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To celebrate Head On Photo Awards, let’s take a trip down memory lane, to look at our past winners. This collection of past winning images outline a dynamic history of shifting and transforming techniques, tastes, events and cultural currents.

Stephen Dupont

Back in 2005, the Head On Photo Awards looked very different – there were no categories! It was purely a portrait photography competition, titled ‘Head On Alternative Portraits’, in direct response to popular arts awards like the Archibald. This was when Head On first developed its bespoke judging system that we have continued to this day. The judging system? Each photograph is judged without the name or any other details of the artist being known to the judging panel.

In 2005, Stephen Dupont was crowned the overall winner with his image from his series Papua New Guinea Raskol. He infiltrated a Raskol community and documented the rough and ruthless individuals involved in Papua New Guinea’s gang life, presenting formal portraits of the Kips Kaboni (Scar Devils), Papua New Guinea’s longest established criminal gang.

The image is raw, intimate, and perhaps most importantly, dangerous. Dupont’s image exemplifies something unique to the photographic medium, that photographers put themselves on the line to get the photo. This powerful evocation of the realness of photography would have been greatly admired by the judges at the beginning of the Head On Photo Awards – which was trying to establish itself amidst a world of more traditional art forms.

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Stephen Dupont

Tobias Titz

A couple of years on, Head On had grown immensely. The Awards were still focused on portrait photography, but Head On itself, and the wider photography community was beginning to really embrace the fluidity and adaptability of the photography style, and how diverse this made the medium.

So, it seems almost obvious in retrospect that Tobias Titz took home the gold that year. Titz’s image Ginger Bob is a product of his collaboration with the Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre and members from communities including Port Hedland, Roebourne and Warralong. Creating a body of photographs that articulate thoughts, opinions and experiences regarding the 1967 referendum. The image is diptych containing an intimate polaroid paired with the subject’s mark-making (etchings made by Ginger Bob into the wet emulsion of the large format Polaroid negative), creating an all-encompassing sense of a person from outside and from within.

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Tobias Titz

Louise Whelan

2012 marked a year of going back to basics, which is potent in this year’s winners. Each winner seems to underscore the raw stripped-back power of portrait photography, declaring that at its core, portraiture – to take an image of a fellow human and have that image say something – is a profound thing. And Louise Whelan’s simple portrait does this beautifully.

As Whelan explains; “This portrait of my niece Millie captures her melancholic mood, a mood which can be attributed to her grieving process. Millie the youngest of four children lost her father to a sudden heart attack 2 years ago. Millie can be happy with smiles one minute, then remembering her loss calls out “I want my dad!” Death is an inescapable part of life.”

A sense of intimacy, trust and the universal experience of grief and growing pains are captured in full-force in this full-frontal image. Though it’s not stated, we feel Whelan’s empathy for her niece and the shared grief they both still harbour for their loved one. A one-of-a-kind image that never goes out of style.

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Louise Whelan

Nick Hannes

In 2014, Head On introduced new categories into the Head On Photo Awards repertoire, which at this stage included Portrait, Landscape and Mobile.

This change transformed the Awards into an all-encompassing photographic event (not that it wasn’t before, mind you). But it truly opened up a world of possibilities, and the finalists of that year seemed to reflect the excitement of this expansion, embracing the different stories different formats can tell.

Nick Hannes was the winner of the inaugural Head On Landscape Award with his image entitled Cairo, Egypt, an image that captures the stark ways culture and capitalism are grafted into our world. The image depicts blank advertisement billboards on a desolate highway in Egypt, a landscape known for its grand cultural monuments.

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Nick Hannes

Zay Yar Lin

The Mobile category within the Head On Photo Awards ran from 2014 to 2019 – now we accept and encourage photography taken on mobile phones in all categories!

Throughout the Mobile category’s lifespan, we can track a progression from admiration of mobile phones ability to create technically brilliant photography (just like a real camera!) to a deeper exploration of the idiosyncrasies of the medium itself. Which is what Zay Yar Lin’s image exemplifies.

Lin’s image is almost an optical illusion. Masquerading as two images tied together in a diptych it is actually the railing of a ship, perfectly aligned in the centre of the frame splitting the image between the ship decked being cleaned and waves breaking.

This kind of mastery of composition, speaks to the movability and immediacy of the mobile phone as a spontaneous instrument of image-making.

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Zay Yar Lin
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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