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Image: Michael Amendolia, Through the Lens – 25 Years of Sight Restoration, Head On Photo Festival 2017 exhibition.

The challenge for most photographers is to capture a moment amidst a sea of benign happenings. To capture that one millisecond that contains within it something timeless. And as far as moments go, it’s hard to beat the one captured by Australian photographer Michael Amendolia in September 1992. 

When Amendolia travelled to Vietnam on his first overseas assignment; he captured one of the most iconic images of Professor Fred Hollows; a few weeks after that candid black and white photograph (above) was taken, The Fred Hollows Foundation was established, and the image later remained a recognisable and powerful branding tool for Foundation, 30 years on.

Join us for our online event with Michael Amendolia Wednesday, 7 September, to hear about Michael’s transition from photojournalism to working with NGOs and how you can take images that can inspire real change in the world.


Image: Michael Amendolia, Through the Lens – 25 Years of Sight Restoration, Head On Photo Festival 2017 exhibition.

Who is Michael Amendolia?

Telling a story with photographs is a constant theme in Michael’s photography career. In the fifteen years Michael worked for the News Limited in Sydney as a feature, news and sports photographer, he learned to use his camera to capture compelling images that told a story that extended far beyond image frame.

Michael’s most recognised work comes from his first overseas assignment in late 1992, photographing Professor Fred Hollows’ patients. From that point on, Amendolia dedicated himself to capturing the significance of all moments, no matter how small. Since 1997, Michael has worked as a freelance photographer, racking up many awards for his photographic projects and continues to work on assignments for international magazines, NGOs, organisations and businesses.

Image: Michael Amendolia, Through the Lens – 25 Years of Sight Restoration, Head On Photo Festival 2017 exhibition.

Michael’s impressive track record doesn’t end there. His images for various NGOs gained so much popularity that he was recognised by World Press Photo in 1999 and 2001. Later in 2005, The State Library of NSW purchased photographs he made in Australia for its photography archives and joined Head On Foundation’s 2020 celebration of the best of Australian photojournalism exhibition and photobook entitled Paper Tigers (see below).

But Michael’s passion began during his time at Strathfield High School, photographing his peers’ sporting events (it was the next best thing to being an actual tennis player, Michael admits). Michael would take pictures of his school’s swimming and running carnivals trying to catch the adolescent athletes in the heat of action. This seemed to set Michael up well for a professional photography career since, just a year out of school, he got a gig as a photographic copy boy for News Limited. Five years down the line, Michael got his first overseas assignment, where he took the now famous photograph of Fred Hollows and a young Vietnamese boy, Tran Van Giap.

Image: Michael Amendolia, Paper Tigers, Head On Photo Foundation exhibition.

“Telling a story in photographs is still my passion.” – Michael Amendolia

What is so compelling about Michael’s photographs and what makes them so impactful for NGOs is his ability to capture vulnerable people without stripping them of their strength or dignity. Michael’s photographs never feel emotionally manipulative, never dwelling on the hopelessness of a situation. In fact, they do just the opposite – Michael puts hope in focus. His most famous images for the Fred Hollows Foundation show Fred in action, taking steps to restore people’s sight or focusing on people post-surgery, seeing the world for the first time. Another photographer might tell a wholly different story, one that focuses on the bleak reality of the people the foundation is trying to help. Both stories may inspire donations and support, but Michael’s photographs never reduce his subjects to their vulnerability; they are not “sob stories” but part of a larger story of progress and change.

As Michael has said himself, “When I am taking photos, my aim is to always capture the emotional moments of a situation or event, with a sense of place and context… It’s never about staging a moment, but rather giving a snapshot of the moment the best possible chance of being reflected in its true essence.”


Image: Michael Amendolia, Through the Lens – 25 Years of Sight Restoration, Head On Photo Festival 2017 exhibition.

Through his photographs, Amendolia has been able to share the importance of several charities’ work with supporters and the Australian public in meaningful ways. His photos have taken him all around the world to capture stunning images of people and places we care about. In a way, it was never supposed to be simple: taking beautiful pictures is one part of his job, but also advocating for the causes he cares about is essential.

Want to learn more about Michael’s role as a freelance photojournalist? Join Head On Foundation Wednesday, 7 September to hear how the images he creates inspire empathy and create change.


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Head On Photo Awards 2024

Entries to the Head On Photo Awards 2024 open in May/June.

Image detail: Gary Ramage