05 August 2021

The Best Photography Festivals Open this August

05 August 2021 - Written by Simon Hall

Visa Pour l’Image (France) and PhEST (Italy) join the likes of Les Rencontres de la Photographie (France) and Cortona On The Move (Italy) among the list of festivals currently welcoming visitors this summer. Learn all about their exhibition programs and supporting events.

PhEST - See Beyond the Sea / Monopoli, Italy / 6 August - 1 November

© David Vintiner and Gem Fletcher, from the series The Futurists. 2021 exhibitors

Held in the small city of Monopoli in Puglia on the southeastern coast of Italy, PhEST - See Beyond the Sea is dedicated to the exposure of photography, cinema, music, and art expressions from the Mediterranean. The festival was born in 2016 out of the need to give a voice back to the thousands of identities that form the “sea within the lands”, and a growing desire to define new, original imagery in the region. “The necessity is not to erase the distance that the Mediterranean creates among these identities, because this sea, in fact, creates them and blends them,” writes the festival’s curator Arianna Rinaldo. “The need is rather to stitch back together the divide between reality and its representation, beyond the theater of truth, beyond that stage of the real that the West has often set up. At a time when everything seems to deserve a new definition, we see the necessity to start from here, from the unsettling idea of re-writing the present over and over again. Contemporary photography is the perfect means to trigger this reconstruction”

This year’s edition is set to open on 6 August and run through 1 November. In the exhibition line-up, Paola De Grenet portrays people with albinism as a way to celebrate the beauty of distinct canons and eliminate the stigmas sometimes associated with diversity; Yufan Lu uses her camera to explore the mechanisms behind cosmetic surgery in China as an abstract therapy for self-body shaming; David Vintiner and Gem Fletcher investigate the movement of transhumanism and question whether we have the foresight to create our personal evolution in the right way; the winner of the Pop-Up Open Call Dongwook Lee examines the states of inner collision between frightened egos and individuals who want to look away from the truth; and, courtesy of the PhMuseum 2021 Photography Grant prizes, Nancy Floyd presents a visual calendar of her life that reflects the experiences of her generation.

In the supporting events, Angelica Dass will host a self-portrait workshop in which she will discuss her famous Humanæ project and reflect upon the contradiction and stereotypes linked to race; Roberto Boccaccino and Minimum Studio will run an interactive laboratory for young children focused on using photography as a tool for creativity; and a host of acclaimed industry experts will be in attendance to conduct portfolio reviews. To learn more about that and the festival’s full calendar, visit

Visa Pour l'Image / Perpignan, France / 28 August - 26 September

© Abir Abdullah, from the series Climate Migrants in Bangladesh. 2021 exhibitor

For 30 days across late August and September, the scenic French-Catalan town of Perpignan will once again be transformed into the stage for the year's biggest celebration of photojournalism: Visa Pour l'Image. Various cultural spaces and a collection of pop-up venues will host a series of events that together look to draw attention back to those "expired" stories that nevertheless continue to develop away from the spotlight of the media.

A selection of the standout work on display this year includes Valérie Baeriswyl’s portrayal of Haitian weddings that shows a desire to reveal a different side of the country away from the stereotypes of poverty and violence; Darcy Padilla’s lighthearted depiction of the world’s largest laundromat in a working-class suburb of Chicago that doubles up as peaceful haven between work and home; Abir Abdullah’s investigation into how Bangladesh is set to be an increasing source of climate migrants amid constant annual floods and tornadoes; Patricia de Melo Moreira’s exploration into the social and cultural aspects of Portugal usually associated with tourism and sometimes presented in outdated pictures that no longer convey the reality; and Jérôme Gence’s report on the way new technologies can change working practices set in Bali, a favorite destination for young westerners hoping to find fulfillment by working at a distance.

Visitors can also enjoy six evening screenings to be held in the open-air medieval enclosure of Campo Santo. Kicking off at 9.30pm on Monday 30 August, the program begins with a chronological review of the year's news stories, two months at a time. This is followed by features on contemporary society, ongoing conflicts, stories that have made the news and others than have been suppressed, plus reports on the state of the world today. A collection of artist meetings, roundtable panel discussions, and educational activities – all to take place online - round up the program of supporting events. For further information, go to



Noorderlicht Photo Festival / Groningen, The Netherlands / 7 August – 28 November

With the theme The Makeable Mind, the Noorderlicht International Photo Festival 2021 explores the relationship between visual culture and reality: how is our thinking guided by a rampant image culture, unprecedented technological possibilities, and lightning-fast internet connections? Departing from photography, the 28th edition focuses on the entire spectrum of the image, both analogue and digital: from traditional photography to digital and interactive images, internet glitches, machine learning, virtual reality, street guerrilla actions, performances, sound installations, and deep fakes. The list of exhibitors features the likes of Alfonso Almendros, Elena Efeoglou, Ilona Szwarc, Joel Jimenez, Santiago Martinelli, Rick Pushinsky, Diego Moreno, and Sheung Yiu.


Les Rencontres de la Photographie / Arles, France / 4 July - 26 September

Celebrating its 51st anniversary this year, Les Rencontres de la Photographie is one of the world's biggest photography institutions, playing the role of trendsetter and acting as a springboard for contemporary visual storytellers. The exhibitions this year fall under four main themes, namely Identities/Fluidities, Emergences, Atlas, and Rereading. Together they look to shed light on a world in upheaval where the image often plays a key role as witness or actor. Some of the highlights on display include Zora Murff’s humanistic and topographical research on the complex tangle of violence impacting the black community in the city of North Omaha in Nebraska, United States; Andrzej Steinbach’s suite of portraits addressing the representation and our common perception of the photographic model; and Anton Kusters conceptual work that opens up a space for reflection between the fractures of evidential specificity and the abstracted trace of the blue skies above.


Cortona On The Move / Cortona, Italy / 15 July - 3 October

Founded back in 2011, Cortona On The Move has evolved into one of the industry’s most dynamic and wide-ranging events, continually bringing new creative talents and novel forms of visual communication into the spotlight. Under the artistic directorship of Arianna Rinaldo, the festival aims to serve as a reference point, not only for accomplished photographers and amateurs alike, but also for diverse audiences that are attentive to contemporary cultural trends and the ongoing transformation of the visual language. This year’s focus takes shape around the theme We Are Humans, with a focus on stories that reconnect with ourselves in which the human being is the protagonist in their everyday life. Among the exhibition highlights, Paolo Pellegrin abstractly reflects upon the effects of the novel coronavirus and social distancing through portraits of people out of focus and in black and white; Stephanie Gengotti documents the lives of six circus families as a metaphor for the priority and the need to recover a sense of sharing and family; and Hannah Reyes Morales shines a light on the function of lullabies and the critical issues facing women and children through the multidisciplinary storytelling of night-time rituals.


Ragusa Photo Festival / Sicily, Italy / 23 July - 29 August

Every summer since 2012, Ragusa Foto Festival has taken over the historical Sicilian town of Ibla to provide a space for the diffusion of contemporary photography with a particular focus placed on young photographers from the Mediterranean. This year’s edition proposes a look at whether desire could rise again as an opportunity for meaning as we emerge from the pandemic; that is to understand how to exist, as a form of rediscovery of human potential, of perseverance towards life. The exhibition line-up features 14 solo shows, among which Frijke Coumans explores the fascinating and contradicting relationship between irrationality and the need for control; Aurore Dal Mas examines the de-humanization and the vulnerability of long-distance relationships and the difficulty to find intimacy and the enthusiasm to please; and Giovanni Presutti captures how propaganda messages aimed at influencing the desires of ordinary people and their propensity to consume have left room for communications on safety and restrictions.


PHotoEspaña / Madrid, Spain / 2 June - 30 September

Since its inception in 1998, PHotoEspaña has had a decidedly international vision, focusing both on grand concepts and defined artistic territories. Over the years it has emerged as one of Europe’s finest festivals, showcasing a diverse range of photography across a variety of institutions that together reflects upon the important role of the image. Once again under the directorship of Claude Bussac, the 2021 edition is one of the most wide-ranging and compelling yet with an exhibition and supporting program celebrating the power and beauty of photography as a storytelling medium. Some of the major attractions include Marilene Ribeiro’s exploration into the lights and shadows of hydroelectric energy from the perspective of the inhabitants of areas affected by major civil works; Liza Ambrossio’s investigation into the practice of free association with which she delves into the personal discomfort she has felt as a result of familial conflicts; and Paola Bragado’s ethnographic portrayal of women who accompany clients to dance in live music nightclubs in Mexico City.


Check out our festivals page to get a complete view of what's coming up on the photography calendar over the next few months.

Written by

Simon Hall

Reading time

10 minutes