The Last Supper image from David LaChapelle’s 2003 series called ‘Jesus is my homeboy’. (Supplied: Ballarat International Foto Biennale)
The stunning yet confrontational works of internationally renown photographer David LaChapelle has brought thousands of visitors to the regional city of Ballarat, east of Melbourne.
The Ballarat International Foto Biennale ran for five weeks over August and September, showcasing the art of other well known artists, including Bindi Cole Chocka.
But LaChapelle’s critique of 20th century pop culture featuring celebrities like Courtney Love and Eminem, formed the centrepiece of the Biennale and marked the first time his work has been formally exhibited in Australia.
While the Biennale has been running since 2009, organisers are confident that this year’s event has been a record in terms of visitor numbers, helping Ballarat build its reputation as the cultural hub of regional Victoria.
Cultural ‘decay’ and celebrities
Artistic Director Fiona Sweet said LaChapelle’s use of celebrities in his work had attracted a broad tourist base to Ballarat.
“He uses them [celebrities] to tell stories about opulence, decay and our culture, so what that does is it allows a much more diverse audience,” she said.
American Jesus: Hold Me, Carry Me Boldly photographed by David LaChapelle in 2009. (Supplied: Ballarat International Foto Biennale)
“We’ve got all the arts lovers, and we’ve got photographers and photography enthusiasts coming, but what we’ve also got is people interested in celebrity.”
While the total number of visitors to the Biennale is still being calculated, Ms Sweet said at least 2,000 people attended the exhibition on its second-last day alone.
“From what I can see already, because we’ve had market research done as well, I can see there’s a hugely diverse audience coming to this biennale,” she said.
“What I’m really excited about is the first-time visitors to Ballarat, and I’m excited that there’s a lot of people who, from what I can see from the surveys, normally don’t come to art galleries.
“There’s an incredible opportunity to grow the arts cultural events in our town and become a centre for the arts.”
David LaChapelle’s exhibition will be packed up and shipped to New York by the end of the month.
Biennale offered a chance to learn and connect
Wind Form by Prue Stent and Honey Long featured in the Reverie Revelry exhibition at the 2017 Ballarat International Foto Biennale. (Supplied: Ballarat International Foto Biennale)
Photography student Judy Hudson was one of about 50 people who volunteered for the Biennale.
“To be able to immerse myself in really absorbing all the photography around the town and all the different styles, it’s been a great opportunity,” Ms Hudson said.
“I actually got to really engage with the photos over a long period time and the more you view them the more you get to analyse them.”
“I got to meet lots of people coming into the exhibitions and speak with them and get a variety of opinions [and] their reactions are really interesting to analyse.”
Ms Hudson hopes to have some of her work featured in Ballarat’s next Foto Biennale in 2019.
“That’s high on the ambition list to be on the next one.”