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FotoFreo returns!

FotoFreo, WA’s finest photo festival, has been revived after almost a decade of slumber, and is returning to its roots with a pared back program.

Australia’s first international photo festival sadly folded in 2013 after co-founder, Bob Hewitt, retired. Behind the scenes, event organisers of the biennial struggled to retain key funding from major sponsors as arts venue closures pulled at the fabric of the local arts scene.

The final festival in 2012 had a budget of $700K, and attracted an estimated 90,000 visitors to Fremantle to attend the 240 exhibitions, workshops and other activities. FotoFreo hosted exhibitions by the likes of Edward Burtynsky, Martin Parr, Eugene Richards, Trent Parke, Paolo Pellegrin, Christophe Bourguedieu and Shi Guorui.

But that last festival was a far cry from where it all started, after Hewitt along with photographers David Dare Parker, Brad Rimmer, Graham Miller and Max Pam cooked up plans over a few vinos to show some photography around town. And in 2002 the inaugural event ran with a few ‘loose exhibitions and seminars’.

Two decades later and WA photographer, Clare Martin – who showed her first solo exhibition, Slab City, at the festival in 2010 – has brought FotoFreo back to life.

It couldn’t have come at a better time, as Western Australia opens back up after a long period of social isolation from the rest of the country. But it’s partly thanks to the pandemic that FotoFreo is back on the cards.

‘I had time on my hands as I couldn’t travel for work,’ Martin told freelance journalist, Alison Stieven-Taylor, who sends out the excellent Photojournalism Now e-newsletter. ‘I decided I wanted the excitement to come to me.

‘I wondered about the appetite for the festival as there are so many now, but everyone was super excited.’

Martin ain’t wrong about there being a plethora of photo festivals. But they’re condensed to the east coast in two states, with Sydney’s Head On Photo Festival, Victoria’s Ballarat International Foto Biennale, and Photo Australia in Melbourne. Not exactly down the road.

FotoFreo’s limited 2022 program consists of just 10 exhibitions and one panel discussion across five venues in the beautiful port city until early June. But what the festival’s program may lack in breadth this year, certainly makes up for with quality photography with work on show by Daniella Zalcman, Judith Nangala Crispin, Martin, Duncan Wright, Jesse Pretorius, Billy Reeves, Lyle Branson, Irina Werning, and more.

Martin has, with Hewitt’s blessing, re-imagined FotoFreo with a more contemporary edge, rather than replicated the previous event, which focussed strictly on documentary photography and photojournalism.

‘In the world of documentary and photojournalism there is a lot more room for conceptualisation and fictional realities. I want visual arts to carry a strong message about society, but those boundaries have loosened in how literal the execution of that needs to be and that’s happening broadly.’

Martin plans to hit the ground running for the 2024 festival to make it significantly larger and put Fremantle back where it rightly belongs: on the international photography festival map. Click here for more info.

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