Ann-Marie Calilhanna: Capturing Mardi Gras for 20 Years

Much-loved photographer, Ann-Marie Calilhanna has dedicated over 22 years to documenting the vibrant Sydney LGBTQIA+ community. 

The Woman Behind the Camera

Ann-Marie Calilhanna is one of our community’s most accomplished photographers.

As a gay woman herself, she has served as an official accredited photographer for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival for more than a decade.

Her compelling work is prominently featured in magazines, newspapers, and online, offering a visual narrative of the Sydney community. 

Ann-Marie has witnessed and photographed some of the biggest milestones our community has seen in the last two decades.

See the exclusive interview with QNews below.

What drew you to photographing queer people and events in the first place? 

I love the sense of family. A bond of unspoken connection and the importance of documenting the progression of our fight for equal rights. And the privilege to document our vital history so it’s never lost.

How long have you been taking photos professionally? 

I started documenting our community’s history from 2002. I have always been fortunate to be at the forefront photographing many firsts and lasts that will never be forgotten:

  • a couples first kiss on the dance floor
  • a rainbow baby’s first drag story time
  • the first and last marriage equality rally

Not to mention 20 Mardi Gras Parades, Fair Days and parties and still counting! There isn’t much I haven’t seen and some things I can’t unsee! 

What is something priceless that you take from your community photography career? 

Witnessing our younger generations make the most of those hard-won opportunities by our trail blazers, so they can openly live as their true authentic selves.

Over the years I’ve met incredible friends who have become my family and I feel so fortunate that many of them are the backbone of this community and such a strong foundation in my life. 

Who would be your all-time favourite celebrity that you’ve met through your work? 

I don’t have just one. But I have met and photographed many celebrities, including Kylie and Danni Minogue, Cyndi Lauper, Boy George, Cher, Tina Arena, Dawn French, Keanu Reeves, and Kirstin Davis to name a few. 

There are heaps more, but I remember a special moment with Kelly Rowland where she actually asked if she could have a photo with me. Wow! I was really taken aback by that! Kelly was so sweet and down to earth towards me. 

A lot has changed for the queer community over the last couple of decades. What difference has that made to the photographs you’ve taken? 

When I first started out, events were more segregated and more underground. I have seen the progression of equality unfold, now many of our events are held in mainstream spaces and are less binary. 

Gay events now will often house people whose gender is less defined in traditional terms and people who maybe don’t identify as queer but as allies, making the events more diverse and larger in scale.

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Harry Hadley

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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