Head On Fes­ti­val 2015 Re­view

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The sixth run­ning of the highly suc­cess­ful Head On fes­ti­val in Syd­ney fea­tured a new for­mat which, says Ali­son Stieven-Tay­lor, gave the event a more co­he­sive feel­ing. Here she se­lects her per­sonal high­lights from this year’s in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal ex­hibitors.

It is al­ways a chal­lenge to bring some­thing new to a for­mat that is es­tab­lished, but this year the sixth Head On Photo Fes­ti­val man­aged to add flavour to an al­ready suc­cess­ful recipe with the in­tro­duc­tion of the Fes­ti­val Hub lo­cated in the ma­jes­tic Syd­ney Town Hall in the heart of the city’s CBD. Ge­o­graph­i­cally speak­ing, Head On has al­ways felt too spread out and the Hub solved that is­sue im­me­di­ately. Here nine ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tions were on show, span­ning doc­u­men­tary, fine-art and pho­to­jour­nal­ism. The Hub was also the venue for work­shops, screen­ings and talks, many of which were held dur­ing the day as a way of en­gag­ing the city’s work­ers.

Fes­ti­val Di­rec­tor Moshe Rosen­zveig pro­grammed The Hub to de­liver “…a taste of the breadth of the fes­ti­val. We are ap­peal­ing to a very wide and di­verse au­di­ence – pho­tog­ra­phy pro­fes­sion­als, those who are keen am­a­teurs and those who are not im­mersed in the genre, who aren’t usu­ally ex­posed to ex­hi­bi­tions. We are try­ing to in­spire peo­ple to get in­volved with pho­tog­ra­phy and hav­ing a cen­tral lo­ca­tion like the Hub helps us do that”.

The Hub also hosted the open­ing night event where hun­dreds gath­ered to dis­cover the win­ners of this year’s Head On Awards – the cov­eted Head On Por­trait prize along with four other cat­e­gories. Syd­ney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, of­fi­cially opened the fes­ti­val, and it was great to see the City of Syd­ney get be­hind the event. This year Head On com­prised 50 fea­tured ex­hi­bi­tions plus an as­so­ci­ated pro­gram, and the di­ver­sity of work on show was re­mark­able.

One of the great­est ben­e­fits of the Hub was that it be­came the place where pho­tog­ra­phers could con­nect with each other which is one of the most im­por­tant and val­ued func­tions of a pho­tog­ra­phy fes­ti­val.

“We re­alised there was no fo­cus point for pho­tog­ra­phers like there was in the good old days when you’d go to the lab to drop your film and get to catch up with your col­leagues there,” ex­plains Moshe. “As pho­tog­ra­phers, we don’t have that op­por­tu­nity any­more. That is one of the great things about the fes­ti­val that peo­ple can get to­gether, but it was not enough to meet up at an open­ing of an ex­hi­bi­tion, or sin­gle events. That’s where the idea of the Hub comes in.”

In­ter­na­tional Artists

Away from Syd­ney’s CBD, there were fea­tured ex­hi­bi­tions in the in­ner city, in­clud­ing Chicago pho­tog­ra­pher San­dro Miller’s bril­liant Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Pho­to­graphic Mas­ters. Another im­ported show that took my eye was Los An­ge­les Times pho­tog­ra­pher Michael Robin­son Chavez’ The Dri­est Sea­sons: Cal­i­for­nia’s Dust Bowl. I found Ger­man pho­tog­ra­pher Daniel Schu­mann’s Pal­lia­tive Care se­ries pro­foundly mov­ing, and Chi­nese pho­tog­ra­pher Shun­zan Fan’s Be­tween Heaven and Earth de­light­fully idio­syn­cratic.

San­dro Miller

Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich

Over the past 40 years, Chicago pho­tog­ra­pher San­dro Miller has carved a stel­lar ca­reer. His cred­its in­clude be­ing Michael Jor­dan’s per­sonal pho­tog­ra­pher; shoot­ing for in­ter­na­tional brands like Coca Cola, Ree­bok, Nike, Sam­sung, BMW, Pepsi and Amer­i­can Ex­press and; be­ing regularly named in the Top 100 Advertising Pho­tog­ra­phers in the world. He’s also

an award-win­ning di­rec­tor with two short films to his name, both star­ring his good friend, John Malkovich. And to top it off, he’s a ridicu­lously nice guy.

Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Pho­to­graphic Mas­ters, cel­e­brates the work of pho­tog­ra­phers in­clud­ing Irv­ing Penn, Dorothea Lange, Robert Map­plethorpe, An­nie Lei­bovitz and Richard Ave­don with John Malkovich ap­pear­ing as Mar­i­lyn Monroe, John Len­non, Che Gue­vara, Mick Jag­ger, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and other cel­e­brated cul­tural iden­ti­ties.

In cre­at­ing this se­ries, San­dro spent 18 months painstak­ingly re­search­ing each im­age and learn­ing the dif­fer­ent styles of light­ing for each era. He says one of the big­gest mis­con­cep­tions is that he just pho­tographed

Malkovich’s face and dropped it into the ex­ist­ing pho­to­graph.

“Peo­ple think it’s all done with the com­puter. I’m old school, I’ve been do­ing this for 40 years. I use a com­puter like a dark­room. For the most part it’s all in-cam­era and we’re very, very, very proud that’s how we did it.”

San­dro knows Malkovich play­ing Mar­i­lyn Monroe will draw laughs. “But I also want you to take a look at the pho­to­graph and go, oh my God, he nailed it”. And he did.

Michael Robin­son Chavez The Dri­est Sea­sons: Cal­i­for­nia’s Dust Bowl

For the past four years, Cal­i­for­nia has been in the grip of a fierce drought and many com­mu­ni­ties in the Cen­tral Val­ley – the state’s food bowl – are on the brink. It is a story that is all too fa­mil­iar in Aus­tralia and these strik­ing black and white pho­to­graphs res­onate strongly.

Pho­to­jour­nal­ist Michael Robin­son Chavez is on staff at the Los An­ge­les Times news­pa­per. This story be­gan as an as­sign­ment and evolved into a se­ries for which jour­nal­ist Diana Mar­cum won a Pulitzer Prize this year, and Michael the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Jour­nal­ism.

Rather than chas­ing the po­lit­i­cal or en­vi­ron­men­tal sto­ries, Michael says, “We re­ally wanted to fo­cus on the mi­grant work­ers, the farm own­ers and the com­mu­ni­ties with­out wa­ter to show the ef­fects of the drought and its di­rect im­pact”.

Michael adds he saw the se­ries in black and white be­cause of its his­tor­i­cal im­port.

Fes­ti­vals like Head On ex­pose Aus­tralian au­di­ences to an in­cred­i­ble ar­ray of pho­tog­ra­phy and the hope is that the more they see, the more they will un­der­stand the value of pho­tog­ra­phy as an art form.

“This is a huge story and it harkens back to the days of the Farm Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion when Dorothea Lange, Stein­beck and all these peo­ple were sent across the west United States to doc­u­ment the dust bowl of the thir­ties. It was re­ally im­por­tant to me to keep it in that his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­tary vein.”

Daniel Schu­mann

Pal­lia­tive Care

This body of work is in­cred­i­bly mov­ing, and touches on a sub­ject sel­dom spo­ken about; death. We all know that death is the fi­nal out­come, but it’s not a topic of gen­eral con­ver­sa­tion. Mod­ern medicine wants us to live longer and of­ten the re­sult is to die hooked up to ma­chines in a hos­pi­tal.

Ger­man pho­tog­ra­pher Daniel Schu­mann’s Pal­lia­tive Care se­ries was shot over a 12-month pe­riod in a hos­pice. He chose to fol­low a cer­tain num­ber of peo­ple dur­ing the year and his por­traits show the ob­vi­ous – the phys­i­cal demise – but they con­vey much more. They let us see the in­di­vid­ual. Daniel com­ments, “My work seeks to make death vis­i­ble, with all the pain and suf­fer­ing that fa­tal ill­nesses en­tail, but also with the cer­tainty that a fi­nal farewell in dig­nity is pos­si­ble. I want to show death as some­thing com­mon and tan­gi­bly ubiq­ui­tous in the real world”.

Shun­zan Fan

Be­tween Heaven and Earth

If you had a dream life what would it be? This is the premise be­hind these elab­o­rately con­structed pho­to­graphs where re­al­ity and fan­tasy col­lide. In these staged and highly ma­nip­u­lated im­ages, Chi­nese pho­tog­ra­pher Shun­zan Fan com­bines sym­bols from the real world with those of the ideal – a young im­pov­er­ished girl imag­ines she is a princess; a school­boy sees him­self as Su­per­man; a farm­ing cou­ple dream of liv­ing in a palace; a bi­cy­cle re­pair­man wishes to be a pi­lot. Each im­age be­gins with a por­trait shot against a hand painted back­drop and then is built in Pho­to­shop. While it ap­pears the peo­ple pic­tured are shar­ing their per­sonal sto­ries, they are in fact ac­tors, but that doesn’t take away from the beauty of the im­ages or the cul­tural con­trasts de­picted.

The Aus­tralians

There were also some great lo­cal artists on show. The stand-outs for me were Matthew Smith’s A Par­al­lel Uni­verse, Em­manuel An­gel­i­cas’ Silent Agree­ments Mar­rickville 45 and Pa­trick Boland’s My In­ner Mono­logue is Ana­logue.

Orig­i­nally from the UK, Matthew Smith moved to Aus­tralia to in­dulge his love of over and un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­phy. He’s of­ten up be­fore dawn and on the wa­ter ready to shoot as the sun rises. With a back­ground in me­chan­i­cal de­sign, Matthew has cre­ated his own light­ing sys­tem al­low­ing him to use flash un­der­wa­ter to bring out the stun­ning elec­tric colours of the Blue Bot­tles and other marine crea­tures.

In these im­ages Matthew ac­tu­ally shares his per­spec­tive as he sub­merges into the wa­ter, cap­tur­ing a world sus­pended be­tween.

“The most won­drous part of any dive is the mo­ment that the wa­ter en­gulfs my mask as my head slips be­low the sur­face. It’s the sus­pense of the un­known of what lies be­neath, the tran­si­tional part of mov­ing from one el­e­ment to the next that feels so mag­i­cal.”

From the time he was given a plas­tic Diana cam­era at the age of seven years, Em­manuel An­gel­i­cas has taken pho­to­graphs. That was in 1970. Since then he’s used his home sub­urb of Mar­rickville – in Syd­ney’s in­ner-west – as his can­vas. For 45 years he’s doc­u­mented his fam­ily, neigh­bours and strangers – cap­tur­ing im­ages of Mar­rickville, its hu­man­ity and its dark se­crets with­out cen­sor­ship.

One of the great­est ben­e­fits of the Hub was that it be­came the place where pho­tog­ra­phers could con­nect with each other which is one of the most im­por­tant and val­ued func­tions of a pho­tog­ra­phy fes­ti­val.

Pho­to­graph by Daniel Schu­mann from his ex­hi­bi­tion Pal­lia­tive Care.

Pho­to­graph by Matthew Smith from his ex­hi­bi­tion A Par­al­lel Uni­verse.

Pho­to­graph by Em­manuel An­gel­i­cas from his ex­hi­bi­tion Silent Agree­ments Mar­rickville 45 shown at the 2015 Head On Photo Fes­ti­val.

Pho­to­graph by Michael Boland from his ex­hi­bi­tion My In­ner Mono­logue is Ana­logue.

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