Head On Festival Review: Every photograph tells a story

There are also live-streamed artist talks, panel discussions, photography workshops, and more than 100 virtual exhibitions of international and Australian photographers.

The festival was established in 2008. It showcases documentaries, a style that is often associated with photojournalism or other forms of reporting. Documentary images are defined as “unstaged” and depict everyday scenes and events in the world, people, and places. They were captured during a year of unprecedented change.

Surprise element

There are many conventional images, just like in other international photo festivals. There are a few surprises, but thankfully, there are many more.

Anna Bedynska’s Clothing for Death is a collection of portraits that show the clothing chosen by individuals for their funeral outfits.

Bedynska’s social documentary is an experiment in social commentary. It pushes the medium to new limits. The project shows that photography can be used to start sensitive and ethical conversations about taboo topics.

Portraits show how clothing is a part of our self-expression, even when we are dead.

The Art of Ageing is a collection of black-and-white photographs of women aged over 70 taken by Canadian photographer Arianne Clement. Women over 30 or of a certain age are rarely portrayed in the visual arts, whether they’re naked or not.

The Art of Aging, a visual activist work, shows older women’s bodies as just as sexually charged as their younger counterparts. The look in the eye of the woman lying on her bed, with the air of a teenage girl, suggests that she knows something about us.

You can also find beautiful images of couples in intimacy. These show people aged over 70 expressing their sexuality and their desire to be with each other.

The Art of Aging by Arianne Clement Head On Festival

Changing bodies

Jimmy Pozarik was photographer-in-residence at Sydney Children’s Hospital when he photographed 25 patients who were receiving treatment for this Then and Now series.

Anyone who has been in the hospital with a young child can relate to the trauma and distress of the scene and the fight for life some children and parents go through.

Jimmy Pozarik’s Then and Now Head On Festival

Pozarik pairs images taken at the residency with photos from today. The images demonstrate the power of photography in documenting the changes that our bodies and looks undergo over time.

Richard Sawdon Smith, a British photographer, has also created The UnKnowing… X. In a series of black-and-white self-portraits, he is dressed up and playing a role in the pictures. The images are meant to convey erotic practices as well as the body’s pain and power.

Smith states the following in his notes:

As I enter my sixth decade, I’m reflecting on the past and the unknown of the present. I dip into the dressing-up box to create different and possibly new roles. The X of Unknowing… could be a kiss to you from me, a reference for non-binary and non-gendered pronouns, or a reference for an undetermined space.

Smith portrays “a man approaching sixty” in a variety of guises, which is a playful lifetime of self-knowledge.

The Wigstock series by Canadian photographer Pierre Dalpe also demonstrates the importance of costume, this time at an iconic New York City drag fest.

Smith and Dalpe’s distinct works allow us to visualize queer body beyond the usual timeframe of Sydney’s Mardi Gras Festival, demonstrating Head On’s inclusiveness and diversity.

Shotgun Wedding by Pierre Dalpe from the Wigstock Series. Head On Festival

Big winners

The festival is proud to support both amateurs and professionals. The festival judges the work without knowing the names of the photographers or their biographies. Images and proposals are judged on merit, not reputation.

Fiona Wolfe’s The Gift Head On Festival

announced the winners of the Festival Awards on Friday night. The awards were given in three categories: student, portrait, and landscape. Fiona Wolf was awarded the portrait category with The Gift, RHW 2020. The picture depicted the “modern story of two dads who love a daughter born to a warrior mother.” Marcia Macmillan was awarded the Landscape Award for Whimsical Warrior. The picture shows her daughter running toward a duststorm. Joel Parkinson won the Student category with his self-portrait Within Without, which was a reflection on his transition from childhood into adulthood as well as “The last vestiges of innocence.”

Festivals encourage audience interaction through live Q&A sessions. Workshops also promise interactive seminars.

There are several workshops that you should attend, including Visual Storytelling in Portrait Photography (tonight at 6:30 pm).

Panel discussions on Falsifying the Image in an Era of Deep Fakes and Photography Trauma and Healing will be held on Sunday, 17 May, at noon.


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