Australia’s biggest photography event, The Head On Photo Festival, is returning to Sydney’s Bondi Beach for its 14th year. This year, the festival will showcase the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the photography industry. The festival will run from 10 November to 3 December and will feature panel discussions, gallery displays, and $70,000 in prizes for the winners. The exhibition at Bondi Beach alone is expected to draw 400,000 visitors, with over 100 other shows held throughout the city.
The festival will showcase the work of over 700 emerging and professional photographers from Australia and around the world. For the first time, some of the images on display will incorporate AI-generated elements. Russian-born artist Toma Gerzha will exhibit four photos that blend AI-generated imagery with traditional photography. The inclusion of AI in the festival reflects the changing era and the evolving nature of photography as an art form.
The use of AI in photography has raised concerns about the authenticity of images. Over the past 18 months, there have been instances of people being fooled by fake images. However, the festival’s creative director, Moshe Rosenzveig OAM, sees AI as just another tool in photography. He compares its impact to when Adobe’s Photoshop software was introduced – initially causing concern, but eventually becoming a widely accepted tool. Rosenzveig believes that photography has always raised questions about reality and truth, and the rise of AI has made these questions more prevalent.
The AI-generated images displayed at the festival are not created entirely by AI. The artist, Toma Gerzha, submitted both traditional and AI-generated work. The festival organizers found the AI-generated work interesting and believed it would initiate meaningful discussions. The inclusion of AI in the festival is not meant to make a statement about the threat of technology to photography; it is simply a way to showcase interesting and thought-provoking work.
Rosenzveig acknowledges that the fight against AI is futile, but he does express concern about the rise of a post-truth era where objectivity is undermined. The Head On festival will delve into this topic and explore what it means to no longer trust one’s own eyes. The festival has always been about moving forward and pushing boundaries. It aims to discover and promote new talent and eliminate biases by accepting submissions blindly, without considering the photographer’s background or previous exhibitions.
While the festival embraces the digital era and rapid technological advancements, it still has some guidelines in place to protect the integrity of photography. Prizes are awarded to works produced using photographic equipment, which means the festival celebrates images that have a basis in the external world. However, the use of AI to enhance or edit images is allowed. The festival seeks to foster conversations and celebrate both photography and culture while raising challenging questions.
As the largest photography event in Australia, The Head On Photo Festival has become a significant event on the global arts calendar. In addition to the AI-related displays, the festival covers a wide range of contemporary and diverse topics. It touches on various subjects such as war, bikie gangs, logging, Holocaust survivors, aging, motherhood, and anorexia. While the definitions and boundaries of photography continue to evolve, the festival remains dedicated to celebrating excellence in the craft.