The nature and meaning of photography has been blown out of the water since the advent of smart phone technology. So what is Australia’s biggest photography festival doing in the face of constant change?

Head On Photo Festival embraces the new technologies that are morphing what it means to be a photographer by including mobile imagery in its remit. But it also acknowledges the saturation of images all around us and so presents images that are worth our time.

“It’s about inclusion,” says the festival’s creative director and curator Moshe Rosenzveig. “We want to show as much as we can, but our role to some extent is to have some curatorial input: to say, ‘Have a look at this work, don’t worry about the rest’.”

Rosenzveig and his team have brought together work from as many different backgrounds and genres as possible by both Australian and international artists.

Throughout May, more than 150 shows will be staged in spaces, galleries and museums across Sydney, comprising a huge cross-section of contemporary lens-based media.

Focused as it may be, that’s still a lot to get through. Here’s our picks.

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On Nature

Remy Gerega
Remy Gerega’s photographs show Sydney’s coastline as you don’t often get to see it: from a helicopter. The prize-winning fine-art photographer shoots harbour pools and ragged rock formations, calm blue ocean and crashing surf in a striking kaleidoscope of colours and geometric patterns.
Gaffa Gallery Arcade
281 Clarence St, Sydney

Parallel Universe
Prosperity, sunshine, quality of life: these are typical reasons people emigrate to Australia. Bluebottle jellyfish are not. Matthew Smith was so fascinated by these creatures and the waters they swim in that he moved here from England in 2007 and has been capturing their otherworldly luminosity and movement ever since.
Customs House
31 Alfred Street, Circular Quay

On Human Condition

Silent Agreements Marrickville 45
A childhood spent documenting every fold of Marrickville with a plastic Diana camera (an inexpensive box camera released in the 1960s) led to a career in photography for Emmanuel Angelicas. Now his portfolio of Marrickville street life spans 40 years and shows how the inner-west suburb has both changed and stayed the same.
aMBUSH Gallery
Level 3, Central Park, 28 Broadway

Between Heaven and Earth
What do you want to be when you grow up? Chinese photographer Shunzan Fan staged everyday people, young and old, against a backdrop of their “dream”. He manually coloured these black and white images and the results are by turns funny, absurd, strangely compelling and incredibly poignant.
Stanley Street Gallery
1/52-54 Stanley Street, Darlinghurst

Photography Purists

Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters
The work of Irving Penn inspired a 16-year-old Sandro Miller to pick up a camera and he has since become one of the world’s top advertising photographers. Here, Miller pays tribute to the greats by emulating iconic photographs with long-time friend and collaborator John Malkovich. You may have seen this actor in many guises, but have you seen him as Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon or as Richard Avedon’s unsettling beekeeper? Thought not.
Black Eye Gallery
3/138 Darlinghurst Road

ART – Maker, Patron, Lover: Photographs by Gary Grealy
Australia’s art scene is a colourful one, and photographer Gary Grealy has stylishly documented its characters in a series of portraits with film-noir overtones. Gallerists such as Edmund Capon, Frank Watters and Geoffrey Legge are here alongside patrons and collectors such as John Kaldor and artists such as Jenny Sages and Robert Klippel.
Mosman Art Gallery
Cnr Art Gallery Way and Myahgah Road, Mosman

Photography Punks

My Inner Monologue is Analogue
Photoshop is not the final frontier of image manipulation, as Patrick Boland’s Instagram shots show. The Sydney-based photographer conflates digital and analogue by holding up a 120-milimetre medium format film negative to his iPhone. The results are playful and pretty trippy photographic mashups.
Gaffa Gallery Arcade
281 Clarence St, Sydney

Cam Girls
Sydney photographer Nic Bezzina’s portfolio includes live music projects and a study on Newtown shopkeepers. But he’s gone post-modern for this one to take screen-grabs of Internet “cam girls” in their natural habitats. The intimate images are voyeuristic but staged and in that schism lies something intriguing.
Sydney Lower Town Hall
483 George Street

The Head On Awards are the festival’s great equaliser and a good way to see a cross-section of talent in one fell swoop. Across four categories, the works of emerging and established photographers are judged anonymously and are presented here alongside each other. Landscape finalists (NSW Parliament House) are chosen for their reshaping of a traditional genre, portrait finalists (Musuem of Sydney) are chosen for their ability to elicit an emotional response in the viewer. The inaugural Student Prize (Museum of Sydney) gives young photographers a chance to impress, while the Moving Image (Brenda May Gallery) and Mobile prizes (Depot II Gallery) acknowledge the changing nature of photography.

“Photography is the biggest participatory and widest-reaching art form,” says Rosenzveig. In recognition of this, Head On also offers ways to engage beyond gallery going. From May 1–10 the festival Hub at Town Hall hosts artist-led talks, screenings and masterclasses for photographers at any stage of their career. Topics include portfolio reviews, Adobe Photoshop skills and professional advice on making yourself more marketable as a photographer.

Head On Photo Festival runs from May 1 to 31 across various locations in Sydney.