In conversation with Moshe Rosenzveig

‘Head On Photo Festival’, the largest photography festival in Australia, returns to Sydney in 2014 and is proudly presented by Olympus. The festival boasts a robust program to be presented between 12 May and 8 June across many of Sydney’s most inspiring and innovative venues including art galleries, public spaces and community sites.

With the festival in its fifth year, Moshe Rosenzveig, Head On Photo Festival director, has said “this year ‘Head On’ exhibitions cover everything from domestic violence and mental health, through celebrity culture fine art and landscape to the latest in mobile phone photography and multimedia”. International guests from USA, Columbia, Canada and Europe, Benjamin Lowy (Getty), Chris Rainier (National Geographic), Erika Diettes, Jim Dooley (Alexia Foundation) and others will all be in town with amazing exhibitions, workshops and talks. These exhibitions will be complemented with a large number of emerging and evolving photographers exhibiting works across Sydney.

2014 will see over 140 exhibitions showcasing around 900 photographers along with over 4,000 entries across the four categories in the prize competition.

‘Head On Photo Festival’ welcomes back award-winning photographer, Benjamin Lowy. This year Benjamin has been included as a guest judge along with exhibiting some of his latest work and hosting the inaugural 24-hour photo workshop. Along with Benjamin, the festival is proud to also be exhibiting works from Mary Ellen-Mark at Stills Gallery, Chris Rainer’s ‘Cultures on the Edge’ at Paddington Reservoir Gardens, Sara Lewkowicz presented by Alexia Foundation and Erika Diettes who will be featuring her captivating exhibition ‘Sudarios’ at St Canice Church. Richard Simpkin will showcase his exhibition ‘Richard & Famous’ at Bondi Junction, along with Alice Blanch’s ‘Box Brownie Landscape’ and Ross Halfin’s ‘Full Circle’.

‘Head On Photo Festival’ has been a major platform for discovering new talent, building photographers’ profiles and delivering a program of events that challenges and excites people about the world of photography. The festival’s four prizes will also showcase the finalists and winners of each category across iconic Sydney venues, to be announced on Friday 16 May.Artist Profile editor, Owen Craven, spoke with the festival’s Founding Director, Moshe Rosenzveig, about how the festival has grown in over the years and what his ambitions its future.

What was the impetus behind starting Head On originally?
There were two stages, the first stage was the portrait prize in 2004 and that was the answer to the Archibald. it is a photographic Archibald. The idea was we had a meeting of the ‘rejects’, a massive amount of work that didn’t make it into the show.

And how many artists were in that exhibition?
I can’t remember exactly, about twelve, I think one hundred and twenty people submitted to us and I think the first few were the ‘proper’ rejects.  The next year we sent out emails saying if you have works just send them to us and the second year we had 400-500 submitted to us, and ever since then it just took off – about two and a half thousand every year.

So at what time did the portrait prize evolve into something more than a prize, and into a festival?
I think in 2008 it became pretty impossible to manage the entries on paper, so we did it online with online submissions and people were struggling. Issues of resizing images, jpeg etc. So we decided to run a workshop after, a full day about technical practical stuff – Photoshop, resizing images. The rest of the day – in about six sessions, we had photography lessons. We had 350 people, we filled up the show and people couldn’t get in. It was the middle of the week not just the weekend. So we said okay there was so much interest and we decided to turn it into a full on festival. That was the beginning. In 2010 we got together with a few people we knew and who supported.  I remember they said it would be nice if we have 10 or 15 galleries, and I said ‘no, I would like 20-30’, we ended up with 70. It just went ballistic from then on.

Has the proliferation of photography through social media and iPhone cameras increased the interest in people submitting to exhibit?
I don’t know. We still see the same names – the more known photographers.

Is there a theme around which you curate the featured exhibitions? How are they selected? Is there a criterion that denotes the selection process for that?
There are two major things that we do: one that I personally invite because I like them, they go through a semi-selection process. They are very good and they deserve to be seen. Then we have the selection committee – seven or eight people and we went through about four hundred submissions from all around the world. There are a lot of shows we’d like to see in the festival and these are the shows not as featured but are the Associated Exhibitions.

How is the festival funded and run?
There are the people that volunteer their time; we couldn’t do it without these people, the volunteers. We dont get any money from the government. We don’t receive any support from State or Federal governments, however we do get support from the City of Sydney – Clover Moore is very good like that. We also have some very good supporters and corporate partners – Olympus is our principal partners – but most of the funding we raise through submissions – the artists.

You’ve been going for ten years and you’ve achieved a lot. Where do you see the festival going over the next five to ten years?
This is a difficult question – to be concise – there is a lot we want to achieve! We want to present some of the best photography from around the world in local galleries. I want to grow the venue partners to include the major public exhibitions spaces – I want to have the big institutions showing more photography on a regular basis not just during the festival. Another thing is to educate people; I want to see people critique what is great and what is not as good. I want people to appreciate the different levels of photography. Most people cannot tell the difference between really good photography and a slick picture. These are the things I want to see more than anything else.

Head On Photo Festival
12 May to 8 June, 2014

Courtesy the artists and Head On Photo Festival

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