Why You Shouldn’t Miss It

ProPhoto - - FRONT PAGE - Pho­tog­ra­phy by Nancy Borow­ick (USA) from her ex­hi­bi­tion A Life In Death, on show at the 2018 Head On Photo Fes­ti­val.

Aus­tralia’s big­gest – and most suc­cess­ful – in­ter­na­tional pho­tog­ra­phy fes­ti­val is on again across Syd­ney dur­ing May. Ali­son Stieven-Tay­lor pre­views some of the high­lights.

The death of one’s par­ents is per­haps one of the great­est emo­tional hur­dles in life, and doc­u­ment­ing their demise adds another layer of in­ten­sity. When Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher Nancy Borow­ick’s mother and fa­ther were dy­ing from can­cer at the same time, she turned to pho­tog­ra­phy as a way of nav­i­gat­ing the emo­tional storm. A Life In Death is the ex­tra­or­di­nary re­sult, a body of work that cap­tures the jour­ney of her par­ents as they un­der­went treat­ment for stage-four can­cer to­gether. It’s a story, she says, “…about life and love more than can­cer and death”, a story that is both heart­break­ing and heart-warm­ing.

A Life In Death is one of sev­eral in­ter­na­tion­ally-ac­claimed doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy ex­hi­bi­tions show­ing at the 2018 out­ing of Head On Photo Fes­ti­val, which is now well-es­tab­lished as Aus­tralia’s premier pho­tog­ra­phy event, at­tract­ing pho­tog­ra­phers from around the world. The 2018 pro­gram fea­tures both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional works across the pho­tog­ra­phy spec­trum, and with well over 100 events at lo­ca­tions across Syd­ney.

This year, the fes­ti­val is con­cen­trated around the in­ner Syd­ney lo­cale of Wool­lahra, with the Padding­ton Town Hall op­er­at­ing as the Fes­ti­val Hub. The lo­cal coun­cil is right be­hind Head On, as it should be, given the num­ber of peo­ple the Fes­ti­val brings into the area. The City Of Syd­ney also con­tin­ues its sup­port with var­i­ous ex­hi­bi­tions to be held in the CBD.

Fes­ti­val di­rec­tor Moshe Rosen­zveig says the pro­gram­ming of ex­hi­bi­tions within close prox­im­ity to each other means that fes­ti­val go­ers will be able to see nu­mer­ous shows and re­ally im­merse them­selves in the fes­ti­val vibe. The open­ing night (on 4 May) is again be­ing held out­doors in Padding­ton where the win­ners of the Head On Photo Awards will be an­nounced. There are some awe­some prizes on of­fer this year too, from Fu­ji­film, Olympus and Sony. And, if last year is any­thing to go on, it will be one hell of a cel­e­bra­tion.

As reg­u­lar read­ers of ProPhoto will be aware, my in­ter­est lies in so­cial doc­u­men­tary and pho­to­jour­nal­ism, and this year’s line-up is noth­ing short of thrilling, but there is also a great se­lec­tion of works that cel­e­brate the com­plex ap­pli­ca­tions of the medium. While I can’t fea­ture all the ex­hi­bi­tions that trip my wire, here are my top picks.

Doc­u­men­tary And Pho­to­jour­nal­ism Ex­hi­bi­tions

On the world’s pho­to­jour­nal­ism stage, there are few women as ac­com­plished as multi-

award-win­ner Amer­i­can Paula Bron­stein. Over a ca­reer that spans decades as both a staff pho­tog­ra­pher – most re­cently for Getty Im­ages – and as a free­lancer, Bron­stein has earned her stripes in the field of con­flict re­portage, cov­er­ing im­por­tant sto­ries in­clud­ing the con­tin­u­ing Ro­hingya hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis. Her ex­ten­sive oeu­vre in­cludes a 15-year doc­u­men­ta­tion of the many facets of Afghanistan and a se­lec­tion of this work from her book, Afghanistan: Be­tween Hope And Fear, will be on show at Head On, fea­tur­ing both fa­mil­iar and new nar­ra­tives on a coun­try that con­tin­ues to be rav­aged by war.

“Ev­ery time you see Afghanistan in the news these days it is about bomb­ings,” says Bron­stein, who was in Ukraine shoot­ing a new per­sonal project when we caught up via Skype in Fe­bru­ary.

“That gives you a par­tic­u­lar per­cep­tion of the coun­try, but what’s go­ing on in Afghanistan is not that sim­ple and I hope this ex­hi­bi­tion im­parts a sense of the com­plex­ity of the coun­try.”

Cer­tainly there are a num­ber of Bron­stein’s pho­to­graphs that move the nar­ra­tive beyond that of con­flict. In par­tic­u­lar, the pho­to­graphs of young women in beauty par­lours and a bride­groom wait­ing for his fi­ancée in a stretch limou­sine shift the dial on the stereo­typ­i­cal im­age of Afghanistan. So does the line of swan pad­dle­boats that sit against the shore of one of the lakes in the breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­ful Band-e-Amir Na­tional Park in the cen­tre of the coun­try. But Bron­stein’s body of work is not a soft sell on this trou­bled na­tion, and there are nu­mer­ous im­ages that leave the viewer with no doubt that those liv­ing in Afghanistan are bur­dened by great hard­ships, par­tic­u­larly women and chil­dren.

James Whit­low De­lano – another award-win­ning pho­to­jour­nal­ist, show­cases work from his se­ries, Nor­mal­iz­ing Ex­tra­ju­di­cial Mur­der In The Philip­pines, which tells the

The pro­gram­ming of ex­hi­bi­tions within close prox­im­ity to each other means that fes­ti­val go­ers will be able to see nu­mer­ous shows and re­ally im­merse them­selves in the fes­ti­val vibe.

sto­ries of fam­i­lies af­fected by Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Duterte’s war on drugs.

De­lano asks, “Why should we tell the story of Jas­mine Do­rana, a 15-yearold mother left wi­d­owed af­ter her teenage hus­band was shot four times in the head in front of her? Why should peo­ple care about Remy Fernandez, an 84-year-old grand­mother left to raise seven grand­chil­dren af­ter their fa­ther was ex­e­cuted by masked gun­men sent to the slums to kill him in his own liv­ing room? We tell these sto­ries be­cause we are hu­man, be­cause by not know­ing their story and not ex­pos­ing these worst of crimes, we be­come com­plicit… sanc­tion­ing these crimes with our si­lence”.

Ital­ian doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­pher Emanuele Amighetti’s Un­rec­og­nized Na­tion, For­got­ten War fo­cuses on the young Art­sakh cit­i­zens of the Nagorno-Karabakh re­gion. This area is the sub­ject of an un­re­solved dis­pute be­tween Azer­bai­jan, where it is lo­cated, and its eth­nic Ar­me­nian ma­jor­ity, sup­ported by Ar­me­nia on its bor­der. These young girls and boys are forced at the age of 13 to be­come sol­diers in this “frozen con­flict” that re­ceives lit­tle at­ten­tion from western me­dia in par­tic­u­lar.

This year marks the 16th an­niver­sary of the first ‘ War On Ter­ror’ prison’s open­ing at Guan­tanamo Bay in Cuba (known as ‘Gitmo’ af­ter its mil­i­tary call let­ters, GTMO). Amer­i­can Debi Corn­wall is a con­cep­tual doc­u­men­tary artist and her body of work Wel­come To Camp Amer­ica: In­side Guan­tanamo Bay pro­vides a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into this no­to­ri­ous US Naval Sta­tion. This ex­hi­bi­tion pro­vokes ques­tions about the po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions in the so-called ‘ War On Ter­ror’ and takes the viewer in­side spa­ces pre­vi­ously off-lim­its. I saw this show is New York last year and it is def­i­nitely worth a look.

Bel­gian pho­to­jour­nal­ist Alain Schroeder’s doc­u­men­ta­tion Liv­ing For Death ex­plores the unique death rit­u­als of To­raja peo­ple in In­done­sia, who keep their loved ones close in life and in death.

Fol­low­ing the rice har­vest each year in Au­gust, the To­raja pay homage to their an­ces­tors, re­mov­ing them from their coffins, chang­ing their out­fits, even ap­ply­ing make-up and ac­ces­sories such as sun­glasses and hats in the rit­ual known as ma’nene. The To­raja are not in any hurry to bury their dead ei­ther, and of­ten a de­ceased fam­ily mem­ber will re­main in the home for years un­til a fu­neral is or­gan­ised, only af­ter which is the per­son’s death of­fi­cially ac­knowl­edged.

Jon Lewis Clas­sics, by the well-known Syd­ney pho­tog­ra­pher of the same name, fea­tures a se­lec­tion of pho­to­graphs from a prac­ti­tioner once de­scribed as “the burr un­der the sad­dle of Aus­tralian pho­tog­ra­phy”, a com­ment made by fel­low pho­tog­ra­pher Robert McFar­lane in ob­serv­ing Lewis’s “…pure, rather than con­cep­tual ap­proach to the medium”. Lewis is most well-known for his de­pic­tion of ev­ery­day life, and this ex­hi­bi­tion draws from a col­lec­tion span­ning decades.

Chi­nese artist Peng Xiangjie’s ex­plo­ration of Chi­nese Manga fes­ti­vals, Cos­play, ex­poses the ex­tremes that fans go to, not only in dress­ing up as their favourite char­ac­ters, but in im­mers­ing them­selves in the Manga ex­pe­ri­ence. Shot in black and white on medium for­mat film and printed by the artist, these im­ages have an his­tor­i­cal qual­ity to them even though they are con­tem­po­rary works, fur­ther adding to the depth of the nar­ra­tive.

Fine-Art Pho­tog­ra­phy

There are sev­eral ex­hi­bi­tions wor­thy of men­tion in the fine-art cat­e­gory, in­clud­ing Aus­tralian artist Sa­man­tha Ever­ton whose sump­tu­ous In­do­chine fea­tures a se­ries of com­plex por­traits that vis­ually bridge the realms of re­al­ity and fan­tasy to ex­plore no­tions of fe­male iden­tity and cul­tural tra­di­tions.

Ever­ton’s work is ex­quis­ite and rep­re­sents 18 months of in­ten­sive re­search be­fore a two-week shoot in Saigon. Ever­ton com­mis­sioned the beau­ti­ful hand-printed Chi­nois­erie wall­pa­pers that fea­ture as back­drops, and Cirque de Soleil’s Larry Ed­wards de­signed the neck­pieces. These il­lu­mi­nat­ing and stun­ning im­ages are demon­stra­tive of the ma­ture prac­tice of one of Aus­tralia’s best-known pho­to­graphic artists.

Chi­nese artist Sheila Zhao’s The East Was Red con­sid­ers the power of po­lit­i­cal mes­sag­ing by rein­ter­pret­ing pho­to­graphs she found from the Chi­nese Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion (1966-1976). Zhao says the col­lec­tion is named af­ter one of the most pop­u­lar songs of the time. She uses the colour red to high­light the po­lit­i­cal mo­tifs in each of the pho­to­graphs – a Mao Ze­dong pin, statue or poster as an ex­am­ple – to ex­plore ideas of in­doc­tri­na­tion, pro­pa­ganda and cen­sor­ship.

An un­usual take on the con­tro­versy over Amer­i­can gun laws and own­er­ship can be seen in the con­cep­tual work of Gar­rett Hansen. In HAIL – which has four parts: The Void, The Sil­hou­ettes, The Bul­lets and Memorial – Hansen has cre­ated im­ages from in­di­vid­ual bul­let holes us­ing

repli­cas of card­board tar­gets con­tact-printed in the dark­room.

His ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures 12 pan­els, each of which record by the month ev­ery homi­cide in­volv­ing a gun that oc­curred in the state of Ken­tucky. Hansen says, “The viewer is pre­sented with im­ages that speak to the sub­lime – they are both at­trac­tive and ter­ri­fy­ing at the same time. In many ways this re­flects our own opin­ions of guns in Amer­ica, a coun­try where the de­bate be­tween rights and con­trols con­tin­ues to rage”.

And, fi­nally, there is Amer­i­can Jamey Still­ings’s Chang­ing Per­spec­tives: Re­new­able En­ergy And The Shift­ing Hu­man Land­scape, which fea­tures aerial and ground-based pho­tog­ra­phy of global re­new­able en­ergy de­vel­op­ments that use the sun, wind and tides to cre­ate sus­tain­able en­ergy so­lu­tions.

Still­ings, who has en­joyed a 30-plus-year ca­reer in both doc­u­men­tary and com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­phy, shows how these large-scale projects have a grace and majesty, par­tic­u­larly when viewed from above.

In ad­di­tion to the ex­hi­bi­tions pro­gram, there is an all-day sem­i­nar ti­tled Power And Pas­sion (on 6 May), fea­tur­ing a host of speak­ers – pho­to­jour­nal­ists and doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phers, photo edi­tors, pho­tog­ra­phy com­men­ta­tors (in­clud­ing yours truly), fine artists, gallery own­ers and more. There’s also the fab­u­lous op­por­tu­nity to at­tend the two-day Carv­ing Your Niche work­shop (on 4 and 5 May) run by Paula Bron­stein and one of Aus­tralia’s most re­spected pho­to­jour­nal­ists, David Dare Parker. Book­ings for both these events are es­sen­tial – see the Head On Web­site for de­tails.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Alain Schroeder (Bel­gium) from his ex­hi­bi­tion Liv­ing For Death, on show at the 2018 Head On Photo Fes­ti­val.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Jon Lewis (Aus­tralia) from the ex­hi­bi­tion JonLewis Clas­sics, on show at the 2018 Head On Photo Fes­ti­val.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by James Whit­low De­lano from his ex­hi­bi­tion Nor­mal­iz­ing Ex­tra­ju­di­cial Mur­der In The Philip­pines, on show at the 2018 Head On Photo Fes­ti­val. ‘Smoke Break, Camp Amer­ica’: pho­tog­ra­phy by Debi Corn­wall (USA) from her ex­hi­bi­tion Wel­come To...

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Emanuele Amighetti (Italy) from his ex­hi­bi­tion Un­rec­og­nized Na­tion, For­got­ten War, on show at the 2018 Head On Photo Fes­ti­val.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Paula Bron­stein (USA) from her book, Afghanistan: Be­tween Hope And Fear, and on show in Syd­ney dur­ing May at the 2018 Head On Photo Fes­ti­val.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Jamey Still­ings (USA) from his ex­hi­bi­tion Chang­ing Per­spec­tives: Re­new­able En­ergy And The Shift­ing Hu­man Land­scape, on show at the 2018 Head On Photo Fes­ti­val.

Im­agery by Sheila Zhao (China) from her ex­hi­bi­tion The East Was Red, on show the 2018 Head On Photo Fes­ti­val.

Im­agery by Gar­rett Hansen (USA) from his ex­hi­bi­tion HAIL, on show the 2018 Head On Photo Fes­ti­val.

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