Past. Tense. Now.

The premise for the 2021 Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) is ‘Past. Tense. Now’. It is impossible to remove the ‘past’ from the present. It is always embedded in the ‘now’ and considered when thinking of the future. A playful use of punctuation situates the premise to not only reference the past tense but an apparent tension in the past, which adds gravity to the present. Therefore, in order to understand present day issues, a reflection on the past is essential.

There is a liminal moment that exists where the present becomes the past. It then becomes history, often remembered in an idealised way through the phenomenon of nostalgia. As late great historian David Lowenthal put it, ‘Nostalgia tells it like it wasn’t’. It often involves viewing the past through rose coloured glasses. The 2021 BIFB will explore the ways the past intersects with the present and how we need to examine this past through multiple lenses, critically investigating histories and narratives. Inherent in the medium of photography is an interpretation of the past. The photograph itself as an object sits in the present as a physical and visual representation of the past. According to Susan Sontag it is both ‘a pseudo-presence and token of absence’.

The 2021 BIFB questions and investigates the nature of the past and its representation through exploring the way photographers use the medium to capture and create lasting representations of a point in time. It engages with notions, such as identity, colonial history and the documentation of a moment, questioning how photography can provide new perspectives on difficult pasts and how this history can inform current practice.

The 9th edition of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale will take place from 28 August to 24 October 2021.