in stark contrast to the tourism brochures. 

(C) All photos Alison Stieven-Taylor 2017