THE Head On Portrait Prize celebrates its 10th anniversary this year as part of the Head On Festival which opened on May 12 with more than 900 photographers taking part in 140 exhibitions around Sydney.
The brainchild of Israeli-born photographer Moshe Rosenzveig, the competition attracts entries from around Australia and overseas, and is divided into several categories with prizes totalling more than $60,000.
“The philosophy of Head On is one of inclusivity – we are not elitist; you don’t need to be a famous photographer or take pictures using a certain type of camera. We have images from everyone, from the internationally-known photographers to people who are just starting out,” he says.
“Head On is a celebration of creativity that everyone is invited to be part of.”
Rosenzveig is excited that the festival has expanded this year with a new mobile photo category. It will be launched at Paddington Town Hall on May 16 with the presentation of the 2014 winners of the Head On Portrait Prize and the landscape, multimedia technology and mobile phone categories.
“We started with portraits 10 years ago, then last year we progressed to landscape and multimedia and this year introduced a mobile photo category, which is the new frontier in photography,” he says.
“Photography is no longer just using a traditional camera and film, but any device that captures an image, either still or moving. We have received an amazing response as many photographers are moving in this direction.”
Rosenzveig, who is a photojournalist, commercial photographer, educator and TV producer/director, has had his work screened, published and exhibited in Australia and overseas for the past 30 years.
Having complemented his photography, film and multimedia work with teaching and lecturing at universities and institutions, Rosenzveig is now focusing on the annual festival.
Rosenzveig says that use of mobile phone technology makes photography accessible to everyone and challenges the notion that only amazing images come out of large heavy cameras.
“I believe that photography is the most popular art form in the world today. It seems that everyone is taking pictures, no matter which country you live in. Mobile phones are the easiest way to document your life and your experiences.”
The festival welcomes back acclaimed American photographer Benjamin Lowy. Beginning his career covering the Iraq War in 2003, Lowy has photographed major news events worldwide. He has been a leader in mobile phone photography for professional photojournalism including the first Time magazine cover taken with a phone.
Lowy will be a guest judge as well as staging his i-Street exhibition featuring mobile photography.
“Mobile phones free photographers from heavy machinery and enable greater intimacy with their subjects,” explains Rosenzveig. “The result is stunningly original candid photography.”
Lowy will lead a 24-hour workshop on May 17 where 10 participants will take part in three-hour sessions, creating images using mobile phones during the day and with DSLRs at night.
The shooting locations will be kept secret until just before each session, but will include iconic attractions such as Bondi, Sydney Harbour and Kings Cross.
Rosenzveig says: “People can experience his photography first-hand and how see how he works – he is a real superstar and one of the few photographers who has increased his workload in the changing environment. He has adapted to the new technology and does a lot of his work on mobile phones.”
Rosenzveig says there has been keen interest in multimedia, with 10 finalists on display at the Brenda May Gallery in Waterloo.
“We received a lot of quality entries for multimedia that were very diverse and interesting. We wanted to feature entries that went beyond normal videos and are more like fine art photography and documentary essays.”
Among the provocative exhibitions is Sara Lewkowicz’s portrayal of domestic violence titled Shane and Maggie: An Intimate Look at Domestic Violence at the Gaffa Creative Precinct in Clarence Street, Sydney.
The young Jewish photographer won a student grant from the Alexia Foundation at last year’s festival and decided to focus on domestic violence, examining how a pattern of abuse develops and the effect it has on victims, families and abusers.
“Sara wanted to focus on prisoners who were released from jail and how they adapted to life back in society,” explains Rosenzveig.
“She followed a man who had been released from prison and on the day she was there he lost the plot and bashed the mother. The photos are full on, but it is important work.”
Another Jewish photographer, South American Erika Diettes, took portraits of women who witnessed the torture of their husbands and sons in Colombia for her exhibition Sudarios.
The 20 photographs, printed on two-metre tall silk panels, are suspended from the ceiling of St Canice Church in Elizabeth Bay, giving visitors the impression of a sea of anguished faces when they walk in.
In 1988, Richard Weinstein spent a year in the South African town of Marabastad in Pretoria documenting the daily life of the townspeople living under the harsh apartheid system.
On a recent trip back to South Africa, the Sydney-based photographer took the photos out of storage and decided that they should be exhibited.
“I experienced joy, friendship, hospitality and the African heart. This unique, mixed-cultural race community worked and lived in harmony and respect despite their dire circumstances. I dedicate this exhibition to the people of Marabastad.”
The exhibition of black-and-white photos, plus a 16mm documentary film, are on display at the Boutwell Draper Gallery in Redfern from May 25-31.
Another Head On exhibition, The Genesis Project explores how 22 leading photographers first became interested in becoming professional photographers. Among the group is South African Jewish photographer Roger Ballan.
Chris Rainier, a photographer with the National Geographic Society, features ancient traditions from cultures from around the world from the past 30 years in the People on the Edge exhibition.
Rainier uses a variety of modern technology such as smart phones, cameras, computers and videos.
Other highlights include the Ludlites Love Light exhibition at The Depot Gallery in Waterloo featuring the work of more than a dozen photographers using low-tech equipment such as plastic cameras.
Richard Simpkin’s Richard & Famous exhibition features photos of himself taken with a host of celebrities in many countrues during the past 24 years. The exhibition is on display at Westfield Bondi Junction.
Also on display at Westfield Bondi Junction is Grand Masters of Photography featuring the work of acclaimed photographers including Bert Stern and David Hamilton.
This year, Head On will have a large photo booth – a shipping container – in the Pitt Street Mall. Members of the public can have their portraits taken by Head On photographers, with the images becoming part of a changing living photo-wall installation.
“It should be fantastic fun,” says Rosenzveig. In the booth we will have a roster of leading photographers including Ben Lowy and Chris Rainier to help out in taking the portraits.”
Rosenzveig is proud of what Head On has achieved in a decade.
“It has been a tough 10 years running the event because we do not get government support, so we look at sponsors and volunteers to get involved to help keep it going,” he says.
“The result is that a lot more people see the festival, see photography and it allows photographers who have never had a chance to show their work to put it on display. Photography is a celebration of the people.”
The Head On Photo Festival runs at venues around Sydney from May 12 to June 8. Enquiries: www.headon.com.au.
REPORT by Danny Gocs
PHOTO: Richard Weinstein’s Waiting to Work taken in the South African township of Marabastad.