Sara, Peter & Tobias, from the series [The Merge], 2017 – 2020

Sara, Peter & Tobias, from the series The Merge, 2017 – 2020

PHOTO 2021 program announced


PHOTO 2021 brings groundbreaking new art back to the streets and galleries of Melbourne—and beyond. The trailblazing new festival will revive Melbourne and regional Victoria with work from locally and internationally celebrated artists, established and emerging.



In a jubilant celebration of a new COVID normal Victoria, the inaugural PHOTO 2021 International Festival of Photography will reanimate the streets and galleries of Melbourne and regional Victoria on 18 February – 7 March 2021.


PHOTO 2021 will be one of the first opportunities for art-and-culture-loving Victorians and interstate visitors to come out and experience a festival in the spectacular and imaginative style for which the state—and the city of Melbourne—are renowned.


A completely brand-new festival, PHOTO 2021 is set to reveal a revolutionary vision of post-COVID possibility for the world of photography, art and culture, in Victoria and around the world. Forging a new path for bringing arts, culture, business and academic sectors together—across Australia and overseas—the festival is already creating a global dialogue about the innovative ways in which artists and audiences can present and engage with photography.


First intended to launch in April of this year, the festival was postponed due to the pandemic. But the delay has only served to make PHOTO 2021’s February 2021 launch a more exciting, more important and more groundbreaking event for a state that has worked hard to keep its citizens safe.


With a significant proportion of programming being delivered at iconic outdoor sites, PHOTO 2021 is primed to reinvent the way that cultural events are delivered and experienced. As the city of Melbourne and state of Victoria emerge from a 6-month hiatus, PHOTO 2021 will be an artistic celebration of heightened poignancy. The festival will also include an online program, which has the added benefit of making the festival global while keeping local audiences safe and comfortable.





Bester VII, Newington, London, 2017 (detail)© Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York

Hoda Afshar, from the series [Agonistes] (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery

Hoda Afshar, from the series Agonistes (detail) (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery


As Australia’s largest and most significant photography festival, PHOTO 2021 has commissioned photographers from across the globe to create new, thought-provoking works that explore the critical relationship between photography and ‘The Truth’. With 40 free outdoor works and 39 free exhibitions— accompanied by events and an extensive online offering—audiences can expect to bask in powerful imagery displayed at outdoor spaces and venues across the city, and beyond.

Over 120 artists will showcase work at over 65 cultural institutions, museums and galleries and outdoor spaces. This will include new commissions and works from artists including Zanele Muholi (South Africa), Sam Contis (USA), Hoda Afshar (Iran/Australia), Brook Andrew (Wiradjuri/Celtic, Australia), Patrick Waterhouse (UK), Daniel Shea (USA), Yvonne Todd (NZ), Hayley Millar-Baker (Gunditjmara, Australia), Atong Atem (South Sudan/Australia) and many more. The city is set to shine with photography, displayed on billboards and large bespoke structures at iconic locations such as Federation Square, State Library Victoria, the Parliament of Victoria, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne Garden, the Immigration Museum and Argyle Square on Lygon Street, among others.



Image: Simon Fujiwara, [Joanne], 2016/2018. Courtesy the artist; FVU, The Photographers’ Gallery; Ishikawa Foundation; and Esther Schipper, Berlin. Film still © the artist.

Simon Fujiwara, Joanne, 2016/2018. Courtesy the artist; FVU, The Photographers’ Gallery; Ishikawa Foundation; and Esther Schipper, Berlin. Film still © the artist.


Metro Tunnel hoardings will be dedicated to one festival, as part of the PHOTO 2021 x Metro Tunnel Creative Program, displaying over 500 metres of art comprising of new work from Felicity Hammond (UK), Kenta Cobayashi (Japan), Ann Shelton (New Zealand), James Tylor (Australia), and more, with most works being specifically commissioned to premiere at the Festival.


Other Australian premieres from international artists include works from Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs (Switzerland), Emmanuelle Andrianjafy (Madagascar), Broomberg & Chanarin (South Africa/UK), Sara Cwynar (Canada), Simon Fujiwara (UK/Japan), Nanna Heitmann (Germany/Russia), Sim Chi Yin (Singapore), and Gustavo Germano (Argentina).





Artistic Director Elias Redstone and the PHOTO 2021 team have created a biennial festival that takes art to the streets, celebrating photography as an artform as well as providing critical support to artists—with over 30 Australian and international artists commissioned to create new work. The original festivals were to run in 2020 and 2022, but will now run in 2021, 2022 and then biennially thereafter.


Redstone said: “PHOTO 2021 is a truly international celebration held in Melbourne, showcasing new photography and new ideas. We’re commissioning new work and taking it to the streets, while providing space for new voices, perspectives and ideas. Audiences will be able to visit exhibitions and outdoor works for free, while engaging with the ideas, questions and experiments happening at the frontline of contemporary photographic practice. While our international artists and visitors may not be able to fly to Melbourne for the festival, they will be able to participate in many parts of the program online, including the PHOTO LIVE and PHOTO IDEAS public programs as well as being able to experience the outdoor commissions through our Virtual Tour. We are tremendously excited by this opportunity to showcase Melbourne on a national and international stage. After all that the city and state has been through in 2020, we are delighted to be able to bring vibrancy, activity and world-class art back to the cultural capital in 2021.”


The full public program of events and speakers for the PHOTO IDEAS and PHOTO LIVE series will be announced in early 2021. Audiences who are not able to make it to Melbourne for the festival will be able to experience much of the outdoor program through the PHOTO 2021 Virtual Tour, which will allow audiences to view the works in-situ online.


untitled 2. (detail) Jesse Boyd-Reid, from the series The Gift, 2020

Silin Liu: Frida Kahlo and Celine Liu, (detail) 2018 | Courtesy of Silin Liu and Migrant Bird Space

PHOTO 2021 aims to create an accessible and democratic festival presenting ideas critical to contemporary, social and photographic discourse. The festival’s central theme, ‘The Truth‘, invites artists, curators, writers and academics to explore the critical relationship between photography and truth. No matter how conscious we are of photography’s intrinsic, infinite subjectivity, the choices photographers make still shape how we view the world. While the veracity of the photographic image has always been contested, today the relationship between what we see and what we believe is more complex than ever.


“There has been no more important time for our society to discuss and debate the issues of finding, sourcing and understanding the truth. Whether it be alternative facts, augmented reality or artificial intelligence our notions, perceptions and encounters of truth are constantly being questioned, eroded and at times attacked. PHOTO 2021 has been established to not only create a world-leading festival of photography, but to also continue to engage with, process and discuss the major issues of our time.” said Mark Henry, Chair of PHOTO 2021.


“With the rise of social media, where the traditional barriers to accessing information have been mostly removed, we are now facing a range of different issues that we are yet to understand let alone tackle and manage these as a community. PHOTO 2021 is an opportunity to promote the arts as a vehicle to bring about social change, stimulate discourse and promote a sense of community in our contemporary societies,” continued Henry.


The full PHOTO 2021 program was revealed on 17 November at 7pm (AEST) with an online public launch event.



Sam Contis, Beating Time (detail)

Sam Contis, Beating Time (detail)

Founding Partners
  • Bowness Family Foundation
  • Naomi Milgrom Foundation
Major Government Partners
  • City of Melbourne Arts Grants Program
  • Creative Victoria
Major Partners
  • Maddocks

PHOTO Australia respectfully acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands upon which we work and live, and the rich and diverse Indigenous cultures across what is now called Australia. For over 60,000 years, Indigenous arts and culture have thrived on this sacred land, and we honour Elders and cultural leaders past and present. This was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

01–24 March