Over time, the historic town has evolved into a cultural hub and home of the arts, and every two years visitors flock from far and wide for the Ballarat International Foto Biennale.

Founded in 2005, the event attracts some of the world’s leading photographers and has earned its status as one of Australia’s most prestigious photographic festivals.

Throughout its 11-year history, the event has attracted more than 150,000 visitors to Ballarat and was honoured at the Ballarat 2016 Australia Day Awards as Community Activity of the Year.

The festival’s core program exhibits at iconic sites including the striking Art Gallery of Ballarat, The Mining Exchange, the Minerva Room, The Observatory, the Post Office Gallery and the Town Hall.

Meanwhile, the fringe program is staged at more than 80 cafes, galleries and wine bars across the town, providing a launching pad for hundreds of new and emerging artists.

Running from August 19 to September 17, the festival’s sixth edition features special events across all five weekends and is expected to attract more than 50,000 people to Ballarat.

This year the event has the honour of hosting one of the most distinguished photographers of our time, David LaChapelle, in his first Australian exhibition.

The American artist has photographed some of the most recognised faces on the planet, from Madonna and Leonardo DiCaprio to Muhammad Ali and Hillary Clinton.

Also on the festival’s impressive line-up are three acclaimed photographers who have chosen to pay homage to Italy for the occasion.

In his exhibition ‘Parts Unknown: Italy’, artist and academic Todd Walker will showcase photographs captured over a four-week period, reflecting the unknown parts of Italian life in simple, uncomplicated imagery.

Photographer Ross Garner’s exhibition ‘The Majesty of the Dolomite Mountains in Chrome’ captures the wild beauty of Italy’s striking Dolomite Mountains with a series of monograph photos.

Meanwhile, award-winning photographer John Tozer will present his love letter to Italy, ‘Impressioni Italiano’, a collection which demonstrates the diversity of imagery found within the country that lures him back time and time again.

A Master of Photography with the Australian Institute of Professional Photography, John Tozer runs a studio and gallery in the rural town of Castlemaine.

His photographic images have won over 200 professional photography awards, and he has sold over 80 limited edition prints through more than 20 solo and group exhibitions.

Mr Tozer is a familiar face at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale, having participated in the last two editions.

This year, he will take festivalgoers on a journey through the wonders of Italy, from ancient Roman relics to high Milan fashions, small town fortresses, opera theatres, stunning alpine lakes, Catholic churches and more.

The talented photographer is no stranger to Italy, and recently returned home from his fourth trip to the Belpaese.

Since their first visit 15 years ago, Mr Tozer and his wife have travelled to Venice, Florence, Pisa, Milan, Bergamo, Mantua, Cinque Terre and Rome, to name a few.

They even spent their 50th wedding anniversary in style on the shores of Lake Como with old friends.

Mr Tozer puts his most interesting visit down to Mantua, in the northern Italian region of Lombardy.

“It’s a very historical town with lots of old galleries and beautiful churches,” he said.

“In saying that, every town is different and appealing in its own way.”

Mr Tozer has made the most of every Italian adventure, soaking up the true essence of each town and city he has come across during his travels.

“The main thing when you go on holiday is to take your time and not rush,” he explained.

 “The first time we went to Venice it was only for a couple of days and it was a great first impression but as you get older you like to unpack your bags and feel like you’re staying for a while.”

Of the 17 prints Mr Tozer will be exhibiting in the festival, he highlights two which hold a special place in his heart: a massive 1.2 x .6-metre landscape canvas of a tiny village on Lake Como, and a shot of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan.

“I was more concerned about the huge dome, but my wife was more concerned about the shops below it,” he laughed.

Mr Tozer intends on entering these and other photos from his travels in a series of national and international competitions, the first being the Australian Institute of Professional Photography’s annual competition set to take place next month, in which he will enter three masterpieces.

But for now, his most stunning snaps of Italy will hang in Ballarat’s Turret Cafe, on Sturt Street, as part of the Biennale.

“I haven’t exhibited in cafes before, but it’s a beautiful venue with great coffee,” he said.

“The mood gives off that Italian coffee shop vibe, so I think the photos will complement the space and I’m hoping people will get a feel for Italy as it’s seen through my eyes.”

Who ever imagined you could take a stroll through the charming town of Ballarat and a trip to Italy all in one day?!