In Conversation with Moshe Rosenzveig

Moshe Rosenzveig is the Director of Head On Photo Festival, Australia’s largest photo festival and the world’s second largest festival. Head On celebrates a wide range of photography across all genres from photojournalism and reportage through commercial to fine-art.

We asked Moshe how it started?

I started out as a photojournalist covering war in the Middle East before moving to Australia. When I arrived in Australia, I didn’t find many wars to document so from photojournalism, I moved to producing/directing at SBS TV and radio as well as teaching. I love to spread the word and educate. My vision for Head On was always to educate as many people as possible about photography by bringing as much photography to as many people as possible through a diverse program of exhibitions, venues, events and the voices of the photographers themselves. Our ever-growing audiences and photographers are inspired, moved and challenged. Many photographers have forged ahead in their careers as a result of being ‘discovered’ at Head On.

What inspired you to become a festival director?

I wasn’t especially inspired to become a festival director as such. I was inspired to promote photography and professional development to as large an audience as possible and in as many different ways as possible. I am also dedicated to facilitating and nurturing photographers’ careers and to uphold the tradition of the art-form as a tool for social justice and change. Photography has had a role in exposing social issues and in changing society’s attitude towards these.

In other cases its role has been simply to document our world for generations to come. Sometimes an exhibition shines light on a group of people most of us hardly ever think about or are concerned with their difficulties they encounter on a daily basis. Yet their lives go on.

How did you get your first break?

I was a very enthusiastic student of photography and approached each job with dedication. I started out as a photojournalist for Haaretz and moved to film and television work. Upon arrival in Australia in the mid 1980’s, I joined SBS as a cameraman and then became a producer/director. I then moved into to teaching and returned to freelance photography and ultimately directing a festival. I consider my big break as the moment I decided to follow my passion; photography.

What paths have you taken to get to where you are today?

I launched the first Head On Portrait Prize in 2004. I was frustrated that photo portrait competitions were judged on the celebrity of photographer or subject and that so much excellent work was not being seen by the audience. The Prize grew in prestige and popularity and so did the number of entries. In 2008 we asked artists to submit their images digitally and were then flooded with requests for technical advice; so I decided to stage the first Head On seminar in 2009 which immediately sold-out. After that, the idea of a comprehensive festival took shape aiming to not only show as much photography as possible but also to connect photographers, industry, enthusiasts and art lovers. The first Head On Photo Festival was launched in 2010 and now includes more 200 events across Sydney showcasing the best and most innovative photography across all genres through exhibitions, workshops, master classes, competitions and talks across museums, galleries, cafes and parks.

What advice about the do's and don'ts would you give to an aspiring festival director?

As all new parents know; there is little sleep in the first few years! It is like living on a rollercoaster and securing funding is an ever-present concern. The job is close to 24/7 for eleven and a half months of the year. It is important to match your resources to the expectations of what you can effectively deliver. On the other hand, there is enormous satisfaction in facilitating artists in their careers, in broadening the appeal of photography beyond the traditional arts community and in using photography to reach disadvantaged groups in the community.

Tell us about the festival you're currently working on and what sets Head On apart from other festivals?

For the last 10 years, every May, Head On has delivered the Portrait Prize and in the last four years the Head On Photo Festival. Each year we have thousands of submissions and each is assessed through review processes as anonymous work; judges do not know the names of the artists. In this way, the work itself becomes the focus and each year there are a few surprises and discoveries.

Head On Photo Festival has been a major platform for discovering new talent, building photographers profiles and delivering a program of events that challenges and excites people about the world of photography and the ideas it explores.

It is important that Head On also looks for opportunities to raise social awareness, and we have had many events and exhibitions highlighting important issues. Over the years we raised money for Afghan photographers, worked with indigenous photographers and educated schoolchildren of disadvantaged families through special workshops.

This year Head On exhibitions cover everything from domestic violence, mental health, celebrity culture to fine art, landscapes, mobile phone photography and multimedia.

Visit the Head On Photo Festival website.

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