Photo 2022: a trip through past, present and potential futures in Melbourne and beyond
The groundbreaking Photo 2022 International Festival of Photography will return to Melbourne from 29 April – 22 May 2022. Charlotte Jansen spoke to artistic director Elias Redstone ahead of the opening
‘Photography fascinates me in so many ways. But on a personal level, growing up in a rural area, it allowed me to connect with the world; it helped me learn about myself and who I wanted to be. It was a portal to other places and experiences,’ reflects Elias Redstone, artistic director of Photo 2022, the international festival of photography taking place in Melbourne – the centre of Australia’s photography scene – from 29 April to 22 May.
Photo 2022 transports viewers through past, present and potential futures across five broad narrative arcs (titled ‘Mortality, Self, Society, Nature and History’) exploring the grand theme of ‘Being Human’, a framework that provides, as Redstone describes it, ‘a chance to reassess what shapes us a species: what connects us as a society and makes us unique as individuals’.
The festival’s 2022 edition is immense in both geographic sprawl and curatorial ambition: from billboard-scale outdoor exhibitions by the likes of Cindy Sherman occupying iconic public spaces like the atrium of Fed Square to Mohamed Bourouissa’s staged pictures from the artist’s breakthrough series Périphérique, and his later Shoplifters works (based on photographs Bourouissa found in a Brooklyn supermarket documenting thieves with items they attempted to steal) hung among the portraits of dignitaries at the Victorian bar in the city’s legal district. In more conventional locations such as the Centre for Contemporary Photography are exhibitions by the American artist Paul Mpagi Sepuya and occupying ACMI are huge self-portraits by Gillian Wearing who employed AI and age-processing tools to depict a gallery of possible versions of herself at 70. There are also lush, large-scale images by Massimo Vitali, which explore the timeless theme of leisure shot at beaches across Italy after lockdown.
But it’s not just the era-defining names in the medium that make the festival exciting. It was important to Redstone and the festival partners to emphasise the wealth of emerging and local artists from the region, representing Australia’s ‘incredibly strong and varied’ photography scene’, as Redstone puts it. ‘There are many issues that are pertinent in Australia that also resonate universally. The impact of colonisation for one, and everything that entails. There are incredible First Nations artists with incredibly diverse practices. The landscape is an ongoing obsession, and Australia’s experience on the frontline of the climate crisis has added new urgency to this subject.’
Among 24 artists commissioned to make new work for Photo 2022 is Anu Kumar, whose work will be displayed in the forecourt of the State Library Victoria. The Indian-born, Australian-raised artist created Remnants of Rituals using medium format photography to speak about Melbourne through its Indian Australian diasporic community and its adaptations of traditions to create a new hybrid culture, one that is sometimes fraught with tensions and contradictions but that is constantly evolving.
Also riffing on notions of belonging and home is Madeline Bishop, an emerging Australian photographer who asked people she knew to introduce her to people she’d never met who were willing to be photographed by her in their homes. The resulting body of black and white works, So I sew stitches, are ruminations on intimacy, connection and community that land somewhere between documentary portraiture and performance.
‘I love working with photography because everyone can read a photographic image,’ Redstone reflects on the way photography continues to permeate and pervade every aspect of our everyday lives. ‘It is incredibly accessible, and at the same time you can use it to bring people into contact with a multitude of ideas or lived experiences they might not otherwise encounter.’
Photo 2022 searches for the fundamental, lived experiences that make us human – but it also provides an opportunity to transcend the confines of our human existence; to imagine, dream, and explore a world that exists beyond our eyes, one that is at times bleaker, but often dazzlingly brighter; a shared space of sensory perception that has the potential to unite us beyond what we understand of our condition and place on earth. §