The world’s best photo festivals

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With an abundance of dedicated photography festivals vying for your attention each year,
just how do you decide which ones to visit, and which ones are worth submitting to? Capture brings you a round-up of some of the best festivals from around the world.

While some boast decades of history, others are newer, and slowly building their reputations and following. One thing’s for sure – the international photography festival scene is very much alive and thriving. One of the joys of the photographic image is that it is a powerful medium to pose questions and postulate ideas. Since its early days, photographers have exhibited their work and attracted like-minded enthusiasts to discuss and appreciate it.

Ballarat International Foto Biennale

Dates: 19 August – 17 September 2017.

Location: Ballarat, Victoria.

www.ballaratfoto.org

The Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) is a month-long festival of contemporary Australian and international photography, held every two years in the city of Ballarat, Victoria. The BIFB presents two major exhibition programs – the Core Program is a curated exhibition of 20 leading photographic artists, while the Fringe Program is an open-entry presentation by more than 200 artists. Exhibitions are staged in more than 80 venues across Ballarat.

The BIFB also features an extensive program for photographers of all levels, with workshops, seminars, audio-visual projections, master classes, artist talks, portfolio reviews, and photographic competitions.

Belfast Photo Festival

Dates: 1 – 30 June, 2017.

Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland.

www.belfastphotofestival.com

Taking place every two years, the festival is one of the largest photography events in the United Kingdom, boasting alliances with premium galleries and museums across the city to present exhibitions, seminars, workshops, and portfolio reviews. While the festival follows a similar format to other renowned international photography festivals, the Belfast Photo Festival recently launched a Youth Edition whose aim it is to unearth and encourage new talent, as well as interest in the art form of photography.

Workshops and events are specifically tailored to those between the ages of four and eighteen, providing young people the opportunity to capture their unique view of their community and the experiences they have in it. Education is the leading theme throughout the festival, and an exhibition features the images created during festival workshops, giving the young participants a sense of achievement and contribution. “Moving forward, the Festival will continue to search and collaborate with some of the most innovative photographic artists to challenge the medium, while presenting a program that is unique, engaging, experimental and highly accessible for everyone,” says Festival Director/Founder, Michael Weir.

Untitled, 2006, from Beneath the Roses. (Courtesy Belfast Photo Festival.) © Gregory Crewdson.
Untitled, 2006, from Beneath the Roses. (Courtesy Belfast Photo Festival.) © Gregory Crewdson.

CONTACT Festival

Dates: 1 – 31 May, 2017.

Location: Toronto, Canada.

scotiabankcontactphoto.com

CONTACT Photography Festival is an annual event in the greater Toronto area, held each May, and features over 1,500 Canadian and international artists and photographers exhibiting at more than 175 venues.

The primary exhibitions are held at major venues in Toronto to showcase the work of Canadian and international artists, both emerging and established. Both contemporary and historical works are featured, and emerging photographers are represented. There are also public installations of photography at high profile sites across the city. In addition, around 30 exhibitions of works by artists from around the world at established galleries and cultural centres are selected through an open call for submissions. CONTACT also features the familiar public education programs, events and film screenings. In 2016, the festival celebrates its 20th anniversary.

FORMAT International Photography Festival

Dates: 24 March – 23 April 2017.

Location: Derby, United Kingdom.

www.formatfestival.com

Established in 2004, FORMAT International Photography Festival is now one of the UK’s leading international contemporary festivals of photography and related media. FORMAT organises a year-round programme of international commissions, open calls, residencies, conferences and collaborations in the UK and internationally.

Since its inception, each major festival, a biennale, adopts a core theme around which it is curated. In 2015, the core theme was ‘Evidence’ and the role of the photograph in ‘truth’. The biennale includes major exhibitions, an international open call, portfolio reviews and other participation programs.

FotoFest

Dates: 2017 TBC.

Location: Houston, Texas.

www.fotofest.org

FotoFest is an international photography festival, as well as a dedicated not-for-profit organisation on a mission to educate and deepen the cultural scene in Houston, and around the world. As the first international photography festival in America, starting in 1986, the long-standing history of FotoFest makes it a notable festival on the world’s stage. More than just a biennial festival of art, the organisation delivers educational programs all year round, in local classrooms and public spaces around the world. In 2015, over 250,000 visitors, from 35 countries, attended events during the six week period.

FotoFest has a focus on less established photographers, ensuring that they are given a platform to showcase their work and ideas. As well as talks and seminars, the festival also includes a fine-print auction and large-scale portfolio review workshops to add value for participants, and to continue to contribute to the industry.

#10768, 25 June, 2013, from the series, The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar. (Courtesy Fotofest.) © Jamey Stillings.
#10768, 25 June, 2013, from the series, The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar. (Courtesy Fotofest.) © Jamey Stillings.

Head On Photo Festival

Dates: 2017 TBC.

Location: Sydney, Australia.

www.headon.com.au

Founded in 2008, the Head On Photo Festival grew out of the success of the Head On Portrait Prize which began four years earlier. Acting as a strong link between Australia and the international industry, Head On turns Sydney into a welcoming hub of artistic energy and collaboration during the month of May. The festival encourages submissions from photographers from all stages of their career with a focus on inclusivity and encouragement. Taking Head On on tour, the festival has been to America, Europe, India, and China.

The awards are the centrepiece of the festival, with a prize pool of $50,000. The call for entries is open until 14 February. The competition operates on the premise of integrity and fair inclusion, with images being judged solely on merit, rather than by name or reputation of the photographer.

Maëlle et Keleti. (Courtesy Head On Photo Festival.) © Georges Pacheco.
Maëlle et Keleti. (Courtesy Head On Photo Festival.) © Georges Pacheco.

International Festival of Ethical Photography

Dates: 2017 TBC.

Location: Lodi, Italy.

www.festivaldellafotografiaetica.it/en/

In the Province of Misiones, five in a thousand children are born with myelomeningocele (MMC), a severe malformation of the central nervous system. Fracán, Province of Misiones, Argentina. (Courtesy International Festival of Ethical Photography.) © Pablo E. Piovano
In the Province of Misiones, five in a thousand children are born with myelomeningocele (MMC), a severe malformation of the central nervous system. Fracán, Province of Misiones, Argentina. (Courtesy International Festival of Ethical Photography.) © Pablo E. Piovano

The International Festival of Ethical Photography is completely unique in its dedication to content that has an ethical focus. Now in its sixth year, the festival is centred on the theme of investigating the relationship between ethics, communication, and photography. Exhibiting photographers from around the world showcase imagery from the work of NGO as well as humanitarian and volunteer organisations. The festival also features workshops, portfolio review sessions, and other events over the three weekends in October; however, the exhibition is what leads proceedings. “Over the years, we’ve grown from three exhibitions in 2010 to 19 in 2015. [In 2015], we had over 9,000 visitors and guided tours dedicated to students,” says Marta Lutzu, the event organiser.

Last year, the works on display tackled themes such as obesity, refugee migration, legalising same-sex marriage, and war. The festival aims to showcase photography as an investigative communication tool; a means to bring attention to confronting issues and complex messages.

LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph

Dates: 2017 TBC.

Location: Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.

www.look3.org

LOOK3 has been celebrating peace, love and photography since 2007. The mission of LOOK3 is to “celebrate the vision of extraordinary photographers, ignite conversations about critical issues, and foster the next generation of artists.”

The festival found its origins with National Geographic photographer, Michael “Nick” Nichols hosting an annual event in his back yard in 1988. This early event was a place where anyone could come and show work. Today, LOOK3 hosts public events and a mentorship program dedicated to photography. The LOOK3 Festival transforms the historic pedestrian centre of Charlottesville, Virginia into a public arts space.

Attendees gather outside the historic Paramount Theater in downtown Charlottesville at LOOK3. © John Ramspott.
Attendees gather outside the historic Paramount Theater in downtown Charlottesville at LOOK3. © John Ramspott.

MoPLA – Month of Photography Los Angeles

Dates: 2017 TBC.

Location: Los Angeles, USA.

www.mopla.org

Designed as a “celebration of the photographic image”, MoPLA is a showcase of commercial, fine art, and photojournalism photography. Starting in 2009, MoPLA hosts gallery exhibitions, independent exhibitions via ‘host spaces’, industry discussions, and outdoor image projections around Los Angeles.

An annual event, MoPLA saturates the city and the social and professional calendar of many travellers and LA locals alike. Bringing it back to basics, MoPLA introduced a portraiture competition with only one requirement; the image must be shot on film. The Analogue Project brings just another element to the vastness of this celebration of photography.

At refugee camp Jean 24, African Union soldiers force children inside the security cordon. Bangui, Central African Republic. (Courtesy International Festival of Ethical Photography.) © Ugo Lucio Borga/Echo Photojournalism.
At refugee camp Jean 24, African Union soldiers force children inside the security cordon. Bangui, Central African Republic. (Courtesy International Festival of Ethical Photography.) © Ugo Lucio Borga/Echo Photojournalism.

Noorderlicht Photofestival

Dates: 2017 TBC.

Location: Alternates between Groningen and Friesland,
the Netherlands.

www.noorderlicht.com/en/

Noorderlicht is an annual international festival, originally only for documentary photography, but now open to any photographer who ‘has a good story to tell’. Art photography and experimental forms of photography are now featured in the program.

The establishment of the Noorderlicht Photogallery in 1980 became the platform for showcasing developments in Dutch documentary photography. In 1996, the festival was organised according to the format that is used today: a main exhibition organised around a theme, comprised of individual series of works that concentrate on social developments. The festival includes the main exhibition, discussions, lectures and masterclasses. Nooderlicht promotes itself as a distinctive, cutting-edge festival with an emphasis on social commitment.

House of Solitude (2015) and was created in a chateau in France. (Courtesy Photoplus Conference + Expo.) © Brooke Shaden.
House of Solitude (2015) and was created in a chateau in France. (Courtesy Photoplus Conference + Expo.) © Brooke Shaden.

PhotoPlus Conference + Expo

Dates: 19 – 22 October, 2016.

Location: New York City, USA.

www.photoplusexpo.com

The PhotoPlus Conference + Expo is promoted as the largest photography and imaging show in North America. Founded in 1983, the show now attracts around 21,000 professional photographers, photography enthusiasts, filmmakers, students and educators each year.

PhotoPlus features over 100 educational seminars, Photo Walks and Master Classes, and over 225 exhibitors displaying thousands of the latest products and services. Special events include keynote speeches, professional networking events and a vast trade show.

PHotoEspaña

Dates: 2017 TBC.

Location: Madrid, Spain.

www.phe.es

PHotoEspaña, the Madrid-based International Festival of Photography and Visual Arts, is structured around a specific geographic region. In 2015, the focus was on Latin American photography. 2016 marks the 18th time the festival has been held.

The program is divided into an Official Section, hosted in major artistic institutions, and the ‘Festival Off’ which includes the art galleries and smaller venues. It includes workshops and masterclasses by Spanish and international artists.

In 2015, eight PHotoEspaña prizes were awarded, judged by juries made up of leading international specialists together with visitors to the festival. The awards included best festival exhibitions, the most outstanding publications of the year, the best Spanish and international professional photographers, and the best newcomers.

Meagan Machine (model), Ether Out (designer). (Courtesy Photoplus Conference + Expo.) © Renee Robyn.
Meagan Machine (model), Ether Out (designer). (Courtesy Photoplus Conference + Expo.) © Renee Robyn.

PhotOn Festival

Dates: 2017 TBC

Location: Valencia, Spain.

www.photonfestival.com

The international PhotOn Festival exists solely for photojournalism and documentary photography. Beginning in 2011, the festival is brought to the public by the not-for-profit organisation, Documenta Photo, and runs exhibitions for an extended period of time across the city, culminating with four days of conferences, screenings, and guided tours in May. The festival also offers grants to photographers with documentary images that are yet to be published, exhibited, or awarded. These €2,000 grants are awarded following a panel review.

Daniel Berehulak’s important body of work, Ebola, was the centrepiece that opened the festival in 2015. The work also went on to win the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for the feature photography category. A memorable opening set the standard for the entire festival.

Umbrella Revolution. (Courtesy Photon Festival.) © Xaume Olleros
Umbrella Revolution. (Courtesy Photon Festival.) © Xaume Olleros

Photoville

Dates: 2017 TBC.

Located: The Uplands of Pier 5, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn, USA.

www.photoville.com

As one of the only coveted international photo festivals boasting free entry for the public to view exhibitions and take part in talks and select workshops, Photoville is widely accessible, and one of the most highly attended photo festivals in the world. The eco-friendly event creates its modular venue from repurposed shipping containers and stakes its claim to Brooklyn Bridge Park and beyond. Populated by ‘in-container’ curated works, as well as outdoor installations and events throughout the festival, Photoville has made a big name for itself in just the few years since it started.

Working with the likes of Instagram, The New York Times, TIME Magazine and National Geographic Magazine, the talks and interactive workshops are there to help inspire and up-skill photographers. From ‘PR for your photography’ to ‘portfolio review happy hour’, the events at Photoville are relaxed and collaborative. While only in its fourth year, in 2015, it boasted over 70,000 visitors, exhibited works by 400 visual artists at 62 exhibitions, 45 talks and workshops, and seven night-time beer garden events.

For centuries, the Crimean peninsula was a popular destination for relaxation and play, now increasingly for the younger generation. The famous foam parties at Sudak’s water park attracted thousands of excited tourists each year. (Courtesy Photoplus Conference + Expo.) © Gerd Ludwig/National Geographic Creative.
For centuries, the Crimean peninsula was a popular destination for relaxation and play, now increasingly for the younger generation. The famous foam parties at Sudak’s water park attracted thousands of excited tourists each year. (Courtesy Photoplus Conference + Expo.) © Gerd Ludwig/National Geographic Creative.

Rencontres d’Arles

Dates: 2017 TBC.

Location: Arles, France

www.rencontres-arles.com

The Rencontres d’Arles is a European summer photography festival founded in 1970 by Arles photographer Lucien Clergue, author Michel Tournier and historian Jean-Maurice Rouquette. The festival offers more than sixty exhibitions at heritage sites across Arles, and has a policy of preferring previously unpublished works for display.

Apart from the exhibitions, the festival offers a program of symposiums, panel discussions and documentary screenings. Since 2002, the festival has offered three annual awards including the ‘Discovery Award’, worth €25,000, for festival directors, heads of institutions and independent curators.

Grande Halle at Rencontres d’Arles, 2015. © Marion Baldi.
Grande Halle at Rencontres d’Arles, 2015. © Marion Baldi.

Visa pour l’Image

Dates: 20174 TBC.

Location: Perpignan, France.

www.visapourlimage.com

Visa pour l’Image, is an international festival of photojournalism held in Perpignan, France. Like the Recontres d’Arles, this festival uses venues across the city and is accompanied by other events including evening film screenings, symposiums and conferences.

This festival also emphasises the availability of professional photojournalists from around the world with events such as the ‘meet the photographer’ sessions, and group discussions on professional issues of interest. The festival provides a detailed register of representatives from numerous press agencies who are allocated stands at the festival.

Unseen Photo Fair

Dates: 2017 TBC.

Location: Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam.

www.unseenamsterdam.com

With an aim to showcase that which is ‘unseen’, the Dutch photography festival is a ten-day event bringing emerging artists’ works, student portfolios, and images from established photographers, which have never been seen, to the public eye. Some of the notable names bringing their never-before-seen images to the Unseen Photo Fair include Richard Avedon, Steven Klein, Helmut Newton, and Raymond Meeks, to name but a few.

The fair draws in interest from over 50 galleries around the world, with a diverse cross-section of countries included in the curation. The event also prides itself on showcasing work from all categories which are also available for purchase, from fashion, documentary, photojournalism, editorial, and commercial. Starting in 2012, the festival uses venues across Amsterdam to host events and exhibit works, all under the Unseen Photo Fair banner. With its idea of bringing forward new work, an exciting element of the festival is to watch as established photographers create an image in front of an audience to showcase technique, pre-production work, direction, and collaboration.

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