Photographers zoom in on Australia with Photo 2024

Liz HobdayAAP
Brick Trick by Jo Duck at Spring St in Melbourne is part of Photo 24 (HANDOUT/JO DUCK)
Camera IconBrick Trick by Jo Duck at Spring St in Melbourne is part of Photo 24 (HANDOUT/JO DUCK) Credit: AAP

On the side of a building in Melbourne's CBD is a billboard-size image of a man in an oversized suit, its fabric painted over in a brick pattern.

Looming above the actual suits on the street below, if the giant figure is pretending to be part of the brick wall behind him, he's not fooling anyone.

The picture is not an advertisement for anything, rather an artwork titled Brick Trick by photographer Jo Duck, on show as part of the Photo 2024 biennale.

The event has more than 100 exhibitions and outdoor photographs installed across seven precincts in Melbourne, as well as in five regional Victorian cities.

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The theme for 2024 is "The Future is Shaped by Those Who Can See It" and festival founder Elias Redstone says the event is taking place at an inflection point for the discipline, when the very real impacts of artificial intelligence are taking hold.

Brick Trick might be a poor disguise, but the digital is becoming real, according to Redstone, and the real digital.

From right about now, he predicts, the lines will be blurred forever.

"It feels like the last moment where we're actually going to be able to tell what is real and what is fake," he said.

"I think it's a fascinating thing that we need to be exploring ... we're all on the cusp both in society and in photography as a medium itself."

At the city's Old Treasury Building is a large-scale installation dedicated to photographers exploring the front lines of hyperreality, titled Uncanny Valley: Photography, Tech and the Hyperreal.

The artists featured include German photographer Boris Eldagsen, who in 2023 turned down a prestigious global photography award after revealing he won the prize using an AI-generated image.

Other artworks contemplating the future have been installed around the city: in planter boxes outside the Melbourne Town Hall for example, photos of trees are on display - but they are actually images of cell phone receptors disguised to look like part of nature.

The spectre of the future aside, the biennale celebrates three very real icons of photography: US artist Nan Goldin, the godfather of African studio photography Malick Sidibe and Australia's Rennie Ellis.

The last complete edition of Nan Goldin's groundbreaking series The Ballad of Sexual Dependency was recently acquired by the National Gallery of Australia and will go on show at The Art Gallery of Ballarat as part of Photo 2024.

A towering 20 metre high portrait by Goldin of her parents kissing has been installed by Federation Square on Flinders St, while her new artwork Sirens, a film made entirely from found footage, is screening at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in March.

There are half a dozen solo exhibitions by established Australian women photographers, including Rosemary Laing, Debra Phillips, Janet Laurence, Julie Millowich, Jill Orr and Anne Zahalka.

One reason so much of Photo 2024 is installed in public places on a grand scale is to bring the public's attention to some of the amazing talent in the city and globally, Redstone said.

The biennale puts Australia on a par with major photo festivals internationally and with visiting curators from overseas it also connects Australian photography to the world, he said.

In its third iteration, Photo 2024 relies heavily on donations, with government funding at the state and local level, but it does not receive ongoing money from Creative Australia.

Other key Australian photography institutions are struggling: Melbourne's Centre for Contemporary Photography recently lost its four-year Creative Australia funding, while in Sydney, the Head On Photo Festival had its federal funding application knocked back.

Photo 2024 demonstrates the sector deserves wider recognition and investment, Redstone said.

"There is so much appetite for photography, I would love to see more support to allow that to really shine."

Photo 2024 is on in Melbourne and regional Victoria from Friday until March 24.

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