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This year we continued our creative collaboration with the always-impressive Royal College of Music, London. The young composers were set the challenging task of creating entirely new compositions inspired by images from the 2022 Head On Photo Awards. This year, we sweetened the pot by giving the students free range of not only the Head On Portrait Awards but also the Landscape Awards – they were truly spoilt for choice. 

The resulting compositions were performed live by equally talented musicians in the Royal College’s music hall and live-streamed across the globe. The pieces spanned string concertos, piano serenades to experimental drum solos. Each performance was a sensory experience, a delight for both the eyes and ears. 

Here are just a few highlights: 

This piece showed the pure enigmatic power of transforming the visual into the auditory. Steve Bright’s image captures the mounting waste left by climbers in their pursuit to conquer Mount Everest. The composer, Josh Mitch Rayner, explained 

“I had the idea to have three separate voices in the piano – the outer parts would reflect the beauty, calmness of the background of the image…, showing the intense beauty of the natural world. However, the inner voice, or the middle voice, was very dissonate, very jarring, to represent man’s destruction of the planet. And this juxtaposition of voices was to represent the beauty vs the carnage created by man. Hence the title Sublime Destruction.” 

What followed was a haunting piano solo that amplified the stark dichotomy of Steve Bright’s photograph. 

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Steve Bright

Jamie Smith’s composed a narrative piece inspired by Andrew Rovenko’s character “Rocketgirl” who is seen depicted in this photograph reimagining the old bus she is sitting in as a space shuttle, ready to take off and transport her to new unfound places in the cosmos. 

Jamie said he wanted to make music that would act as Rocketgirl’s “centre of gravity”, a musical presence that followed her fantastical adventures in outer space.  

The violin solo has epic highs and lows, like a movie score, telling the tales of Rocketgirl’s trials and tribulations amongst the stars through music. 

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Andrew Rovenko

James Madrilejo’s piece Rabbit on a hill, inspired by Julie Sundberg’s popular image Infected Landscape #1, showed how similar music and photography can be as art forms. They are able to represent the world how it is and how it isn’t, capturing the shades of grey in which we live. 

Sundberg’s Infected Landscape #1 is a complex image of the Cooks River exposed to chemical reactions to make something that is almost dead and alive. James’ piece was inspired by a memory of finding a dead rotting rabbit when they were 3 years old; thinking back on it, they realised it was disgusting but also natural, organic. They prefaced their composition by saying, “I’m not taking a moral stance on rot”. 

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Julie Sundberg

I was surprised to see a drum set being brought out in response to Antoine Buttafoghi’s serene image of an uninterrupted snowy landscape, the winner of the Head On Landscape Awards. But Rebecca’s musical composition seemed to embody the idea of deafening silence. The tactile beats and staccato rhythms caused by highly choreographed interactions with the percussion instruments gave equal weight to both the presence and absence of sound. The audible feeling of a drumstick lightly moving across the ridges of the symbol crawled over you like a cold shiver. 

Rebecca said she wanted to experiment with some of “the quieter and icy sounds that can be produced from the drum kit”. 

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Antoine Buttafoghi

Every piece not only responded to the Head On Photo Award images, but also illuminated a new way of viewing them. Congratulations to all of the artists whose work inspired composers from the Royal College of Music, London: 

Belgium by Alain Schroeder 

Lily, her daughter’s hand by Amy Woodward 

Infected Landscape #1 by Julie Sundberg 

Tree of life by Julie Kenny 

Life origins by Camille Mazier 

A few metres from eternity by Antoine Buttafoghi 

Goðan daginn fyrir nýtt land (A good day for new land) by Thea Trubenbacher 

Montsho by Bongai Tshabalala  

The Shuttle by Andrew Rovenko 

Love, Bronte by Rachael Willis 

We kill the things we love by Steve Bright  

Mori Shuho landscape with pavilion by Matty Karp 

Tenuous by Karen Waller 

The Autumnal Chair by Dave Pickens 

You can watch the amazing display of artistic cohesion below:

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Open call

Festival submissions for Head On Photo Festival 2023 are open. Head On Photo Festival is an inclusive arts festival for all experience and skill levels.

© Tim Smith (detail)