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Head On 2020 seeks online global audience

The 2020 Head On Photo Festival will run entirely online, from May 1 – 17, and may well be the first large-scale event of its kind to undertake such an ambitious new digital format.

Event organisers around the world have had to make tough decisions regarding the fate of their 2020 events, and how to proceed with the current global pandemic shutting down public gatherings. The tendency has been to either cancel or postpone, but for Head On Photo Festival founder, Moshe Rosenzveig, this was not possible.

‘Cancelling is not an option for us. Really, it’s just another challenge,’ he told Inside Imaging. ‘We’ve had challenges all the way through from the very beginning. So we just got on with it. I am looking at this as an opportunity. We might get more people – the exposure is much wider now, well beyond Sydney. So hopefully we will get more out of it, rather than less. That’s how I’m looking at it.’

Fortunately, when the call was made to move online, almost everything but the printing for Head On was organised. If the Coronavirus had arrived any later, there may not have been ample time or resources for the Head On team to prepare an alternative.

Head On is a premier global photography event for not just showcasing a fantastic assortment of top shelf photography, but also because it’s an interactive experience that breaks down the barriers between the photographer and audience. Every year, the photographers participating in the program are flown to Sydney to connect with the audience through artist talks and in other events.

Australian photojournalist, David Dare Parker, speaking at a free Head On artist talk in 2019.

Despite the major modification, this element will remain largely intact. Head On has invited artists to still host events from their home, through an online platform that’s similar to Zoom video conferencing. In many cases the events will be live, offering audiences the opportunity to ask questions, while others will be pre-recorded. Along with artist talks, there will be conversations and panel discussions, workshops, portfolio reviews, and much more.

The Head On Festival Launch, where the winners of the coveted Head On Awards are revealed, will also go ahead in an online live format with a range of activities scheduled to entertain viewers. Moshe doesn’t want to say too much, so it will be a surprise. That’s happening on May 1, 6pm Sydney time.

‘The worst thing that is happening is that we don’t have a venue for people to get together,’ Moshe said. ‘We lost a meeting place, and that’s gone. But there is also a lot of stuff that is great about doing it online. You can still get people together, and that’s what we’re aiming to do. People will still be able to interact with each other through the events. So this element is still there, but in a modified form.’

The response to running Head On in an online format has been overwhelmingly positive from everyone – the artists, team, sponsors, and audience.

‘It’s quite an amazing period we’re going through at the moment. And the generosity we’ve experienced has been really amazing. It’s quite phenomenal,’ he said. ‘Everyone is very happy with what we’re doing, and I hope it will remain like this. The response has been very positive.

‘I think everyone is ready for something. They’ve accepted the fact that they’re going to be at home, and life must go on. Otherwise what will you do, but watch Netflix all day? The overall atmosphere, there is so much doom and gloom at the moment. It’s quite depressing and I’m losing interest in this feeling now. And that’s how everyone is starting to feel – there’s only so much we can take. So we need this. Something else to engage with.’

From the series Wigstock by Pierre Dalpé, showing at Head On 2020.

Right now there is a team of web developers tirelessly working on re-developing the website to accommodate the new experience. It’s a huge job to condense what would be a city-wide photo festival into mere code on web pages, but Moshe is confident the team will pull off a slick and polished final product. He also points out the new multimedia opportunities with running the event online. A photo exhibition, for example, may have a short video to accompany it – a feature otherwise limited in a gallery space.

Although Moshe is not kidding himself. Nothing can beat the physical, tangible festival experience. But there is no point dwelling on this. Nothing can be done. The focus is now on putting together a great online festival experience.

‘There are a whole lot of other things we have now. We can have a rich experience on the website through videos, which we can’t necessarily show at a gallery; we don’t have to print, which is better for the environment; we don’t have to sit in the venue for how many hours each day, and hang and fix stuff, and all those practical issues of running an event. We won’t ever switch to an online festival and dump the physical festival – that defeats the whole purpose of having a festival. It’s about meeting, an exchange of ideas, and the common experience.’

The 2020 Head On exhibition program is taking great shape, with work from emerging and established photographers from Australia and beyond. Click here for a sneak peak.

Depending on what the whole Coronavirus situation is like come November, Head On plans to host a printed edition. But right they are, as they say, monitoring the situation daily and following the advice of the Australian Government health authorities.

Head On Photo Festival will run online from May 1-17.

From the series Transformation Wall by Nikolaos Menoudarakos, showing at Head On 2020.


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