JJ Dwyer captured life in the Goldfields in the late 1800s. Festival director Claire Martin says she loves the quality captured on glass plates.

FOTO FREO is making a comeback after a decade.

Australia’s first international photographic festival, Foto Freo ran between 2002 and 2012 before folding when founder Bob Hewitt retired.

After forging an international career that’s seen her images grace publications such as Time Magazine and Vanity Fair, local photographer Claire Martin is back home and has decided to revive the event she says was her first big break.

“I was a volunteer in 2004, as I was a photography student at ECU and several of the lecturers were involved,” Ms Martin said.

“Sitting in the gallery was quite an experience, but it was also very egalitarian and we were able to go to the events and rub shoulders with the celebrity photographers.”

With Mr Hewitt’s encouragement, Ms Martin staged her own Foto Freo exhibition in 2010. “That was really formative in my career; it was my first exhibition and it opened doors.”

The relaunched festival, which runs from May 14 – July 24, has Mr Hewitt’s blessing and he’s even donated a pile of photography books gathered during his time running the event to help raise funds.

Ms Martin said as she mused on whether to relaunch the festival, the goodwill it had generated first time round became obvious through the many people urging her on.


Covid initially got in the way of hosting an international festival, but she’s secured Argentinian Irina Werning and New Orleans-based photographer Daniella Zalcman to appear virtually at a panel discussion and exhibit their work.

“I love Irina Werning,” Ms Martin says.

“Her work is enormously, highly technical and recreates family albums years apart. Her work has taken her around the world and shows the global uniformity of families; it’s quite profound but is still quite funny.”

The festival will also highlight the photography of JJ Dwyer, who came to the WA Goldfields in the late 1800s and established a studio which did much to document the miners’ lives.

The prints come from the WA State Library and a selection were shown at Foto Freo originally, but Ms Martin says they’ve been “re-contextualised and reimagined through a new lens”.

A panel including Zalcman and Werning is planned for Ms Martin says the aim this time round is a slightly modest relaunch, and she hopes if it does reach its former glory, it never loses its common touch.

“It’s about finding that balance of inspirational ‘best-in-the-world’ and that engagement with the community.”

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