Being Human: PHOTO 2022 returns to Melbourne

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This article is produced in partnership with PHOTO 2022 and Portrait of Humanity

Australia’s largest photography festival returns to Melbourne’s streets and galleries in April, with 90 exhibitions by 123 international artists including Cindy Sherman, Helmut Newton, Gillian Wearing, Mohamed Bourouissa, Poulomi Basu, Christian Thompson, and more

What does it mean to be human? Since the dawn of the medium, photographers have used the camera as a tool to document and explore human experiences. From themes like mortality and nature to identity and the self, investigations of humanity and society have transcended time and genre. 

This year’s edition of PHOTO 2022 – Australia’s most prestigious photography festival – is curated around the theme, Being Human. The month-long event will present an international programme of 123 artists shown across 90 exhibitions. Running from 29 April to 22 May 2022, it will occupy 38 galleries in Melbourne and regional Victoria, alongside outdoor installations that present “a trail of exhibitions” through central Melbourne’s iconic public spaces, with many works commissioned specially for the festival.

“Responding to the theme, Being Human, PHOTO 2022 showcases both the big topics and minutiae of the human experience, with work that creates moments of awe and wonder at the beauty and complexity of life today,” says artistic director Elias Redstone. 

Ross McDonnell, from the series LOST BOYS (2012). Courtesy the artist.
Hoda Afshar, from the series Speak the Wind (2015-2020). Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane.

From Misha Vallejo’s document of an indigenous Ecuadorian tribe turned cyber-activists to Luo Yang’s portrait of contemporary Chinese youth culture, the extensive programme explores many facets of the human condition. Gillian Wearing, Ying Ang and Ling Ang, for example, explore questions about the self and identity in modern society, while Philip Montgomery examines the fault lines of American society, from police violence and the opioid crisis to the Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests. An exhibition of Deutsche Börse Prize winner Mohamed Bourouissa is being curated within the Victorian Bar’s portrait gallery of legal dignitaries and Hoda Afshar is presenting the first exhibition of her acclaimed MACK book Speak the wind at Monash Gallery of Art alongside an exhibition of First Nations photography that makes links between times gone by and the present.

Elsewhere, Matthieu Gafsou investigates human-enhancement technologies, and a group exhibition titled Queering the Frame at the Centre for Contemporary Photography brings together the work of Australian LGBTQ+ artists across generations next to solo exhibitions by Paul Mpagi Sepuya and Martine Gutierrez.. And, 1854 Media and British Journal of Photography will exhibit the winners of Portrait of Humanity vol.4, which will be announced on 15 March. 

Alongside the contemporary programme, the festival celebrates the legacy of two icons of photography: Helmut Newton and Cindy Sherman. On display at the Jewish Museum of Australia, HELMUT: In Focus delves into the fashion photographer’s youth in Berlin, and postwar life and work made in Melbourne. It also showcases a collection of Newton’s most recognisable works, presenting an expansive view of the daring and often controversial images that established his reputation as one of the most sought-after fashion photographers of the 20th century.

Meanwhile, Sherman’s influence on contemporary photography will be celebrated with the festival’s largest individual artwork to date. An image from her iconic series, Untitled Film Stills, will be installed on the façade of a building in Federation Square.

Helmut Newton, Elsa Peretti, New York, 1975, Copyright Helmut Newton Estate, Courtesy Helmut Newton Foundation.

PHOTO 2022 is the biennale Melbourne has been waiting for, embedding ambitious artworks into the very fabric of the city and creating unique experiences for audiences at some of our most famous landmarks,” says Redstone. Sites include the Parliament of Victoria, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Old Treasury Building, and an exhibition and soundwork by Christian Thompson commissioned for what was once the courtyard of the Old Melbourne Gaol.

Designed as a festival of exploration and education, PHOTO 2022 will also present a series of talks, workshops and tours throughout the month. Taking place in-person and online, PHOTO LIVE will platform conversations about the social and cultural role of photography. In conversation with curators, academics and practitioners, these exchanges will address a range of issues from identity, community and belonging to human rights and social justice.

PHOTO 2022 International Festival of Photography takes place from 29 April to 22 May 2022.