01 July 2021

The Best Photography Festivals Open this July

01 July 2021 - Written by Simon Hall

Two of the main highlights on the photography festival calendar – Cortona On The Move (Italy) and Les Rencontres de la Photographie (France) – open their doors this month, welcoming many of the industry’s most prominent figures. Learn all about their exhibition programs and supporting events.

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

© SMITH, from the Desideration series

Celebrating its 51st anniversary this year, Les Rencontres de la Photographie is a major photography institution, playing the role of trendsetter and acting as a springboard for contemporary visual storytellers. “Should we invent a new rite of passage for this very peculiar time?”, questions Christoph Wiesner, the festival’s director. “Retouch this blank year in technicolor? Far from imagining a tabula rasa tempting us to break away from the suspended time induced by the pandemic, it becomes about reflecting on how to update a heritage: that of last year’s festival, developed by Sam Stourdzé around the theme of resistance, and the photography that in his words, “stands up, opposes, denounces…re-enchants.” I wanted this program to be built around these premises, taking them further, with variations and echoes, new additions and derivations that allow us to grasp this force as well, the urgent need for the Rencontres d’Arles to gauge the pulse of the world.”

The exhibitions will 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; 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; Sim Chi Yin’s exploration into the historiographies of the so-called Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), where jungles, plantations, and villages became battlegrounds for anti-colonial fighters and British and Commonwealth troops; and Enrique Ramírez’s abstract portrayal of the sea as the ultimate site of instability: a domain of memory in perpetual motion, a space onto which narratives are projected.

Away from the exhibitions, at the core of Les Rencontres de la Photographie lies an extensive and multi-layered collection of supporting events and initiatives. A dense program of workshops will take place all summer long hosted by the likes of Antoine d’Agata, Mathieu Asselin, Charlotte Abramow, Fabienne Pavia, Paolo Roversi, Denis Rouvre, and Christian Caujolle, while more than 130 industry experts will be present in Arles to conduct portfolio reviews. The festival’s famed opening week (Sunday 4 – Sunday 11 July) will once again welcome industry professionals from all over the world for a series of projections, panel discussions, exhibition tours, book signings, meetings, parties, and much more. Find out more at

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

© Gabo Caruso, from the series Cora's Courage. 2021 exhibitor

Founded back in 2011, international photography festival 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 festivals 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 will take shape around the theme We Are Humans. “Without a doubt, 2020 was one of the most complex and uncertain years in the recent history of the contemporary world. It still is”, writes Arianna. Doubts about the future, personal and global, economic, political, social, and sanitary, are still deeply rooted in the minds of all of us. They are real. For Cortona On The Move 2021, we want to tell stories that reconnect with ourselves, with the human essence of our being. Stories in which the human being is the protagonist, in his/her everyday life, with his/her emotions and values, idiosyncrasies, genius, defects. Almost a tribute to our existence, with sweetness and sincerity.” 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; 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; and Jo Ann Chaus analyzes the psychological aspects of how a person becomes, and continues to become, as influenced by the life experience which leaves imprints on the subconscious.

In the supporting events, Magnum photographer Jérôme Sessini will be running a two-day workshop investigating the relationship between veracity and personal interpretation; a number of photographers will be hosting artist talks and book signings; and Manila Camarini (Picture Editor, D La Repubblica), Andrea Comollo (‎Head Of Communication, ‎WeWorld Onlus), Lucy Conticello (Director of Photography, M Magazine, Le Monde), Renata Ferri (IO donna), Michael Koch (Senior Photo Editor GEOlino Magazine), and Emanuela Mirabelli (Photo Editor Marie Claire) are some of the experts leading a series of portfolio reviews. The festival’s opening weekend (Thursday 15 – Sunday 18 July) will also see many of the industry’s top professionals active throughout Cortona participating in a range of public events. To learn more and buy tickets, visit



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.


PhotoIreland Festival / Dublin, Ireland / 1 - 31 July

The first international event in Ireland dedicated to photography and image-based culture, PhotoIreland Festival has a core focus on raising awareness of both local and international photographers and underlining the work of individuals who have been promoting an engagement with the medium for an extended time. Taking its cue from current conflicts and affairs, the festival this year looks to generate a discussion around complex social and global issues, with topics ranging from hospitality to colonisation, from hunger to overconsumption, trauma to technology, ethics to ideologies, to sustainability, and surveillance capitalism. The program is intended as a way to invoke specific questions, ideas, and research; it brings forth questions and considerations towards a conscious and informed consumption. Kevin Gaffney, Ksenia Yurkova, Lana May Fleming, Mary Lelo Thebe, Mathieu Asselin, Róisín White, and Sheng-Wen Lo are among the names to feature.


Fotografia Europea / Reggio Emilia, Italy / 21 May - 4 July

Featuring over 15 exhibitions, Fotografia Europea has returned to transform the charming northern Italian town of Reggio Emilia into a space dedicated to the celebration of contemporary photography. After the forced pause that led to the cancellation of last year’s events, Fotografia Europea 2021 starts from a verse by Gianni Rodari – Sulla Luna e sulla Terra / fate largo ai sognatori! (On the Moon and on Earth / make way for dreamers!) to highlight the importance of imagination, in its creative meaning, in generating meanings, and visions. The standout shows include Donovan Wylie’s examination of mostly invisible architectural structures that weave the presence of conflict into the fabric of daily life; Lebohang Kganye’s deep and philosophical exploration of the materiality of photography as a tool in the (re)construction of collective memory; and Alex Majoli’s reflection upon the relationship between the theatre and the city and its possible interconnections.


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

9 minutes

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