Copyright Tony Whinchup

Raising Photography’s Profile

Another show I am interested in is Frances Mocnik’s photo essay, The Night That Follows Day which is about the death industry – the morgues, funeral parlours, cross, and coffin builders, and the hearses. Frances’s images are powerful in their own right, but what puts me off immediately is the lengthy explanation written below each photograph within the frame.

Surely one of the most intriguing aspects of 
photography is that you don’t need words. Our propensity, as a society, to explain everything in great detail denies viewers the opportunity to make up their own mind.
I ask Jeff how he arrived at the core program on which he makes the final decision. “Bums on seats,” he says matter-of-factly, explaining that having a mix of styles and imagery gives the festival a broad appeal. He’s not interested in elitism.

“I want to raise the profile of photography in Australia, to have it more accepted and on equal footing with the other visual arts.”

He continues, “Photography is the art form of the masses isn’t it? Everyone is a photographer so it doesn’t have that same mystique as painting or sculpture and I think that’s even more so now with the onset of digital.
“For me, I am interested in the aesthetic and in pictures that have something to say rather than ‘this is a technically excellent photograph’. My background’s as a commercial photographer so I look at the technical, but I am more interested in what’s behind it and that’s what I look for when I am looking at shows for the core program. It’s not just about a bunch of really interesting pictures. If you go back into the artist’s body of work and see work that spans 40 years, like Jan Saudek’s, there’s a consistency in what he does.”

The inclusion in the core program of Czech Saudek’s Dolce Vita has caused some tense moments for Jeff. Earlier, a woman had complained about the suggestive nature of a Saudek image used in promotional material. The offending image, Black Sheep & White Crow depicts a pre-pubescent girl and her mother.

After fielding calls from the Office of the Child Safety Commissioner, and one of BIFB’s sponsors, Tourism Victoria, Jeff decided to withdraw the image which the woman had claimed promoted child prostitution.
“It’s not my position as festival director to… be an arbiter of public morals or the morals of photographers,” says Jeff. Still, to keep the peace and to protect the future of BIFB, the image was removed.

It would be ludicrous for the future of the festival to be at risk because one woman didn’t like one image. But if that’s the outcome then, while the moral panic artists are at it, let’s clear all the art galleries of images of nudity, murder, death, prostitution et al. Art is a reflection of life. It’s a shame that those who often complain about such things clearly don’t have one… a life, that is.