Head On Photo Festival is the largest photography festival in Australia and the second largest in the world. This year the lineup will feature 900 artists, 150 events and 100 venues. In its fifth year the festival continues to venture outside traditional settings, finding its stage in public spaces, libraries, cafes and bars, as well as more conventional gallery spaces.
The spirit of expansion seems to provide an apt context for the diverse range of creativity on show, with both emerging and established artists, as well as local and international photographers to be found in the mix. Featured photography is drawn everywhere from photojournalism and reportage to commercial and fine art.
On show this year is the work of photographer Peter Collie. Over the duration of his career, Collie has worked as a photographer for major brands, musicians and fashion labels across the globe. For Collie, the festival opens up new aspects of photography to those who “take for granted its utilitarian form as a method of recording events, people and objects.”
The breadth and inventiveness offered in Head On, says Collie, “helps focus us on the other aspects [of photography]. This can be the emotional and political aspects of reportage and recording of events as they happen, or images wilfully created the way one would make a painting to represent something, or provoke a reaction in the viewer – not merely to say ‘this was here’ or occurred.”
Collie’s work will appear in a two-fold exhibition, Light Hearts + Dark Arts, which will take its place on the walls of Redfern’s Fern Cafe. Collie’s dual focus on lightness and darkness seems to exemplify the diversity of the festival. “Here we have the ‘light hearts’, performers bringing us uplifting moments, and ‘dark arts’, with its reference to magic – whether that is the sleight of hand of the magician, witchcraft, or the magic of the darkroom,” he explains.
Light Hearts includes images of various local and international performers, including the likes of Ursula Yovich and David Bowie. While Collie’s portraits are known for their revealing and at times quirky nature, he looks at the process differently. “I’m not so sure I get someone to reveal him or herself, but rather let them reveal themselves,” he says. Indeed, Collie seems entirely comfortable working with big personalities. “I’ve never found big egos a problem … Once it’s clear you’re on the same team, making something good is never an issue.”
The Dark Arts side of things is a collaboration between Collie and make-up artist Julie BОgin. It is a series of dark-textured glossy images, which speak on multiple levels of the position of women in society; something Collie considers a “constant dialogue”.
More broadly, Head On incorporates and embraces changing photographic technology and exhibits multimedia and mobile phone photography. When Collie thinks about the future of photography and technology, he finds a useful analogy in music.
“Recording came and changed the dominance of live performances, computers came and changed the dominance of instruments and their players, the internet came and opened everything to everyone – but we are still listening. The issue isn’t the art but who and how one makes a living from it.
“As I watch the generation coming up it is assumed movies, music, photography should all be free. If this is some new communal utopia they will have to convince the supermarkets and real estate agents to play too.”
Head On Photo Festival will be held from Monday May 12 until Sunday June 9 at various locations throughout Sydney. Peter Collie’s Light Hearts + Dark Arts is showing at the Fern Cafe Redfern from Monday May 19 until Sunday June 8.