The truth(s) behind the photograph

Whether photography can depict reality or ‘truth’ has long been a central question of the medium, famously contemplated by thinkers like Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes and John Berger. Subsequently, the theme of the 10th Ballarat International Foto Biennale is potent and provocative: The Real Thing.

“The theme arose from questioning how we build common stories in a noisy world of media, portraits, social documentary, stills, streaming, social media block-chain and NFTs,” says Vanessa Gerrans, biennale CEO. “The Real Thing asks where we are now and how we create meaning from the bombardment of images we see.”

The 60-day festival sees myriad photography displays across Ballarat, including at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, and this year the biennale has secured two major international coups. One is the exhibition People Power – Platon, a collection of works from the British documentary photographer, Platon. Best known for his portraiture, Platon’s images focus on “headline makers”, as Gerrans puts it, from Cate Blanchett and Michelle Obama, to Vladimir Putin and Muammar Gaddafi. “Whether the sitters are friend or foe, Platon has photographed their human side, allowing the viewer to get up close and personal with these personalities.”

Platon, Self Portrait with George Lois, June 2012.

Another notable show is Instant Warhol, a selection of nearly 60 of the artist’s Polaroids. “Warhol is the original ‘Grammer’,” says Gerrans, aligning the pop artist with social media. “Warhol captured the 1960s to the 1980s through many artforms and his Polaroids are a fast snap, without any editing, of what Warhol and his friends were experiencing at the time.”

Among the Australian artists involved, Gerrans highlights Wiradjuri photographer Kyle Archie Knight, whose work she describes as a “camp love letter to the Australian suburbs”.

“Their search for moments that capture the essence of suburbia result in a celebration of the surreal and the mundane, the humorous and the humdrum.”

Ballarat International Foto Biennale
Various Ballarat locations
On now—22 October

This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Barnaby Smith