Image Credit: Tariq Zaidi

Award-winning photographer Tariq Zaidi has exhibited with Head On Photo Festival in the past and is one of this year’s esteemed Head On Photo Award judges. Tariq has worked all around the world, mainly in developing nations. His photography focuses on documenting social issues, inequality, traditions, and endangered communities. We’re delighted he spent the time to tell us about his background, career, and photography.

Please tell us a bit about yourself – what is your background and how did you come to photography/art?   

In 2014, I gave up an executive management position in an events business to pursue my passion for capturing the dignity, strength and soul of people, within their own environment.

Since then, I have worked in 21 countries across four continents, mainly in the developing world. My work has been shown in over 80 exhibitions and featured internationally in over 950 publications (in more than 90 countries), including The Guardian, BBC, CNN, National Geographic, Washington Post, Newsweek, Der Spiegel, El Pais, Sydney Morning Herald, Vogue, Marie Claire, GQ, National Geographic Traveler, Conde Nast Traveler, The Telegraph and The Times of London among other respected international titles.

My work has also been recognised with a number of prestigious awards, including Pictures of the Year International (POYi), the National Press Photographers Association’s (NPPA) Best of Photojournalism Awards and UNICEF Photo of the Year. In 2020, I was awarded first place in the Photojournalism category for my work on El Salvador by Amnesty International’s 2020 Media Awards in recognition of my commitment to human rights.

My first book “Sapeurs: Ladies and Gentlemen of the Congo” was published in September 2020. The book was selected by Pictures of the Year International as one of the “Photography Books of the Year” and also by Vogue as one of the “Best Fashion Books of the Year”. The photobook is already on its second printing.

My second book called “Sin Salida” presents images from El Salvador – the gang violence and its impact on society from 2018 to 2020 when the country underwent a period of great political change. The book will be published in September 2021.


Image credit: Tariq Zaidi

Tell us about your work – what does it aim to say or how does it address contemporary social or political issues?   

The images I present in my work were taken in context, in the communities in which people live. What you see in the photographs is what I saw.  I aim to inform and educate my audience with true and compelling content that may, even in a small way change the way we think about ourselves and the world we live in.

Who or what influences your work?   

What influences my work greatly are issues not necessarily well covered in the press/media which I feel must be shown, shared or discussed with a wider audience – these issues usually end up being the subject of my short stories or longer-term work.

How do you know when a body of work is finished?   

When I feel I can’t do anymore or make any further changes to the images I have already made – even if I were to spend another few weeks or a month on location – as it would not really add value to the body of work I already have – I feel the project (image-making side) is complete.

The next steps are to expand this work as an exhibition, book, videos/film or a combination of these to share with a wider audience. This part I feel is never finished.

Image credit: Tariq Zaidi

How do you seek out opportunities?   

Over the years I used to travel a lot. My aim was to see the world, as many places as I could – travelling with a small backpack and just going. I did that for many years and fell in love with looking at different cultures, languages, and people. I didn’t always take my camera with me in the past.

Today I am more interested in telling stories of many of the places I travelled to when I was younger.  I saw amazing cultures, people, and places. Today I want to try to share their amazing stories and lifestyles before many of these traditional cultures and places become part of the homogeneous world, we now live in.

I research. What has already been done, what I am going to do differently, what I could possibly do better? I spend a lot of time researching what is out there already: about the countries, the people and the subject matter I want to tackle. Logistics cannot be overlooked, especially when overseas. I look at who is going to help me when I am there, who I am likely to meet with while there and ultimately what story I want to tell. Everything will likely change when you are there, but it’s good to have a thought, an idea, a dream in your mind before you start.

What do you consider to be the most challenging aspect of your visual style?

I think the motivation for my work comes from trying to maintain the dignity and strength of the people I photograph. I try and show the environment and context in which people live, rather than removing them from their surroundings and only photographing them for their aesthetic value. The only way to do this well is to approach people with humility and mutual respect, and an open and curious worldview. It’s a difficult and challenging task but also the only way in which people are photographed as people and not objects. I hope that through this kind of photography I can call for a kind of humanism: that irrespective of where people are or how culturally different, we are all fundamentally the same. A photographer’s main task is, to be honest – this means being honest about suffering and strength in equal value.

You can follow more of Tariq’s work on Instagram, Facebook, and on his website

If Tariq’s incredible work has really inspired you, why not enter your own images into this year’s Head On Photo Awards?  But don’t delay – entries close on 31 May.




Image credit: Tariq Zaidi




Head On Foundation (est. 2008) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting photographers' work at all career stages. We encourage excellence and innovation, make photography accessible to all, and raise awareness of important issues through the medium. The Foundation's main activities are Head On Photo Festival and Head On Awards (Portrait, Landscape, and Student photographic prizes) and an annual program of collaborative projects. Head On Foundation is a bridge between Australian and international photography markets. The festival has toured in the US, China, India, Europe, and New Zealand, introducing the global arts community to the wealth of photographic talent Australia possesses.

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Head On Photo Awards 2024

Entries to the Head On Photo Awards 2024 are open now. $80,000 prize pool including finalists exhibition.

Image detail: Gary Ramage