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Image: Federico Estol from Shine Heroes

Photography is such a versatile medium. It transcends cultural, linguistic and social barriers like no other. Great photography has at its heart a story, combined with a desire to give voice and visibility to the less fortunate, the marginalized and the misunderstood. Sometimes there are unique stories that uplift and inspire. And as always, this year’s Festival features shows that make visible things we generally do not see – the devastating impacts of war, violence and conflict, social documentary highlighting discrimination against minority groups, and stories about unique places and cultural phenomena. Here’s a preview of what’s to come.

Federico Estol, a photographer from Uruguay, collaborated with sixty shoe shiners in Bolivia to produce this project Shine heroes. The 3000 shoe shiners in La Paz and El Alto have become a social phenomenon in recent years. They confront such discrimination that many hide their work from their own families and wear ski masks to conceal their identity. 


Image: Alain Schroeder from Grandma divers

Belgian photojournalist Alain Schroeder captures South Korea’s Haenyeo – or women of the sea – who free-dive off the shores of Jeju, harvesting ocean delicacies in his exhibition Grandma divers. This aging group of women, distinct in their thin rubber suits and old-fashioned goggles, are inscribed on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. South Korea’s educated society is slowly moving away from such traditions, but efforts are afoot to renew interest in this sustainable lifestyle.


Image: Taria Zaidi from El Salvador – a nation held hostage

In El Salvador – a nation held hostage, photographer Tariq Zaidi examines the street gangs that effectively control El Salvador, its society paralyzed by one of the highest murder rates in the world. In many cities, it is dangerous to merely cross the street according to which gangs control the territory. Whilst the government achieved some success, in early 2020, seventy-six people were killed in just four days, illustrating how volatile the situation is.


Image: Younes Mohammad from Kurds’ open wounds

Kurdish photographer and former refugee Younes Mohammad brings us his long-form documentary project Kurds’ open wounds. His intimate yet confronting portraits of Kurdish Peshmerga who suffered severe physical, and mental, injuries in the fight to put down ISIS, reveal their suffering and resilience. The challenges they face once they return home are often insurmountable. Younes asks if the world could help them since they gave everything to help protect the world.

You can see these and our other exhibitions online or in person at our outdoor hubs at Bondi Beach and in Paddington’s Reservoir Gardens until November 28. 

We’re looking forward to welcoming you to the 2021 Head On Photo Festival. Make sure you register to join us for the launch on November 19.  

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See more for Head On Photo Festival 2021


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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