There are so many extraordinary exhibitions as part of Head On Photo Festival 2022 that it’s difficult to choose a favourite. But that is exactly what I asked the Head On team to do.   

“Just one?!” Georgia exclaimed. “You have to be kidding me,” said Moshe. But I just nodded my head solemnly, “just one,” I repeated.  

Ever seen Sophie’s Choice? Well, then, you get the idea.   

So, without further ado, here are the Head On team’s top picks for Head On Photo Festival 2022.

Talia – In the world but not of it; The Hutterites, Tim Smith

Now Talia was an interesting one. She is the newest member of our small team, so I think we were all interested to see what her fresh (un-tired) eyes would pick—the answer: Tim Smith’s exploration of the little-known religious sub-culture, the Hutterites.  

The Hutterites are pacifist Anabaptists that live throughout western Canada and the north-western US. Their unique style of communal self-sufficiency has meant that they prefer to distance themselves from mainstream society. Beginning with a chance encounter in 2009, Tim Smith began photographing Hutterite Communities in Manitoba, and he does so with evident care and respect.  

Talia: “Tim isn’t objectifying these people for their differences. It’s a celebration of an encounter with a new way of living, when it reflects his own and when it doesn’t.” 

See it at Bondi Promenade

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Tim Smith

Anita – Moustachioed women and rhinoplastic girls, Ramak Bamzar

Anita admires photography that reveals a new perspective on a well-known story. Iranian-born artist Ramak Bamzar has made a career out of doing just that.  

Moustachioed women and rhinoplastic girls is a series of staged portraits with whimsical sets, costumes and props that have an almost Wes Anderson feel. The series contemplates how two generations of Iranian women share contrasting visions and expectations of beauty which have been created and recreated by and for men. Whether this is the moustaches of 19th-century women or the lip fillers of the 21st.   

Anita: “Female beauty is relative. I love how Ramak’s series makes the idea of beauty so laughable, asking how something so fragile and changeable can rule our lives so completely. Her portraits are beautiful because they reject the concept of beauty.”  

See it at Bondi Park

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Ramak Bamzar

Georgia – Good Lord, leave your mother alone, Mikaela Martin

Georgia is a sucker for black-and-white photography, so this pick wasn’t a surprise. But Georgia’s admiration for this series goes deeper.  

Mikaela Martin’s frank look at motherhood portrays the good, the bad and the ugly. Mikaela captured how motherhood felt anything but natural to her during the pandemic. The beautiful images frame Mikaela and her familial relationships in a sometimes not-so-flattering light, speaking to the often unseen experiences of so many.  

Georgia: “There are moments of hilarity mixed with a deep bittersweet feeling. I’m sure it’s a very meaningful series for mothers, but it is also really meaningful as a daughter, to see the complexity of mother-daughter relationships represented like this. Through her annoyance, you can also feel Mikaela falling in love with her children again and again.”  

See it at Paddington Reservoir Gardens

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Mikaela Martin

India – I am with me, Li Aixiao

Me? I enjoy photography that just doesn’t quite sit right. I want an air of offness, a sense of “what exactly am I looking at here?”   

And for me, Li Aixiao’s series does just that. From the title that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to the odd images that simultaneously look heavily posed and extremely casual, like something out of a family scrapbook – I am with me delves into the contradictions we keep between our private and public lives. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Aixiao infiltrated the lives of strangers, visiting their homes, chatting, doing chores, and asking them to give her their clothes for her to wear – you know, as you do.  

The subjects in I am with me become each other, dancing between strangers and family. The series asks do we make our home? Or does our home make us?

See it at Paddington Reservoir Gardens

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Li Aixiao

Stephen – PPE-19, Aaron Yeandle

COVID-19 made it easy to think that creativity would be smothered. Who can think outside the box when you are literally trapped inside a box? But Aaron Yeandle’s series shows you don’t need much to make compelling photos.  

Aaron responds to the images we saw in the news during COVID-19’s peak. People in hazmat suits and face masks – images that came to stand as symbols for the dangerous contagious times we were living in.  

Aaron turns these symbols on their head, unpacking the historical and cultural idea of protective clothing in a series of humorous portraits.   

Stephen: “The whole series has a crafty home-spun feel, underscoring how you don’t need incredible equipment to make incredible compositions. It’s a testament to the artist’s ability that he created these images at every layer, nothing left to chance.”  

See it at Bondi Promenade

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Aaron Yeandle

Moshe – Paper Tigers, 60 Australian Photojournalists

I think Moshe cheated a little with this answer – oh sure, go with the exhibition with 60 photographers in it – but he’s not wrong.  

Paper Tigers is an incredible collection of 60 photographs from 60 of Australia’s best photojournalists. Each picture tells the story of a monumental event or moment in Australian and world history. From the late Tim Page’s haunting images of the Vietnam War to Merv Bishop’s iconic photo of Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari – each image is an arresting representation of our national identity, the good and the bad.  

Moshe: “Walking through this exhibition is like seeing double. You see these images of historical moments we know so well that you begin to remember them through the image. It’s a testament to the incredible work Australian photojournalist have done and continue to do.” 

See it at Delmar Gallery, Ashfield

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Merv Bishop

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© Tim Smith (detail)