Political Stories, Alternative Views

by Alona Pardo

Photography has long been uncomfortable with its purported role as a simple recording device and as many of the photographers exhibiting in PHOTO 2021 demonstrate, the understanding of photographic truth, like all other truths, depends on an understanding of culture, belief and history. To this end the work of photographers including Mathieu Asselin, Dana Lixenberg and Laura El Tantawy—to name but a few from the exhibition Not Standing Still: New Approaches in Documentary Photography—raise questions of the documentary role of the photograph today and offer alternative ways of seeing, recording and understanding the events and situations that shape the world we live in.


Using film and photography to powerful effect, Asselin’s project Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation is a sprawling five-year project tracing and exposing the long destructive history of the eponymous chemicals manufacturing and agro-industrial company. Mixing the acutely personal with the documentary mode, Laura El Tantawy’s impressionistic chronicle of the revolution that rocked Egypt in the spring of 2011 blends grainy, nocturnal and fiery red photographs of the protest on the ground with archival images from her family album.


Both Dana Lixenberg and George Georgiou turn their razor-sharp gaze onto the streets of the United States. Taken between 1993 and 2015, Lixenberg’s magnus opus Imperial Courts tenderly documents the residents of the Watts Housing Estate, an area mired in the injustices of racial politics and a cycle of poverty, crime and gang violence. Using a large-format camera, preferring the slower, deliberate photographic process this involves, Lixenberg’s individual portraits, mostly African American residents, are in stark contrast to the often one-dimensional and sensationalised depictions portrayed in the media. Meanwhile, George Georgiou’s series Americans Parade—presented as a large-scale installation on Metro Tunnel construction hoardings—pictures onlookers at events taken across the United States throughout the 2016 presidential campaign that shed an unexpected light on the fractured nature of contemporary American life.


Addressing political headlines within Australia, Hoda Afshar investigates what provokes workers to become whistleblowers and speak out against the military, detention centres and more; Kate Disher-Quill & Phoebe Powell document health workers who have been operating on the frontline against COVID-19; Brook Andrew and Kate Golding both raise timely questions regarding the appropriateness of monuments; and Eliza Hutchison beautifully investigates how politics and the democratic process itself is mediated in her role as PHOTO 2021’s Photographer in Residence at the Parliament of Victoria, blending the political and the personal in a manner that will resonate with how we consume news today.



—Alona Pardo, Curator, Barbican Art Gallery, London

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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