The photography of Andy Warhol and Yvonne Todd are perhaps two of the last places one might expect to find ‘the real thing’. Both artists have made an art of artificiality; Todd with her visual clichés and wigs, Warhol with just about everything he ever said or made. The 2023 Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB), which returns to the historic city for its tenth anniversary, suggests otherwise in selecting these artists as two of the headliners for its extensive programme, which is conceived this year around the theme ‘The Real Thing’, named for Russell Morris’s 1969 classic song of the same title.
Photography’s relationship to the real has always been fractious. Seen at first as a medium truthful to the world, indexed to it by light and chemicals, this soon shifted as artists found ways to manipulate their tools, to the point where it now feels nonsensical to draw any sort of connection between images and real life, lest a TikTok filter be distorting it imperceptibly. For the curators of the BIFB, this tenuousness underscores the importance of the quality of attention we pay to photographic images, and of the discernment we exercise toward them. Their catalogue of events, exhibitions, artist talks, education programmes, workshops and more is devised to develop this literacy and create occasions for personal encounter with the image and its deftest makers.
BIFB is taking place across several venues and pop-up sites around Ballarat. Among its roster of international artists is Aotearoa-based artist Telly Tuita, who will present an exhibition, Tongpop Pantheon, as well as several participatory workshops during the festival.
BIFB runs from 26 August to 22 October 2023.