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Sean Fennessy: Invisible People

Head On Portrait Prize 2011 finalist Sean Fennessy is a 30-year-old Tasmanian living in Melbourne primarily working in editorial and commercial portraiture. A partnership with Kickstart Arts allowed him to spend six months investigating the lives of Tasmanians with Acquired Brain Injuries.

During the making of the series Invisible People he developed an enormous respect for disability carers and the largely unnoticed work they do. He also learned to take a step back and take more time where possible with his photography.

“Too often I’m working to deadlines or tight time frames and don’t have time to sit and talk to my subjects,” he said.

“I think this is a luxury that can potentially lead to much more engaging images.”

Entries for the 2012 Portrait Prize close 11 pm March 11. 

What is your relationship with Tasmania?

I grew up on the north coast of Tasmania and moved to Hobart for uni. I wasn’t sure that I’d hang around in Tassie after that but I ended up getting a job at a small newspaper before going freelance. I moved to Melbourne last year but return to Tassie regularly. I have some great clients down there and it’s nice to get away from Melbourne. I’m still adjusting to big city living!

How and when did you begin work on the Invisible People series?

I was approached by an organisation called Kickstart Arts who were in the early stages of developing a project investigating the lives of a group of Tasmanians with Acquired Brain Injuries. I worked closely with a writer, sound artist, and a sculptor on what eventually became an exhibition.   

Was it difficult to gain access and the trust of the people involved?

We were working with a fantastic community based rehabilitation service called Headway which works closely with ABI sufferers and their families. So in that respect access was not too difficult as the relationships were already there. It ended up being a combination of posed portraiture and candid, documentary-style images. I think the portraits are my personal favourites from the series but they only really work in context with the candid shots.


Tell me about the circumstances surrounding the image in the pool that became a finalist in the 2011 Head On Portrait Prize?

We arranged to visit Andrew at his home near Hobart where he lives with his parents, who are his primary carers. Andrew suffered his injury when he was 15 and although he remains sharply intelligent, he requires constant care. Andrew is in the lucky position to have a modified house (including the pool) which makes day to day activities easier to deal with. When we arrived Andrew was being assisted in his exercise routine by his father, Ken. I found it quite moving.

What were your key challenges in completing this series?

One of the effects of ABIs is a lack of short term memory so that presented obvious difficulties. Communication was also a challenge at times. Luckily we had plenty of time to settle in and attempt to make everyone as comfortable as possible. Richard Bladel from Kickstart Arts is a fantastic communicator and it was fantastic to work alongside him. 

What have you been working on since?
A very strange combination of things. No big project on the go at the moment but lots of commercial and editorial work. I’d love to sink my teeth into another big project with a narrative like Invisible People.

See more for Sean’s work at

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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