The future of Australia’s largest photo festival is hanging in the balance due to a lack of funding, despite helping to reach more than 450,000 visitors at iconic Sydney locations such as Bondi Beach and Paddington Reservoir Gardens, pumping money into the local economy.
The Head On Photo Festival, which wraps up on Sunday 3 December, is in its 14th year and shows free eclectic, thought-provoking, and stunning images from Australian and international artists along Bondi’s famous promenade and surroundings.
Head On Photo Festival creative director and founder Moshe Rosenzveig says the festival brings art to the masses, but he’s concerned that it is now in doubt due to a lack of public funding. “It would be hugely disappointing for Head On not to return in 2024,” he said.
“We bring art out of galleries, giving free access to families and community members who might not traditionally set foot in a gallery, and it’s been hugely successful for more than a decade. We see people from all over the suburbs and overseas guests coming to Bondi and enjoying this free event.”
“It’s about putting art in public spaces and exposing people to different ideas and cultures through art in a way that’s not been done before. Sometimes an exhibition shines a light on a group of people most of us hardly ever think about and that’s important.”
“We punch above our weight, raising about 50% of our budget ourselves to produce a world-renowned event with a tiny team when other organisations receive vastly more funding than us.”
“Although we have had incredible support from the NSW Government through Create NSW, we’ve even had the NSW Arts Minister John Graham open the event, there’s been absolutely no support from the Federal government’s national arts funding body, despite this festival’s national and international interest,” said Rosenzveig.
Rosenzveig fears there’s an element of snobbery, with photography not viewed high-brow enough by some of those holding the budget purse strings. The budget crunch means funding for the 2024 festival is up in the air, casting a cloud over the event’s future.
“Without funding the festival doesn’t exist. We really hope this is not the case. This event has been so successful and we are hopeful a decision will be made soon,” says Rosenzveig.
“The Head On Photo Festival is one of the most sought-after photography festivals of its kind in the world and we have artists applying from across the globe, so it’s not just great exposure for Sydney but Australia too.”
This year’s festival has exhibited the works of over 700 artists from 30 countries, carefully chosen from thousands of entries. “Each one of those photographers focuses on an issue or topic that might otherwise never go under the microscope of public scrutiny, from issues on the environment to seeing how different cultures live,” he said.
“It’s important that art be available to everyone and in the public sphere, not just those who go to galleries or can afford to go to the Opera House to see a show,” said Rosenzveig.
This year’s festival has gained support from the NSW Arts Minister John Graham who says the event is important and brings people together.
“It’s an accessible event in an accessible art form and that’s really important to make sure that as many people as possible are exposed to the ideas, the thoughts, the feeling that photography really brings to us,” he said. “It is an incredibly important part of the NSW arts ecosystem.”
“It’s great to see people flooding down to the Bondi Pavilion to experience this Head On Festival. It’s such a boost to the local area, to the retailers but also to that feeling of creativity that overwhelms us when we see art like this,” said Minister Graham.
“The Festival is great exposure for Australia on the world stage, attracting works from some of the biggest names in photography on the planet including Trent Park, Ben Lowy and Masayoshi Sukita with Head On also invited to be part of exhibitions in Europe, China and New Zealand,” said Rosenzveig.
“We also have a partnership with the Royal College of Music in the UK, where finalists’ images are sent and students compose music inspired by the artworks and they are then performed for an audience.”
“Despite the festival’s success and reach, Head On operates on a shoestring budget. We have a small team that has a big impact, but the reality of not having our funding confirmed actually puts those jobs and the festival itself at great risk. “We hope it’s not the last chance people will have to experience it,” concludes Rosenzveig.
The Head On Photo Festival wraps up for 2023 on Sunday 3 December. For more information and full program. visit: www.headon.org.au for details.
Image: Head On Photo Festival 2022, Stephen Godfrey