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Introducing Photo 2020, Melbourne’s ‘world-leading’ festival

Photo 2020, billed as a massive biennial photography festival based in Melbourne, and described as ‘world leading’, was launched in February – and hardly created a ripple.

Photo 2020 business cards, designed by Melbourne-based creative agency U-P. Source:

Who knew!? Wallpaper, a London-based online magazine, did (even if the press release didn’t reach the in-trays of local, um, stakeholders):

‘Melbourne – which the (Photo 2020) festival’s artistic director Elias Redstone describes as “Australia’s photography capital” – has yet to see a photo festival of this scope or creative intensity, despite its reputation as a city of artistic invention (often touted as Sydney’s ‘cooler’ cousin). Joining the likes of France’s Rencontres d’Arles, Unseen Amsterdam, and Photo London, Photo 2020 has all the ingredients to become world-leading.’

Photography capital? Joining Rencontres d’Arles? Sydney’s cooler cousin?

There’s plenty to unpack with Photo 2020, so here are the basics…

Photo 2020 will run from April 23 to May 10, 2020. The festival consists of indoor and outdoor exhibitions, a symposium at RMIT School of Art, a festival hub at State Library Victoria with talks and workshops, and other events like portfolio reviews and masterclasses.

The festival aims to ‘explore the relationship between photography and truth in the post-internet age’.

‘Photography is instrumental in the way we see, perceive and make sense of the world around us and, as a visual language, should be accessible to everyone,’ the Photo 2020 website explains. ‘Photo 2020 believes in providing equal opportunities regardless of race, colour, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, age or disability. We are committed to making our activities inclusive and celebrating diversity in our programming, personnel and audiences, including supporting First Nations and diaspora communities.’

As well as having impeccably progressive aspirations (see above), Photo 2020 is an extremely well-connected beast.

Elias Redstone, an independent curator and writer with an expertise in architecture, forms the Photo 2020 Board with arts philanthropists, Bill Bowness and Naomi Milgrom, and Maddocks government lawyer Mark Henry.

‘Melbourne is Australia’s capital of photography. It is the perfect setting to celebrate both the art of photography and photography’s ability to address the major issues of our time,’ Redstone said in an uncirculated press release. ‘As new phenomena such as artificial intelligence, social media and fake news are shifting our sense of reality, Photo 2020 will present a timely investigation into the critical relationship between photography and truth.’

A broad assortment of local and international curators and academics are serving as advisors, and there are over 30 Melbourne and regional arts and educational groups involved.

There’s the long list of partnerships with photography and art establishments, including the likes of Melbourne Museum, Monash Gallery of Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Photography Studies College, State Library of Victoria, Centre of Contemporary Photography, and Australian Centre for Photography.

There are 20 others – including galleries in Geelong, Bendigo and Albury/Wodonga. Curiously, the new National Centre for Photography in Ballarat doesn’t get a ticket to the dance.

While it’s not entirely clear how all these partnerships will play out, it appears some establishments are simply exhibition or venue spaces, while others have flagged initiatives such as prizes or commissions.

The State Library of Victoria has, for instance, announced a $15,000 Photography Fellowship. Photo artists are to pitch a project that’s related to the State Library’s photo collection and involves the theme ‘the relationship between photography and truth’.

Along with the cash grant, the fellowship provides a shared office space, access to the State Library’s collections, and a mentorship with Redstone. Applications close April 29.

Perimeter Books will also run an international photo book contest; there’s a new National Photography Prize by Murray Art Museum in Albury; and the Metro Tunnel Creative Program will commission 12 outdoor exhibits by local and international photographers.

The Australian Cultural Fund, a crowdfunding-type platform managed by Creative Partnerships Australia, and City of Melbourne, are two government partners providing funding.

‘Melbourne is the ideal city to be hosting this exciting new international festival which promises to surprise and delight audiences across many of our city’s fascinating locations,’ said Melbourne lord mayor, Sally Capp, in the press release. ‘The City of Melbourne is delighted to support Photo 2020 which will bring together Melbourne’s world-class cultural resources, collections, curatorial expertise and artistic talent. I can’t wait to see what promises to be Australia’s leading photography festival and the most significant festival of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.’

There’s also a call for individual donors and corporate sponsors to help make Photo 2020 one of ‘the leading festivals of photography in the world’.

Here’s a short video with cameos from photographers Bill Henson, Hoda Afshar, and Atong Atem, along with other people involved with Photo 2020.

PHOTO 2020 from PHOTO 2020 on Vimeo.

While its likely this is the first time many in the Australian photo industry will have heard about Photo 2020, the festival may just be the photographic event that Melbourne not only needs, but also deserves. Being Sydney’s cooler cousin and all.

Inside Imaging has ‘reached out’ to festival organisers for more info.


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  1. Torunn Momtazi Torunn Momtazi March 27, 2019

    Nicely penned, Will! I look forward to more info, and yes. Your reporting was the first I heard of it : ) Thank you.

  2. Jeff Moorfoot Jeff Moorfoot March 27, 2019

    Just a bit premature in announcing yourself as a ‘World leading festival’ before a single print has been hung on a single wall. Does anyone recall Vivid in Canberra in 2008? [not to be confused with the Sydney screen saver exhibition of more recent years] It was all the big institutions, the NGA, National Library, National Museum, etc. etc. joining together to bring the biggest photo exhibition since ever….. a cautionary tale! 🙂

  3. Julie Sullivan Julie Sullivan February 22, 2020

    Honored to be one of Hoda Afshar’s subjects for PHOTO2020. Can’t wait to see the finished installation but keeping mum on the details!
    Hoda was a joy to spend a couple of days with.

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