Some ten years ago, the Head On Portrait Prize had its inaugural showing, a relatively small event designed to give lesser-known photographers a look in to the competitive circuit via its unique blind judging process.

By 2008, this modest prize had become the Head On Foundation, a not-for-profit devoted to consciousness-raising through photography. In 2010, the whole shebang bloomed into the Head On Photo Festival, the enormous month long fiesta of all things photographic. This year, it can pretty safely be called gargantuan. Featuring work from some 900 photographers in 200 shows at 100 venues, Head On can be a bamboozling experience for the uninitiated.

We caught up with festival director Moshe Rosenzveig to help us wade through the program, which in his own words promises to “turn the city into a big gallery”. From the big names to the small, commercial galleries to public parks, the festival sets itself apart from other photographic prizes and shows, in which, Moshe warns, “you end up with the usual suspects”. Pointing you in the direction of some more unusual suspects, here are four venues he reckons are not to be missed.

The State Library of NSW

Housing a solid five exhibitions in its hallowed halls, the SLNSW is set to become a hive of activity during Head On. Start your journey with the eponymous Portrait Prize, which remains the heart of the Festival, before venturing further afield. Check out a selection of big names from the world-famous Magnum photographers, including some of the most iconic images of our time – think Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Liz Taylor. Moving a little closer to home, you could opt for Black on White, an Indigenous show, or Street, comprising some “really exciting” images of Sydney. Rounding out the offering is Benjamin Lowy’s exhibition of images shot on his mobile phone in Afghanistan. Lowy’s show is one of several forays into mobile phone photography the festival is making this year, continuing to pursue its primary mission, which Moshe says is to “expand the idea of what photography is”.

Ultimo TAFE

Ultimo TAFE has “a massive collection of work on show”, Moshe says. Ten shows will populate the campus, from overseas photographers to local graduates, as well as workshops, talks and special events onsite throughout the festival. Workshops include Portfolio Review (May 20), Shooting Beauty and Portraits with Peter Collie (May 21), Mobile Phone Photography with Benjamin Lowy (May 21-22), Food Photography with Penelope Beveridge (May 23), and the much-anticipated Magnum Workshop (May 20-24). Check out the website for a full listing.

Centennial Park

Who doesn’t love a bit of outdoor art? As part of a new emphasis on landscape photography (including the launch of a brand new award), Head On is getting back to nature, with an exhibition from the Mobile Photography Network (MPN). The MPN has invited photographers from all around the world to snap pics on their mobile phones on the theme ‘Backyard’. The best submissions will be on show at the Superintendent’s Residence in the park. There will also be work hung amongst the trees on the Dog Walk. “You can picnic at the park and enjoy art at the same time”, Moshe says.


New kid on the gallery block MCLEMOI Gallery is presenting Suspense, the first Australian solo exhibition of LA photographer and ex-“vert inline skater” Tyler Shields. The art world has long been split over Shields, who Moshe refers to as “a bit of a shit stirrer”. You may have seen his pictures of Lindsay Lohan brandishing a gun, or Barbie doing coke, or brightly lit models handling steaks. Most recently he has been shooting Hollywood starlets jumping off buildings. You get the picture. Whatever your opinion of Shields, his show is bound to stir up some commotion.


*Image credit: Tyler Shields

Head On Photo Festival is currently showing at various venues and runs until June 23.

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