2018 HEAD ON PHOTO FESTIVAL
Why You Shouldn’t Miss It
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.
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.