20 April 2021

Insights from the PHmuseum Days 2021 Open Call Judges

20 April 2021 - Written by PhMuseum

This year panel reveals what they will be looking out for in the submissions of our first festival's open call and share their experience at international events.

Precious Things © Anabela Pinto

Set to take place between 23 and 26 September in Bologna, Italy, the PHmuseum Days is a new initiative conceived to offer our community a playground to meet up, learn, and exchange ideas. This first edition will feature eight exhibitions, with three of them that will be handpicked among the submissions of the festival's open call. The tasks is delegated to a jury that pairs photographers Lua Ribera and Laura El Tantawy with our own Giuseppe Oliverio and Rocco Venezia. We went to talk to them to offer you some insights on how to interprete the theme of the festival A New Beginning and what you can get from participating in an international photography festival.

Documentary photographer, Canon ambassador, and PHmuseum 2020 Women Photographers Grant winner Laura El-Tantawy opens explaining why showcasing work in a physical environment is important in the first place. “I’ve exhibited my work around the world — the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. I see these as significant chapters in the life of my visual narratives”, she explains. “Each is an opportunity to revisit the work and breathe life into it in a new way. I like to construct my works differently, to customise the exhibition space. Often this happens working with a curator or I create a layout for the show. The idea is each festival provided an opportunity to bring the work alive again and interrogate it again and again to reach new depths of meaning and narrative. This is always enriching for me as an author — to discover new layers in my work that could only have been revealed through time and persistence.”

Having to offer advice on the type of work that makes a show successful and what is likely to resonate with audiences, she says: “I believe we are at an important moment in our visual interrogation of the world, which is due to our changing environmental landscape, people shifting between borders, and the constant progression of technology”, she says. “I’m keen to see work that is pushing the boundaries of storytelling, intellectually challenging, visually provocative and rooted in empathy, dignity and sensitivity towards the people and issues it contemplates — leaving me informed, moved and curious to see more.”

False Idol © Leonard Suryajaya

Her vision is shared and expanded by PHmuseum Curator Rocco Venezia. “I will be interested to see challenging ideas linked to environmental issues, social equality, and the use of technology in the contemporary context”, he explains. “I would like to value bold and innovative approaches which still retain an overall visual consistency and are in line with the main concept of the work presented. I am drawn to any body of work that while holding on to a deep research process, are not giving away too much. Rather than proposing clear answers, I am eager to discover projects that can generate new questions and provoke new thoughts.”

Magnum Associate Lua Ribeira adds another layer of refelction that start from a simple meaningful question. “What is it to make work at the moment we are living?”, she asks. “I would like to see work that is committed to deepening the interrogations that have motivated it. I am interested in reflective processes that address the challenges we are facing.” Lua adds that the work need not be the polished final product applicants often assume judges want to see. “It would be exciting to discuss and share projects that are in progress, in active transformation”, she says. “Ultimately, work that challenges my perception of anything is the most I could ask for.”

For PHmuseum Founder and Director Giuseppe Oliverio applicants should not only confront existing ways of seeing but also have the public in mind to stimulate debate and inspire. “I look for projects that focus on relevant issues and challenge the viewers pre-concepts to stimulate constructive conversation”, he declares. “Projects that are worth sharing and supporting because they are characterized by strong ideas, and employ a coherent visual strategy to share their message. In these times where we all feel a bit lost and in need of answers, I hope that some photographic works will be able to accomplish a key role: to envision and inspire a more fair and sustainable future at the beginning of a truly decisive decade.”

Sleeping Garden © Alena Kakhanovich

Engaging with the public while making new connections and friendships, a concept further expanded by Rocco Venezia whose experience arises not only from reviewing thousands of work per year as PHmuseum Curator, yet also as his successful career as a photographer. "I have been fortunate enough to showcase my photography works in several international festivals between Europe and Asia. Participating in those events has enabled me to present my practice to a wider audience while creating new professional connections with curators, editors and publishers. The process of exhibiting in several contexts has been important in further my research by re-considering my photographs in new and challenging environments. The human aspect of it has also been significant since in some of these experiences I have generated unexpected long-lasting friendships with some of the extraordinary fellow photographers whom I met there for the first time."

So keep Rocco and the other judges’ words in mind when putting your submission together. You have time until 22 April to take advantage of the Early Bird deal, while the final deadline to apply is 6 May. However it goes, we hope to see you in Bologna this September to meet up in person and enjoy all a festival can give you.


The PHmuseum Days 2021 Open Call is a new initiative through which we aim to discover projects for the main program of the PHmuseum Days, our new international photography festival that will open its doors on 23-26 September in Bologna, Italy.

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