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Head On 2021 reveals full program

Sydney’s superb Head On Photo Festival has returned with a full program of exhibitions and events, which runs from 19 – 28 November primarily in Paddington and Bondi.

L-R photo credit: Nichole Sobecki; Kadri Elcoat; Federico Estol, Courtesy of Head On Photo Festival.

After successfully pivoting into an online event in May 2020, and running a stripped-back physical event in November, Head On is making its triumphant comeback. The timing couldn’t be better, with most of the country – besides the Republic of WA – opening back up after a long Covid winter.

The 12th Head On Photo Festival is a little different than usual, with more outdoor public exhibitions including a big new footprint at the Bondi Beach Promenade, with 52 exhibitions spanning 600 metres alongside six large-scale photo boxes. Some of the in-person Free Artist Talks have moved outdoors to the sunny Paddington Reservoir Gardens, a crowd favourite festival venue.

And for those who cannot travel to Sydney during the festival, a large portion of the event is still available online such as artist talks and exhibitions using the same format as last year.

What remains the same is Head On’s commitment to celebrating an eclectic range of photography from a culturally diverse pool of photographers. There is something for everyone in the curated Featured Program.

Hard-hitting overseas documentary photography appears alongside fun macro photos of insects from far North Queensland; exhibitions explore the plight of minority groups, from Kurdish warriors, indigenous Australians, and migrating women to the gay community; projects analyse new themes like Covid isolation; there is amusing and abstract fine art photography, as well as the kind that’s deadly serious; and of course sublime landscape photography.

The Head On Portrait Prize exhibition also pulls together a top notch selection of great portraits, and is the foundation of the festival.

Here’s some highlight exhibitions picked by the Head On team:
– The Australian premiere of internationally acclaimed South Africa based photographer Roger Ballen’s series Roger the Rat. While in keeping with his uncanny, black and white aesthetic, known as Ballenesque, the series sees Ballen create a new persona to explore the human psyche and forces that make us who we are, including those we repress and never celebrate.

– Australian photographer and former DJ, Bridgette Gower, presents the world premiere of Disco Bugs. Drawing inspiration from the lights and laser beams she danced under in nightclubs around the world, she casts the bugs as revellers in their own dance floor playground.

– Celebrated American photographer, writer and filmmaker Neil Kramer presents the Australian premiere of his new series Quarantine in Queens. Offering a personal commentary on caregiving, love and family responsibility, the series shines a comedic lens on Kramer’s quarantine experience living in Queens with his 86-year- old mother from Florida and his ex-wife from Los Angeles during the height of the Covid-19 Pandemic in March 2020.

– The world premiere of Kurds Open Wounds by Kurdish photographer and former refugee Younes Mohammad, a long-term project documenting the sacrifices of Kurdish Peshmerga in the fight to put down ISIS. Mohammad spoke with several hundred Peshmerga and took intimate portraits of the wounded fighters and their families to illustrate the stories of immense suffering from their battles and ongoing struggles to navigate post-conflict life.

– The Australian premiere of The Everyday Projects’ internationally acclaimed group exhibition Women On The Move, featuring the work of female photographers documenting the stories of women migrants across the world and the specific challenges they face before fleeing their home country, during their journey, and when resettling. The exhibition includes Nichole Sobecki’s incredible images highlighting the catastrophic impact of ongoing civil war and climate change on Somalia.

– Emerging First Nations artist, dancer and storyteller Lowell Hunter’s work exploring the relationship that we have with country.  Using his feet with the same foot movements he was taught through traditional dance movements his people have practised for countless generations, Hunter carves patterns into the sand and captures the resulting works with drone photography. His artworks tell stories of family, identity and connection.

Michaela Skovranova’s End of the world documenting the melting ice at the Antarctic Peninsula due to global warming. The series of photographs were taken in 2020, following the hottest temperature ever recorded for Antarctica at 18.3°C, which caused widespread melting on nearby glaciers. The images highlight the severe consequences that will ripple across the globe with the loss of sea ice.

– Uruguayan photographer Federico Estol’s Shine Heroes tells the story of the 3000 shoe shiners in La Paz, Bolivia. The shoe shiners have become a social phenomenon for wearing ski masks to conceal their identities to avoid discrimination. In their neighbourhoods, no one knows that they work as shoe shiners. They hide their work from school and even from their own families.

– Australian photographer Kadri Elcoat’s humorous series Postcards from the Edge, telling an irreverent story of a life lost during the lockdown in Melbourne. Elcoat recreated activities at home that were no longer possible in the real world, like going on holiday in her kitchen, abseiling from the stairs and camping in the living room with the TV projecting a view of a natural landscape.

– The Australian premiere of American photographer Mark Edward Harris’ The people in the forest capturing portraits of orangutans to advocate for better protection of the species, as the population has declined significantly over the past hundred years due to habitat destruction for palm oil plantations in Sumatra and Borneo. Without sustainable agriculture practices, orangutans will become the first great ape species to become extinct.

– Turkish-American photographer Nadide Goksun’s Swimmers, inspired by childhood memories of summer holidays on the Aegean seaside and exploring feelings of relaxation and pleasure experienced by people in the water. A sense of serenity and inner balance are evident across the project, with subjects floating, moving and hanging within a liquid abyss.

– Acclaimed Australia-based photographer Johannes Reinhart’s ethereal images for Dreaming of Mermaids taken at Perth Fringe World Festival’s mermaid tank represent the easily lost innocence of childhood and childhood perspective.

Full program available here.

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