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2015 marks the 6th outing of Sydney’s Head On Photo Festival, which is Australia’s largest photographic event. This year Moshe Rosenzveig, the festival’s director, has programmed an eclectic group of exhibitions designed to attract those who are professionals as well as enthusiasts and novices. And with more than 50 Featured Exhibitions, and an Associated Program, photography in all its forms is represented.

It is always a challenge to bring something new to a format that is established, but this year Moshe and his team have created a new chapter in Head On’s story. The biggest innovation is the introduction of the Head On Festival Hub, a central location in the heart of Sydney where photographers can mingle, and everyone can participate in exhibitions, screenings, talks and workshops.

Moshe says the inspiration for the Hub came from the realisation that as the Festival has grown it has become spread over too large a geographical area, making it hard for people to come together and view multiple exhibitions. Certainly that has been my frustration in the past, not being able to get to see everything I wanted to because of distance and time constraints. And it seems I was not alone.

The other ingredient missing was a central place where photographers could connect with each other. “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. 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.”

“The Hub is where you can drop in, talk about photography, and see photography. It provides the opportunity to have a social interaction with a whole lot of people.”

The Hub, which is in Sydney Lower Town Hall, is the venue for nine of the Featured Exhibitions for the festival as well as screenings, artist talks, and workshops and will be open from 1-10 May. Talks will be held during the day at lunchtimes to encourage city workers to drop in. Screenings will run constantly throughout the day.

Of the shows on exhibition at The Hub, Moshe says, “I’ve tried to create an environment where there’s a little bit of everything – photojournalism, fine art, documentary, all sorts of shows in that area. If there’s only one place people come to, they get a taste of the breadth of the festival. If they want more they can go to the other venues. 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 was also the venue for the opening of the Festival on  May 1st where the winners of the Head On Photo Awards, which are the flagship of the Festival, were announced. This year there are five categories – the coveted Head On Portrait Prize plus Landscape, Moving Image, Mobile, and the new category for 2015, Student.  Moshe says they received thousands of entries. “We look at every entry, and are very thorough”. I know this for a fact. I was a judge last year for the Landscape category and all images, which are viewed without the photographers’ names, are given consideration.    

Featured Exhibitions at The Hub

The exhibitions at the Hub were chosen from the submissions made by individual photographers, but there are a select number, which Moshe invited personally. One of these is 1in20, a project US photographer Marvi Lacar began last year with her husband photojournalist Ben Lowy; a mental health initiative born of her own journey with acute clinical depression.

1in20 is aimed at educating and de-stigmatising mental illness through creative storytelling. 1in20 was created “to close the gap between the vital, but impersonal research conducted by academics and clinicians and how it really feels when you are suffering from depression or mental illness. We aim to provide a platform where you can share your stories, discover that you are not alone, and find a safe outlet to express everything you are experiencing, from despair, to joy, to fear, to hope, and in time, to recovery,” says Lacar who has curated the show for Head On.

“This project is amazing,” states Moshe. “There’s never enough discussion about mental health and the way Marvi has approached this project using Instagram as a platform and creating an organic process that is ongoing is really interesting”.

1in20 will be launched by the Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, and consists of a series of Instagram posts, complete with captions and reader comments. Contributions are from those who have dealt with the gamut of human experiences from depression and suicide to sexual abuse, PTSD and the loss of a child. Adding an interactive element, visitors to the exhibition are invited to add their own comments to the prints.  

The other shows Moshe has chosen for the Festival’s Hub are Sebastian Liste’s The New Culture of Violence in Latin America supported by the Alexia Foundation. Jim Dooley the Foundation’s Executive Administrator is attending the Festival again this year to participate in the Portfolio Reviews. He was also a judge of the Student Award. VII Photo Agency has an exhibition – Smile – providing a new view of photojournalism, which is often associated with human misery. PDN 30 2015 showcases emerging photographers helping to fulfill the Festival’s mandate, which includes “unearthing new talent and showing work that is not overexposed”.

Away from the Hub there are major shows in the inner city including Sandro Miller’s brilliant Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters at Blackeye Gallery in Darlinghurst. Customs House at Circular Quay hosts three exhibitions – Michael Robinson Chavez’ The Driest Seasons: California’s Dust Bowl, Filippo Rivetti’s Nocturnes in a Lapse and Matthew Smith’s A Parallel Universe. Smith’s work will also be displayed on huge outdoor cubes at Darling Harbour.

Workshops and Masterclasses

“We also have a fantastic workshop program,” explains Moshe. “Italian photographer Alessandro Penso, whose show on illegal migrants in Europe – Lost Generation – is included in the Festival, will be running a masterclass – Using Photography for Social Change: From Concept to Completion.
What I would call a classical photojournalism workshop.”

Ben Lowy is back again this year exhibiting his work – Iraq Perspectives Windows – and running a weekend masterclass with Marvi Lacar and Michael Robinson Chavez – Creating and Packaging Your Visual Story.

“This workshop goes beyond photojournalism, to look at photography and reinventing yourself. That’s Ben’s forte, reinvention. He’s very adaptive and thinks laterally. Marvi is a photographer with Reportage by Getty Images. She’s also an expert on publishing through social media channels and is a content curator for Facebook Paper. Michael, who works for the LA Times, brings a perspective of working from the inside of a big media organisation. So the focus for this workshop is how to shoot, edit and publish your own work in new ways. It is an amazing opportunity.”

There was also a panel discussion at the Hub on the opening weekend – Staying Relevant as a Photography Professional. Panelists were Jim Dooley, from Alexia Foundation, photographers Sandro Miller, Matt Willis, Alessandro Penso, Daniel Schuman, portfolio expert Sally Brownbill and international journalist Alison Stieven-Taylor.

With exhibitions, workshops, masterclasses, artist talks, awards, openings and the Festival Hub, those with an appetite for photography will undoubtedly be sated. Bravo to the Head On team once again for putting in a massive effort to continue, and expand, the conversation around photography in this country.

Head On Photo Festival
1-31 May, 2015
Various locations

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