There are literally hundreds of reasons to book a ticket to the Victorian city of Ballarat this month to visit the 2011 Ballarat International Foto Biennale.

For starters, the Fringe Festival, which offers the impossible task of seeing 65 events across Ballarat and the surrounding district. Then there’s the Galeria Bezdomna, or Homeless Gallery, where photographers are invited to turn up on a set day and hang their work. It’s an exhibition free-for-all that gives all artists the opportunity to show their work, regardless of style and perhaps substance, and has found a home at Cheswick Railway Workshops during the BIFB. Then there is the main event, the core program, which will see the work of 22 artists on display in 21 shows around Ballarat’s city centre. There is, as the cliché goes, something for everyone.

Melbourne-based photographer SLJ will be showing portraits of animals in her show Creatures, a winner if you have the kids in tow. Creatures was inspired by SLJ’s interest in animal welfare, which she says is a passion. “There is a definite relationship between the photographer and the animal,” she says, and an “element of trust” between them.

Inspired by artists as divergent as Irving Penn, Bill Henson, and Tracey Moffatt, Heather Dinas’s photography focuses on relationships, and female s-xuality and identity. The photographs on show at BIFB were taken in two old warehouses, one in Melbourne and the other in country Victoria, a backdrop that Dinas says “juxtaposed the subjects in a decaying urban interior”. She wanted a setting that “contrasted the expressions and mood of the female subjects and spoke to the narrative”.

Dinas’s hot tip for the BIFB is the Portfolio Review, an event she says is “sensational”: “They are such a fantastic opportunity to meet some of our esteemed curators and gallery representatives and to have genuine feedback.”

Also showing in BIFB’s core program is an exhibition of US-born Maggie Diaz’s work. The collection includes photographs from the first 20 years of Diaz’s career, which began in 1950s Chicago. Diaz arrived in Australia in 1961 after her Australian husband Clem Fraser, a graphic artist, bought her a ticket to his homeland as a divorce gift, “to meet his family”, and she settled — permanently — in Melbourne. Diaz has worked as both an artist and a commercial photographer, and has become known for photographing society’s outsiders. She bought her first camera in 1946 and in the 1950s was the resident photographer at Chicago’s Tavern Club, a millionaires’ hangout. Included in the BIFB show is a series of pictures of children playing in the city’s backstreets taken in the same era, thought lost for 40 years.

The details: The Maggie Diaz exhibition and other events at BIFB 2011 run until September 18. More information can be found at the event website.

Peter Fray

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