The Ballarat International Foto Biennale is back for another season

Erik-Johansson-Impact-2016 Ballarat International Foto Biennale 2023

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted August 21, 2023

Australia’s most significant photography festival, the Ballarat International Foto Biennale, is back in Victoria celebrating The Real Thing. 

The highly anticipated Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) is making its fabulous return to the Victorian town of Ballarat, celebrating art, photography, conversation, and community.

Since its inception in 2005, over 240,000 people have come through the various exhibitions on display. Now in its 10th iteration, RACV is proud to partner with BIFB to showcase a series of events, classes and exhibitions by renowned photographers from around the globe.

Mardi Nowak, Head of Visual Arts RACV and curator of BIFB’s presence at the RACV Goldfields Resort, says she is “particularly excited” to bring so many diverse art elements that hopefully resonate with visitors on many different levels.

“This is the first time that we have co-produced exhibitions with the festival and made a small arts hub at Creswick,” she says.

“From exhibitions, art inspired food, and hands on activities, RACV Goldfields will be about all things art and photography for the next 60 days.”

Each iteration of BIFB focuses on a centralised theme, with both local and international photographers taking part. This year, the focus is on The Real Thing, which BIFB describes as ‘a provocation and a nostalgic call to come and see what is real.’

The festival will feature over 2,000 works of art from more than 150 artists around 100-odd venues in the City of Ballarat.

BIFB will premiere international exhibits such as People Power – Platon, 120 portraits of people who have ‘shaped our world,’ from Michelle Obama to Prince, Putin, and Vivienne Westwood; and the esteemed Instant Warhol collection of 56 original Polaroid portraits from the man himself.

A favourite of Mardi’s, she says Warhol’s images of celebrities showcase “a great way to look back at a pre-digital camera world of capturing portraits instantly.”

As well as photographic exhibitions, the festival will be putting on workshops, masterclasses, trivia, tours, competitions, a kids hub, talks, walks, performances and more.

“What we have tried to achieve is a sense of discovery and curiosity for the Goldfields program,” says Mardi. 

I hope that people come away with a new appreciation of photography, and have discovered some new artists,” she says.

“This year’s program also includes artists from all over the world, so it’s a great way to delve into different ideas and social issues.”

Here’s everything to know before visiting this year’s Ballarat International Foto Biennale.

RACV Members receive 15% off Festival Passes with the code RACV2023


The Ballarat International Foto Biennale is back for another season | RACV

Guide to the Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) 2023

What is the Ballarat International Foto Biennale?

The Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB, pronounced BIF-B) is a 60-day festival showcasing the work of local and international photographers, as well as workshops, food and drink, discussions and art celebrations throughout the City of Ballarat.

This year’s theme, The Real Thing, investigates the idea of ‘real’ verses generated images like NFTs and AI. The idea is to think about how what we look at can change and influence our world view.

“This year’s theme is a nod to new ways of working in photography, AI, NFT works, and ideas of surrealism and trick of the eye,” says Mardi.

“The theme has allowed questions of what a photograph can be, and the exhibitions that people will see will leave them wondering, how did they make that?”

When is BIFB on in 2023?

The Ballarat International Foto Biennale runs from 26 August – 22 October, 2023.

While outdoor free works have no set times, the festival will be running a range of exhibitions, activities, and events over the 60-day period, so it is best to plan your visit accordingly.

Where is BIFB being held?

Ballarat in the Central Highlands is Victoria’s third largest city, located around 90 minutes from Melbourne. It is known for being the home of the Australian Gold Rush era, and is home to many popular tourist attractions, from Sovereign Hill to its botanical gardens, wildlife park, piano bar, ghost tours, and historical experiences like Kryal Castle, as well as its burgeoning arts scene.

While there are over 100 indoor and outdoor spaces that will feature BIFB works, such as laneways and city streets around Ballarat, there are 20 set locations for its 82 exhibitions during the festival.

Mardi says this juxtaposition of large and small exhibits “provides an art experience for everyone.”

“One of the elements that I love about BIFB is [that] you can visit and see the works by high profile, international photographers, but then also pop into a local café or shop and see a beautiful exhibition by a local photographer,” she says.

“Combined with the series of educational talks and events, the festival has a great vibe that sometimes only a regional city can provide. I love walking around the streets, discovering new artists and art in unexpected areas as well.”

A walkable city, the main 'Festival Hub' is in Lydiard Street in the town centre, as well as works being displayed at locations like the RACV Goldfields Resort, the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Mining Exchange, Ballarat Town Hall, and Regent Cinemas.

How can I get tickets to BIFB?

Tickets can be bought online, or on arrival at the BIFB Box Office at the Festival Hub. Visitors can elect to purchase either a single pass, 3-day ticket, or a season pass.

RACV Members receive 15% off full BIFB Festival Passes with the code RACV2023.


Peter Solness, Wonderland #1, 2020. Used with permission.
Selena Ou, The Pines, 2020. Used with permission.
Naomi Hobson, A Bee And A Butterfly, 2019. Used with permission.
Platon, Self Portrait, 2017. Courtesy Studio Platon.
Platon, Muhammad Ali, 2009. Courtesy Studio Platon.

Who is BIFB for? Is it appropriate for children?

BIFB is open to all visitors, with ticket prices starting for those aged 5 and up (under 5s are free).

There is a dedicated 'Kids Hub' for children and families, including collaborative collage and pinhole projector workshops, school holiday photography programs, and paper plane creation.

Check the program for dates and times, as well as to note if bookings are required.

Which artists feature at the BIFB?

Over 150 artists with more than 2,000 works will be displayed during BIFB, with world premieres from international photographers including Erik Johansson, Stephen Dupont, Platon and Colleen Raven Strangways.

There will also be some Australian firsts, including works from Yvonne Todd, Kate Ballism, Kyle Archie Knight, and Ramak Bamzar; a display of the Michael Kantor Portrait Prize exhibit; and the 2023 BIFB Open Program, featuring both new and established artists in the running for industry and people's choice awards.

In terms of what not to miss, one Mardi says to keep an eye out for is Bidjara photographic artist Michael Cook’s exhibition, Fake. His work, she says, “reflects on his personal experience as a mixed-heritage Aboriginal man. He makes beautiful images that leave you questioning the narrative.”

Another one to watch, says Mardi, is Kate Ballis’ exhibition Portals to Atlantis at Ballarat Train Station, which “will delight and intrigue commuters.”

Are there any special events or attractions at BIFB?

This year’s BIFB features seven world premieres, and 15 Australian firsts across the eight weeks of festivities. Some highlighted events include:

Platon speaks in person about The Power of Unity: Rekindling The Spirit of Optimism

Saturday 26 August, 1:30pm, Regent Cinemas Ballarat

Platon, a noted British photographer, has racked up more photos of world leaders than anyone in history. At this in-person ticketed event on unity and optimism, Platon shares how his career has given him insights to what makes us all connected.

Street Tour & Artist Talks: Oculi Laneways

Saturday 26 August, 3:00-5:00pm, OCULI laneways

For a special treat during the festival, artists whose work appears in laneways around the city will be in person at their works, providing commentary on the meanings behind the art as visitors come by.

How to Fly – Erik Johansson

Sunday 27 August, 11:00am, The Mining Exchange

Swedish photographer Erik Johansson is known for his surrealist photography works around the world. At this in-person discussion, Johansson gives insight into the premiere for his How to Fly custom exhibit for BIFB.

Public Forum – The Real Thing

Saturday 7 October, various speakers between 12:00pm - 4:30pm, Art Gallery of Ballarat

With a focus on this year’s BIFB theme, The Real Thing, a range of special guests will appear to discuss the future of photography, from AI text-to-image software, to debates on what makes art ‘real.’

Photobook Weekend

Saturday 14 - Sunday 15 October, various workshops from 11:00am – 4:00pm, Art Gallery of Ballarat

Popular in previous iterations, Photobook Weekend includes a range of events such as swap meets, book signings, panel discussions, and interactive creative workshops.


Billboards of art surround the city for the Ballarat International Foto Biennale. Image: Supplied.
ArtHouse Mock-up, Office Escape. Image: Supplied.
The Food Photography 101 workshop is for anyone wanting to start their journey in food photography. Image: Supplied.
Jonathan Zawada, Static Ego, 2021. Courtesy the artist.
David Cossini, Untitled (from the series Business in the Front, Party in the Back!), 2022. Courtesy the artist.

What BIFB works and events are at the RACV Goldfields Resort?

RACV Goldfields Resort is a proud partner of BIFB and for the first time, will co-present three exhibitions as part of the festival - around the Resort, in their Goldfields gallery, and within the dedicated ArtHouse.

Proud to share some “fantastic artworks,” Mardi adds that “we are incredibly excited to be partnering with BIFB to bring a little slice of the festival to RACV Goldfields.”

“We are also hosting a series of masterclasses and talks,” she says, “so there will be something for everyone.”

Some RACV X BIFB highlights include:

Within the Landscape

19 Aug - 3 Dec 2023, RACV Goldfields Resort

While exploring all the Resort has to offer, visitors will be able to take in ‘landscapes within landscapes,’ or what Mardi calls “an adventure to view works by three leading photographers: Selina Ou, Naomi Hobson and Lisa Sorgini.”

 Celebrating the nature of the area, these artists have created a range of photographs sprinkled around the Resort and Creswick landscape.  

Winterbloom: Aldona Kmieć

19 Aug - 3 Dec 2023, Goldfields Gallery

The Goldfields Gallery is proud to present Polish-Australian photographer Aldona Kmieć new series of beautiful self-portraits.

“Aldona has created a series that are fluid, almost abstract photographs that are also quite calming,” says Mardi.

Created over the winter lockdown period, the idea is to explore the ideas of imagination, colour, movement, and creativity.  

Behind the Image: Erik Johansson

19 Aug - 3 Dec 2023, ArtHouse

In a coupe for ArtHouse, international photographer Erik Johansson presents a range of drawings, photographs, and short documentaries brought to life with digital effects.

“Often people think, “photography – oh I can do that on my phone,” says Mardi, “but they don’t realise the conceptual side, and often the final image is the result of hundreds of photos being taken. [In this exhibit], viewers will learn more about his process, and… hopefully be inspired to [also] go see the partner exhibition of his at the Mining Exchange.”

This special exhibition also provides an interactive art activity.

Artist Talk: The Art of Lunch

2 September, 12:00pm - 3:30pm

In this headlining event at the RACV Goldfields Resort, enjoy a presentation from featured BIFB artists Erik Johannson, Selena Ou and Aldona Kmieć, while feasting on food and wine from executive chefs during a long creative-fuelled lunch. Bookings required.

RACV Members get 10 per cent off The Art of Lunch using the code RACV10-OFF

Masterclass: Nature Light Painting with Peter Solness

9 September, 12:00pm – 7:00pm, RACV Goldfields Resort

In this one day intensive, those with an interest in nature photography are given a hands-on masterclass in capturing their forest surroundings at nightfall.

Includes lunch and afternoon tea by RACV. Bookings required.

In Disguise – Mask Making

 19, 21 & 23 September, 9:00am - 10:30am

Who is behind the mask? In this special school holidays attraction, visitors aged 5 and up will enjoy getting crafty by creating their very own colourful face mask disguises.

Free for guests of the RACV Goldfields Resort. Bookings required.

Masterclass: Food Photography 101 with Shellie Froidevaux and Ewen Bell

23 September 10:00am – 3:00pm, RACV Goldfields Resort

Looking to get the perfect picture of a delectable dessert or salivating salad? This workshop on food photography is a great start.

With a session run by industry professionals, learn the art of capturing taste on camera with an interactive workshop on equipment, lighting, styling, and photographing the perfect mouth-watering picture.

Includes lunch and afternoon tea by RACV. Bookings required.



ArtHouse is home to many roving exhibits, activities and artist residencies during the year. Image: Supplied

Does BIFB have accessible services? 

Various programs throughout the festival offer a range of accessible and assistive services, including prams, as listed on the BIFB Program.

Please check the location of the exhibit you are attending for specific information.

Does BIFB have a dress code? 

There is no dress code for attending BIFB.

Is it okay to take photos and video of BIFB works?

Casual visitors are welcome to take pictures and videos of BIFB for personal use, unless otherwise stated. 

How do I get to BIFB?

BIFB is located in and around the City of Ballarat. Trains and buses run multiple times a day from both Melbourne and Geelong, with Ballarat station just a short walking distance to the main Festival Hub on Lydiard Street.

You can plan the most efficient journey to BIFB with the free journey planner app arevo.

Can I park at BIFB?

There is street parking available around the Festival Hub in Ballarat, including accessible parking.

Free parking is also available at the RACV Goldfields Resort in Creswick, approximately 15 minutes from Ballarat. A bus then runs directly to Ballarat station.

The Resort also has secure bike parking and storage for those cycling in and out of the festival.


Platon, George Lois and Platon, 2012. Courtesy Studio Platon.
Platon, Cate Blanchett, 2004. Courtesy Studio Platon.
Michael Cook, Salt Lake, 2023, digital photograph print. Courtesy the artist and Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane.
Kyle Archie Knight, Cruising for a Bruising, 2022. Courtesy the artist.
Boris Eldagsen, PSEUDOMNESIA lll | Balance, 2023. Courtesy the artist.
Allison Rose, Wheelie. Shortlisted for the Martin Kantor Prize 2023. Courtesy the artist.

Is there food and drink at BIFB?

BIFB runs around multiple locations around the City of Ballarat, where you can enjoy local cuisine from a range of cafes, pubs, bars, restaurants and eateries.

Mardi’s favourite is Le Péché Gourmand in Creswick, which she visits for its “delicious French pastries.”

We’ve picked a selection of our favourite eateries in the Goldfields here.

How long do I need at BIFB?

“With so much on offer, I would suggest going hard and doing a full day, or if you like to take things at a more leisurely pace, get a multi-day pass to take in all of the exhibitions,” says Mardi.

She also recommends getting a “deeper understanding” of the exhibitions through events like tours and artist talks.

“The team at Ballarat Art Gallery often have guided tours which are informative and fun,” she says.

For those talking advantage of the multipass, Mardi says it’s great to stay where the art is.

“RACV Goldfields Resort is a beautiful location, so it makes for a great backdrop for a weekend away of new ideas, art and food.”

Visitors staying at the RACV Goldfields Resort during the exhibition can save 15 per cent off their stay by using the promo code FOTO2023. Plus, Members save even more.

Book your stay.

What should I take away from BIFB?

As well as an overall appreciation for art, photography, the Goldfields region, and perhaps even some new skills, Mardi’s aim is for learning and discovery.

“I hope people find something unexpected and new that provides a sense of delight,” she says.

“We want people to walk away remembering that they connected with some amazing art and who knows - they may be inspired to pick up a camera themselves!"

Cover image - Erik Johansson, Impact, 2016. Used with permission.