Towards the Future

PHOTO 24:<br>Towards the Future

What does an international photography scene really look like? What does it mean to see subjects represented? How do you articulate an identity and reckon with a settler-colonial heritage? These are questions that are all asked and navigated by PHOTO 24, an International Festival of Photography that unites The Biennale of Sydney and Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art to create Australia’s largest photography festival. From 1-24 March, the biennale celebrates contemporary practice and visual culture, offering 100 free exhibitions, outdoor installations, alongside talks and workshops across Melbourne and Victoria. The fair brings together 60 of the region’s leading galleries and Indigenous art centres, alongside 150 artists. Included are names such as Atong Atem, Clifford Prince King, Nan Goldin and Aesthetica Art Prize artist Gareth Phillips. It’s an event that puts the region at the centre of the global art stage.

PHOTO 24 takes the temperature of image-making today, leaning into the digital techniques that redefine the traditions of contemporary photography. As part of its outdoor programme, it presents Uncanny Valley, engaging with elements of hyperreality. The titular term refers to the sense of unease that overcomes us when technology presents itself as too human, the resemblance becoming too close. Photographer Lauren Dunn’s pixelated pop icons appear shoulder to shoulder with Giulio di Sturco’s startling portaits of Sophia, the first robot to be granted citizenship of a nation. Also on display are the works of Boris Eldagsen, Winner of the 2023 Sony World Photography Award for his AI-generated image, The Electrician. These are complimented by images of Sydney-based artist Darren Sylvester whose series Body be a Soul reimagines The Wizard of Oz, casting its characters in fragmented, existential portraits. Subjects akin to Dorothy or The Wizard hold up mirror shards, their porcelain-like faces reflected.

Representations of reality are also tackled by Turkish-German duo Kaya & Blank who focus on how humans “shape and inhabit” the world. Second Nature (2022) depicts American Southwest cellular service towers camouflaged as oversized palm and pine trees. The artists focus on nocturnal photography, highlighting the artificial and surreal aspects of these structures. The outcome is strikingly hyperreal, encompassed in tropical towers that dominate the Los Angeles skyline. Elsewhere, we witness image-making on an intimate, experience-driven level. PHOTO Australia and the City of Melbourne present the premiere of Somali-Australian artist Warsan Mohammed in her series Becoming (2022). Mohammed chronicles the community and friendship between Black Muslim women, paying homage to the importance of sacred, safe spaces. She points to the strength of sisterhood and its importance in informing future generations about their heritage’s richness. It’s an exhibition that is in tune with the photographs of Moroccan-Belgian artist Mous Lamrabat as well as the films of Congolese creative Wani Toaishara.

A major highlight for this year’s fair is Queer PHOTO, a multi-disciplinary festival that features 14 exhibitions from LGBTQIA+ artists. Clifford Prince King documents tender queer relationships in a show that captures the beauty of companionship. Through a warm lens, figures are rendered behind panes of glass, made soft and painterly. This level of care is further demonstrated by Daniel Jack Lyons in a project that celebrates the diverse identities of people living in the Amazon Rainforest. Like a River (2019) explores how deep Indigenous traditions and modern identity politics meet in a celebrator, safe space, embedded in lush canopies and vegetation. Curator Brendan McCleary explains, “Queer thinking provides unique perspectives that question the status quo, and intersects with other contemporary challenges, such as environmental, technological and decolonial questions.” McCleary speaks to a wider programme that highlights PHOTO 24’s attentiveness to international, and truly representative art. He continues, “It’s beautiful to think of the future not as a distant concept, but something that is being shaped today.”

PHOTO 24 | 1 – 24 March

Image Credits:

Atong Atem, Red Dust Sticks to You, 2022. Courtesy MARS Gallery and the artist.

Darren Sylvester, Body be a soul, 2023. Courtesy the artist, Neon Parc and Sullivan+Strumpf

Daniel Jack Lyons, from the series Like A River, 2019. Courtesy the artist..

Warsan Mohammed, Becoming, 2022.

© Işık Kaya & Thomas Georg Blank

Clifford Prince King, Untitled, (m _ q), 2017. Courtesy the artist, Gordon Robichaux, NY and STARS, LA