3 May 2012

On Parade – Portraits from Sydney Mardi Gras

Sydney’s love affair with portraits just got turned to full-on with the launch of the Head On Photo Festival, the world's second largest photography festival. Now in its third year, it features a wide range of photography across all genres with over 200 events at 100 venues.

At the heart of the festival is Head On Portrait Prize which is the nation’s major innovative showcase for Australian portrait photography, reflecting a diverse cross-section of new and traditional photographic practices. It is the most critically acclaimed photographic portrait competition in Australia.

One of the exhibitions in the festival is On Parade – Portraits from Sydney Mardi Gras by Sydney based freelance photographer Jamie Williams who draws inspiration from people and stories that don’t receive mainstream coverage. It’s showing in a wonderful gallery space called Global Gallery in Comber Street, Paddington just off Oxford Street in the part us locals call Paddinghurst. Showing now and running till 13 May.

Often the Mardi Gras Parade is regarded as only for the trim, taught and terrific, these images, made over a number of years in the marshalling area immediately prior to the Parade’s start, reveal a variety of ages and faces, shapes and sizes, not to mention senses of style, highlighting the truly diverse nature of Mardi Gras.

It’s a good size show and certainly colourful but be warned, it really looks at the familiar in a different and possibly confronting way for some. As I moved through the show I found myself becoming a bit anxious by being asked to view a ‘celebration’ through these eyes. I think a welcome board describing the artistic intent and context would really help this show, otherwise I think many people will get the wrong end of the stick. Without the context I don’t think it’s an exhibition that one could say you enjoyed.

The subjects are very diverse, in a good way of covering our broad community, and were asked to pose in a considered or natural way. This style certainly makes you look deeper into the subject that you normally might and my emotional response surprised me - I was moved in a not altogether comfortable way.

I know the marshalling period before the Parade is electric and joyous – you won’t see that.  It left me concluding that when you take the joy out of pride in celebration you’re just left with attitude in colour.   

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