This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – PHOTO2021 makes its debut in Melbourne after having to postpone last year. Also, last chance to see Tom Goldner’s Do Brumbies Dream in Red? which has an extended run due to Covid (one of the few upsides). Until 27 February at the Meat Market Stables, 2 Wreckyn St, North Melbourne. This is definitely a show you don’t want to miss.
Plus if you haven’t already viewed our video series Photojournalism Now: In Conversation it’s not too late to watch interviews with photojournalists from around the world: Robin Hammond (UK), Renée C. Byer (US), Sean Gallagher (China), Lisette Poole (Mexico), Anastasia Taylor-Lind (UK) and James Whitlow Delano (Japan).
PHOTO2021 – Melbourne
PHOTO2021 is the first major photography festival of its kind for Melbourne (Australia). It was meant to open last year but Covid-19 put an end to that idea. Nevertheless, the organisers pressed ahead hoping that 2021 would literally herald a new year. A snap 5-day lockdown threw a spanner in the works last week, but now it’s over, thankfully, and gallerists and artists are frantically hanging shows. Anticipation and anxiety is high, but we are ever inching towards a spectacular photographic offering the likes of which Melbourne has never seen.
The Festival’s wide-ranging programme is designed to showcase the breadth of visual languages being employed to tell historical, contemporary and futuristic stories by established and emerging artists, local and international.
PHOTO2021 has spread its tentacles wide. There are 40 outdoor works, 39 free exhibitions plus myriad online shows. More than 160 artists are participating and that doesn’t factor those featured in the “sideshow” exhibitions: Bowness Photography Prize celebrates 15 years, Portrait of Humanity, Kassel Dummy Award, Australia & New Zealand Photobook Award, International Photobook Prize and the National Photography Prize.
Sixty-five cultural institutions, museums, galleries and outdoor spaces will host shows across the CBD, the suburbs and regional Victoria including Ballarat, Benalla, Bendigo and Horsham. Photo Australia, the body behind PHOTO2021, has also commissioned 20 new artworks. No wonder its founder and artistic director Elias Redstone is hard to pin down, the man is running on fumes!
Headline Exhibition: Not Standing Still
One of the drawcards for this inaugural festival is the “headline” documentary exhibition, Not Standing Still which features works by Mathieu Asselin (FR/VE), Broomberg and Chanarin (ZA/UK), Cristina de Middel (ES), Laura El-Tantawy (UK/EG), Yoshikatsu Fujii (JP), Ashley Gilbertson (AU), Gauri Gill and Rajesh Vangad (IN/IN), Zhang Kechun (CN), Dana Lixenberg (NL), Max Pinckers (BE), Raphaela Rosella (AU), Alec Soth (US), and James Tylor (AU).
The show is the brainchild of Pippa Milne (Monash Gallery of Art) and Daniel Boetker-Smith (Photography Studies College). Two years ago, these co-curators started thinking about how the concept of documentary in photography had shifted over the past 20 years. Working with the festival’s theme of The Truth the pair “drew up a list of our dream artists who were working at the edges of documentary photography,” explains Milne. “This exhibition was an opportunity to bring together seminal bodies of work and put them in an Australian context beside Australian artists and see what changes in documentary emerged.”
Milne says in looking for the transformations in documentary practices, “we were intrigued by the insertion of fictions and personal narratives into what would otherwise be straight documentary projects. What’s really come to the fore of the exhibition, is that there is no one truth.”
Cristina de Middel
Milne offers Cristina de Middel’s project Afronauts as an example. “In this project the artist is making a speculative new history of a space development programme in Zambia in 1960s. The programme was defunded, and it is at this point that Cristina starts her documentary process creating staged fictions that ask, what if?” says Milne. “Using archival documents to create these staged fictions, de Middel’s work makes you think about whether the whole idea of an African space programme is an absolute fiction. When we think about explorations in space, does Zambia register as a player?” It is an interesting and pertinent observation.
The exhibition also features work that has been recontextualised through the passing of time. Egyptian-born, London-based Laura El-Tantawy’s work on the Arab Spring – In the Shadows of the Pyramids – has come full circle. This project, which became a book and touring exhibition, initially began as a photojournalistic exploration. Later El-Tantawy adopted a more lyrical and personal approach in telling the story of the Arab Spring, framing the narrative through the prism of her childhood in Cairo. This version is a poetic tale that melds reality and fantasy to present a story of that traverses the past, present and future.
In the 2021 incarnation of In the Shadows of the Pyramids (there’s also a new book), El-Tantawy draws on her roots in photojournalism ordering the images by the date they were taken, the first in 2005 and the last in 2014. El-Tantawy says the narrative here is “controlled by history,” and designed to counter the Egyptian government’s rewriting of the story and the people involved.
“This new iteration reflects the traces of time and the impact the past 10 years has had on the narrative around the revolution and the emotional toll this imposes on the reading of the imagery,” says El-Tantawy.
Another artist who is concerned with his own history is Australian James Tylor, whose work, says Milne, is “often photographic-based and always investigating the tricky land that he sits on.” Tylor’s multicultural heritage comprises Nunga (Kaurna), Māori (Te Arawa) and European (English, Scottish, Irish, Dutch and Norwegian) ancestry.
Not Standing Still features nine daguerreotypes that Tylor created in an area of Victoria settled by whalers and sealers. Milne again. “James photographed quite benign pictures of the landscape – a gully, cemetery, a little cottage – very bucolic scenes. He’s then shot them with his grandfather’s shotgun.” The degrading of the images by the shotgun pellets is a reference to colonial rule, a narrative that runs deep in Tylor’s work. The use of the daguerreotype method also points to the historical relationship between elites and photography. Adding another dimension, the nine vignettes are displayed with wooden and metal whaling and sealing instruments that Tylor has made, replicas of those used by Indigenous Australians. It’s an extraordinary, complex and layered work.
What is exciting about the breadth of artistic thought in Not Standing Still is that it turns the concept of photographic truth on its head. Not Standing Still explores what Milne describes as “the smoky relationship between documentary and the imagination where fiction and dalliance and byroads and side shoots can be a way of uncovering things that are more truthful than the facts alone allow you to see.”
Not Standing Still
February 16 – May 16, 2021, in the gallery and online
Curators: Daniel Boetker-Smith, Pippa Milne Associate Curator: Gareth Syvret