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Image: Wei Tan

World Press Freedom Day, as described by UNESCO, “acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story…” UNESCO (2022).

This year’s theme, ‘Journalism under Digital Siege’, explores the digital era’s impact on freedom of expression, journalists’ safety, and access to information and privacy. Reporters without borders (RSF) state, “Freedom of information is fundamental in any democracy, but nearly half of the world’s population has no access to freely-reported news and information...”

Image: 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders (2021)

On this year’s World Press Freedom Day, we look back at past Head On Photo Award finalist images to commemorate photojournalists’ work from across the globe and once again appreciate the privilege we’ve had to exhibit this work across Sydney as part of the Head On Photo Awards.

The role of the Festival is to make people focus on the images that matter” – Moshe Rosenzveig OAM, Festival Director.

‘Kashmir’s half-widow’ – Wei Tan (2020)

‘March 16, 2017. Limber Village, Baramulla, Kashmir, India. Shamla Begum’s husband, Fathiq Nargar, was a 57-year-old storekeeper when he was taken by an unknown person in 1990 while on his way back home from his store. Shamla Begum was 53 years old at the time. The violence of the armed conflict in Kashmir has given rise to a category of women known as half-widows.’

‘Lords of the guns’ – Eduard Korniyenko (2019)
‘Students from the General Ermolov Cadet School sit on bunk beds during a two-day field exercise near the village of Sengileyevskoye, just outside the south Russian city of Stavropol.’

‘Abdulrahman’ – Kate Geraghty (2018)

‘Athba, Iraq. 27th June, 2017. Abdulrahman Abdulaaly aged 18 with burns to 60% of his body lies in the ICU at Athba Field Hospital, 15km from the front lines in West Mosul. Abdulrahman did not know if he was hit by an airstrike or by a suicide bomber. With his mother by his side, he succumbed to his injuries on 1st of July, four days after this photo was taken. He is one of three sons, all of who have died in separate violent incidents since Islamic State took over Mosul in 2014.’

‘Naingal’ – Sascha Richter (2017)

‘Naingal (18) holds a photo of his dead cousin Rahmajan Hanifi (18) who tried to cross a frozen river at the Serbian-Hungarian border. As the ice broke Rahmajan fell into the water. Hungarian border security guards watched him dying but did not help. 

About 1000 migrants, mostly men from Afghanistan, are living under severe conditions in an abandoned train depot next to Belgrade’s main train station. Out of desperation, many have tried to cross the border to Hungary illegally, only to be beaten up and sent back to Serbia.’

(Head On Photo Festival) was very impactful in its insights into a multitude of human experiences. I learnt a lot about people’s situations, and everything was extremely emotive in expression.” – Head On Photo Festival 2021 attendee at Paddington Reservoir Gardens

Here at Head On, we believe every story has a picture to tell. The Head On Photo Awards represents a global selection of the best work from emerging and established photographers across three categories, Portrait, Landscape and Student. Entries for 2022 open 5 May. Read more about our Awards here.

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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