Bringing photography into focus

Meet the woman on a mission to make Ballarat a global cultural destination – Ballarat International Foto Biennale director Fiona Sweet.

TAKE US THROUGH YOUR JOURNEY WITH PHOTOGRAPHY…

“I started working as a photographic art director in the 1980s. It has always been my favourite art medium and I have loved collecting photographic art and traipsing to every photographic art festival and exhibition I could manage. For years, as I ran my own design studio, my role was to review photography for its artistic and commercial application and this certainly helped fuel my passion.”

“Coupled with this, I was incredibly fortunate to work with the most innovative arts organisations in the state such as Midsumma, Malthouse Theatre, the Melbourne Writers Festival and Chunky Move to name a few. The Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) was a serendipitous intersection of my love for photography and my dream to work on a great festival.”

HOW DID BALLARAT COME TO BE THE HOME OF AN INTERNATIONAL FOTO BIENNALE?

“Having ‘international’ in our title was certainly a big goal set by founder Jeff Moorfoot in 2005. The concept was that the festival would show local and international photographic artists and, when the festival outgrew Daylesford and moved to Ballarat in 2009, it was the perfect historic town for a concentrated explosion of exhibitions.”

“Visitors can meander through galleries, cafes, laneways and historic buildings such as the Art Gallery of Ballarat, the Mining Exchange and the new National Centre For Photography — buildings that are steeped in rich goldfields history — all on foot so they can really experience the whole festival.”

WHAT DOES YOUR ROLE AS FESTIVAL AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR INVOLVE?

“I conceptually plan the entire biennale. I map the visitor journey through the town and select the artists for particular galleries or I re-imagine spaces to become ‘galleries’. I then oversee the production of the overall design of the exhibitions. I want the festival to always be on the pinnacle of ‘best in the world’. And it is getting noticed on a global stage, so I am pretty chuffed.”

WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR BIFB HIGHLIGHTS TO DATE?

“David LaChapelle was a spectacular success for our first ticketed event (in 2017). His extraordinary and vivid imagery attracted a young, diverse audience to Ballarat. I loved that they blogged about it, that they flooded social media with it and they were just wowed by our beautiful city.”

“What I also see is the beginning of the community starting to understand that Ballarat has the opportunity to own the photography space in Australia. We are the only regional city with a photographic biennale and, with the development of the National Centre For Photography, we have the opportunity to really make this a unique reason to visit Ballarat.”

WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE PHOTOGRAPHERS?

“We were fortunate to exhibit a couple of my favourite artists in my first festival in 2017. Honey Long and Prue Stent are two fabulous women artists who make us voyeurs of wild and surreal feminine forms. Earlier this year, we had the Hendrik Kerstens exhibition at Craig’s Royal Hotel. He is a contemporary Dutch photographer who plays with light as homage to the 17th century Dutch masters. Others I love are the iconic Pat Brassington, Christian Thompson and Olive Cotton, but there are so many fabulous artists that it’s hard to narrow down the field.”

WHY WAS THE DECISION MADE TO EXTEND THE 2019 BIENNALE TO TWO MONTHS?

“We wanted to ensure we attracted significant artists to our town and they really require more than one month to exhibit. With the 60 days, we have attracted a fabulous major artist for this year plus over 200 artists. We are also well ahead of the game and have secured our artist for 2021.”

HOW IMPORTANT IS THE OPENING OF BALLARAT’S NATIONAL CENTRE FOR PHOTOGRAPHY TO THE ARTS WORLD?

“Once fully realised with three galleries, photo book library, workshops, a traditional black and white darkroom, and artist-in-residence apartments, the National Centre For Photography will be a game-changer for Ballarat. It will create a trifecta of three public galleries in Ballarat and encourage even more arts destination visitors.”

“Once fully funded and renovated, it will change people’s perception of what a regional city in Australia can do within contemporary arts practice. We are truly an international organisation with strong ties to all of the major photographic galleries around the world, including Berlin, Paris, London, Hong Kong, Beijing and Bombay. This building will further cement Ballarat as an international cultural destination.”

What: Ballarat International Foto Biennale
When: August 23 – October 20
Where: Various Ballarat venues
Visit: ballaratfoto.org

Ballarat International Foto Biennale

The Ballarat International Foto Biennale was founded in 2005 and attracts significant international and Australian photographers as one of Australia’s pre-eminent photographic festivals.

Click here to see more details about this event.

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