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2021: A year of photo festivals

While the Coronavirus has postponed most of this year’s photo-related events, three major international photo festivals are now scheduled for 2021.With Photo 2021, Head On, and the Ballarat International Foto Biennale running within months of each other in Victoria and NSW, there may be more printed photographs showing in galleries across the east coast than ever before.

Although let’s not kid ourselves; 2021 is now closer than January 2020 and we’re not yet popping champagne bottles to celebrate a Corona-free Australia. So who knows if photo festivals will be viable in six months?

Photo 2020 2021
Earlier this year Melbourne’s inaugural biennial Photo 2020, aspiring to be ‘the largest and most significant photography event in Australia’, initially postponed from April to September. After the uncertainty surrounding the impact of Coronavirus shutdowns became clear, Photo 2020 hastily rebranded and morphed into Photo 2021. It’s now scheduled to run next Summer, from February 18 – March 7.

While it appears most of the program is finalised, Inside Imaging asked Photo 2021 artistic director, Elias Redstone, whether there were further exhibition submissions or other opportunities available for photographers. The short answer is no, not really. However, ‘the public can still send in portraits and respond to the question “what is your truth?” as part of the Inside Out project, which will then be displayed at a prominent public location in the centre of Melbourne.’

Photo 2021 will run in public institutions, outdoor locations, and galleries across Melbourne and regional Victoria (excluding Ballarat). While the full program hasn’t been announced, a number of events have been revealed, such as Magnum Photos workshops, and shows by 120 artists including 33 new commissions. It’s hard to gauge whether the inaugural Photo 2021 will be, as claimed, our own ‘world-leading’ festival ‘joining the likes of Recontre D’arles’ – it may need to do more to build bridges to the actual Australian photographic community.

Outside of platforms provided by various arts institutions and social media marketing, there isn’t much publicity for Australia’s ‘most significant’ photography event. The program thus far includes numerous exciting local and international photographers, yet prior to the Coronavirus, with just over a month until the festival, there wasn’t a great deal to unpack. Perhaps postponing will provide time to ramp up the hype!

As a fresh new addition and the first photography event scheduled for next year, Inside Imaging is eager to discover what Photo 2021 has to offer! Photo 2021 however, doesn’t seem as eager to engage with our essentially photographic readership.

Head On Photo Festival
After a triumphant online adaptation in May, Head On will possibly make a physical appearance in Sydney this November with a scaled-back version of this year’s festival. Although, like many things this year, the likelihood of this happening remains uncertain.

Next year the festival usually locks in for May, bringing 100+ photo exhibitions and events to Sydney for over two weeks. The festival features a non-discriminatory system, whereby the exhibition selection panel and contest jury cannot view an artists’ name in an attempt to prevent any decision-making from being swayed by the profile of the artist. This system ensures the festival program features a diverse range of shows, from photographers of different backgrounds and stages of their career.

Head On exhibition submissions and award entries will open at a later date.

Ballarat International Foto Biennale
Australia’s ‘leading photographic festival’ takes place in the dead of winter once every two years, in Victoria’s historic gold rush city, where the cold weather seems to have more bite than elsewhere.

Next year, the ninth BIFB will open from August 28. The 2019 festival ran for two months, which may well make it the longest photographic festival in the world! The program featured 30 Core exhibitions (quite a few of which actually featured photographs:) including a ticketed headline show by Chinese artist, Liu Bolin.

BIFB, along with its new National Centre of Photography, is slowly coming out of hibernation. Earlier this year it launched an initiative, Mass Isolation Australia, to create a ‘visual record of the COVID-19 crisis on Instagram’. It also ran its Yellow Dot Fundraisier, which sold off 170 brilliant prints to help fund the festival, and is currently selling trendy BIFB-branded face masks.

Exhibition submissions open at a later date.

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