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.”

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