A first-of-its-kind festival of queer photography, Queer Photo, launches in Melbourne’s west on January 27 with a world-class program of artwork and events exploring a multitude of identities and visions of our shared future through a queer lens. In this collaboration between Midsumma Festival and Photo 2024 International Festival of Photography, venues and streets across Footscray, Newport and Werribee will exhibit 17 local and international LGBTQIA+ artists’ diverse responses to the theme The Future Is Shaped by Those Who Can See It.

Midsumma CEO Karen Bryant says the project – Midsumma’s first photography-specific program – contextualises the work of local artists within the broader scope of queer photography from around the world.

“Photography as an art form is often seen as more accessible to broader communities – just about everyone has a camera in their pocket these days, giving us all a level of personal literacy regarding visual imagery,” Bryant tells Broadsheet. “This project expands on that community connection by working with renowned professional LGBTQIA+ photographic artists, both globally and locally, to explore issues relevant to the communities of Melbourne’s western suburbs.”

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Photo 2024 curator Brendan McCleary says the medium of photography is suited to exploring diverse viewpoints and providing unexpected moments of surprise and provocation.

“Photography tells a story and invites people to understand the world around us and different lived experiences,” McCleary says. “It also affects our lives daily, particularly the ongoing conversations around AI and its rising prevalence. I love how Jake Elwes is challenging how AI datasets are complicit in reproducing social bias through their project The Zizi Show. Jake has created their own artificial intelligence-generated drag queens from new datasets they created [by] filming queens the met in London. It’s ridiculous, fun and thought-provoking.”

Within these imagined futures, artists explore themes specific to their individual or collective perspectives. Intersectional and conflicting identities are approached through a postcolonial lens, such as in Samoan-Australian artist Leilani Fuimaono’s So’otaga (Connection), which was created with the local Pasifika community and addresses dual Indigenous-settler identities. Australian-Fijian artist Salote Tawale’s Exquisite Corpse, a work combining made and natural objects that breaks photographic and spatial boundaries, reflects on the Australian and Fijian colonial experiences, harnessing Indigenous knowledge systems. And diaspora perspectives come together in the experimental group exhibition Surfacing, while LA-based artist Clifford Prince King’s Orange Grove presents everyday portraits of intimacy in photography and film.

“Queer thinking provides unique perspectives that question the status quo, and intersects with other contemporary challenges, such as environmental, technological and decolonial questions,” McCleary says. “It’s beautiful to think of the future not as a distant concept, but something that is being shaped today. Across the festival, the artists in Queer Photo are helping to shape the future they want to live in.

“Local artist Lilah Benetti’s new commission Black and Blur is a great example of this, featuring portraits of migrant and Indigenous Black individuals in their community. This series celebrates gender fullness in Indigenous histories, and how this lives on today despite ongoing colonisation.”

Overall, optimism and hope underpin these visions for our shared future, which are drawn from a sense of community and celebration.

“There is joy when we find our family, our people, and strength when we face things together,” McCleary says. “I see this in Vic Bakin’s TBWWWTB (To Be Who We Want to Be), portraits of the Ukrainian queer community flourishing in spite of the pressures of invasion and the threat of oppression. Same can be said for the exhibition [Alteration] at the Substation by FAFSWAG, the Aotearoa-based queer Polynesian arts collective. Coming together as a community celebrating ancestry and legacy, together they reshape how audiences imagine queer Pacific bodies and identities, despite ongoing climate crisis and that threat to their homelands.”

The artworks are accompanied by a program of 30 events, including a cyanotype photography workshop, pet photoshoots, artist talks and a “Queer Arty Bus Ride”.

With a focus on community accessibility, the talks and workshops are free and wheelchair-accessible, and many have Auslan interpreters or audio describers available.

Queer Photo runs from January 27 to March 24 at various locations around Footscray, Newport and Werribee. Events and exhibitions are free; some require pre-registration.