American photographer David LaChapelle’s career began in the 1980s when Andy Warhol gave him his start as the commercial photographer for Interview magazine. Since then he’s become as renowned for his big-name campaigns as his irreverent, high-gloss images and the famous faces that have appeared before his lens: Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears.

(You might have seen his photography more recently at the NGV’s Viktor & Rolf exhibition; the photograph used for the tram advertisements around Melbourne was a LaChapelle.)

Now, for the first time, a David LaChapelle exhibition is coming to Australia. It’s the headline exhibition at this year’s Ballarat International Foto Biennale, and will show from August 19 to September 17 at The Art Gallery of Ballarat.

“He’s never, ever exhibited in Australia before, so it’s pretty huge,” says the Biennale’s creative director, Fiona Sweet. “I’ve loved David LaChapelle’s work for a long, time. It was very exciting to get the exhibition I wanted from the artist I wanted. And the fact that he’s never exhibited in Australia before was just a massive coup for Ballarat.

“I think his transformation from commercial photography to art photography will be very interesting to Australian audiences. Personally, I’ve always loved his sense of colour, his sense of shine, and the way he’s not just a photographer but actually creates environments for each work ... He’s also quite irreverent – he has a great sense of humour and he’s quite comfortable mocking [taboo] subjects.” As an example she references his 2003 photo series Jesus is My Homeboy.

The exhibition has been travelling through South America and comes to Victoria from Buenos Aires, where it was on display at Argentina’s Usina del Arte.

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The survey – which is called, simply, David LaChapelle – includes works from 2005 onwards, which have all been selected specifically by LaChapelle. His intention is to match current work with some more famous, slightly older pieces.

“For instance, [there’s] a lovely photo of Andy Warhol as a nod to where [LaChapelle] started,” says Sweet. Some of the pieces that will be on display are two-to-three metres long.

As huge as it is, the David LaChapelle exhibition is only one of eight shows at this year’s Foto Biennale. Another highlight will be Tell, a show put together by Indigenous curator Jessica Clark. “She’s one of the emerging curators going to Venice in March for the [photo and video artist] Tracey Moffatt show,” says Sweet. “This exhibition [in Ballarat] will showcase 18 outstanding Indigenous photographers.”

The Foto Biennale started in 2005, and this year it's debuting a public program; photography will be publically displayed around the streets of Ballarat.

“There’ll be photography everywhere,” Sweet says. “There’ll be big-name photographers from around the world, with a special focus on Iranian photographers.” The event will link up with restaurants and bars around the town, and a Fringe Festival program will run separately from, but complementary to, the main biennale schedule.

“By being in a small town, we have this beautiful opportunity to fully immerse the local community in a photo biennale, and for audiences to come and walk through our town, encountering the best of international and Australian photography,” Sweet says.

“We don’t just have one significant exhibition – this year, we have eight. We’re using David LaChapelle to get people here, but once they’re here, there are many other brilliant exhibitions to see."

The Ballarat International Foto Biennale will run from Saturday August 19 to Sunday September 17, 2017 at The Art Gallery of Ballarat and various other venues around the town. More information and tickets here.