31 January 2023

Marcel Top Offers Us Insights On PhEST After His Show At The Italian Festival

31 January 2023 - Written by PhMuseum

His project Sara Hodges was awarded an exhibition in Monopoli, Italy last summer thanks to the PhMuseum Photography Grant.

A beach in Monopoli during the Festival 2022 edition © PhEST

PhEST is photography, cinema, music, art, and contaminations from the Mediterranean. The festival is born out of the need to give back a voice to the thousand identities that form the “sea within the lands”, and the need to redefine new, original imagery. For the fifth consecutive year, an applicant of the PhMuseum Photography Grant will exhibit at the festival. Last year, Belgian photographer Marcel Top received the prize, attended the opening weekend and was part of the main program together with artists like Nick Brandt, Yelena Yemchuck, Erik Kessels & Thomas Mailander, Arko Datto and Salvatore Vitale. So we spoke with him to get insights and recommendations for this year's applicants.

Ciao Marcel, your project Sara Hodges is touching upon themes of vigilance and democracy. Using the hashtag I Love America and you are exploring the idea of the perfect citizen in the era of non-anonymity. Can you tell us more about your research and methodology?

I was always interested in surveillance and modern technology. I try to follow closely how governments try to surveil and control their citizens. My main goal is then to visualise this in an interesting and engaging way. So that people who interact with the work get to understand these surveillance mechanics. It can be very difficult to visualise something that is so abstract and that’s why I started using AI. It was a great tool to bring everything together in a visual coherence.

Installation view of Marcel Top's exhibition Sara Hodges at PhEST 2022 © Pippo Lacitignola

A detail of Marcel Top's exhibition Sara Hodges at PhEST 2022 © Luca Marianaccio

How did the collaboration with PhEST develop remotely?

I worked together with PhEST's Artistic Director Giovanni Troilo and Photography Curator Arianna Rinaldo mainly through Zoom, which made communication easier. We talked and showed each other ideas. It's been an easy process, even though we were far apart.

Why do you think it is important to show your own work as an artist? How can an exhibition influence your practice?

Showing your work is the most important thing to me. I make work in the hope that it will have an impact on its spectators. That people will engage and think about what they saw. Exhibitions are great for this as they add a whole new dimension to your work. You can start thinking about how to present your work in a specific space and all the possibilities you have to engage with your audience instead of just having a bidimensional presentation on a blank paper.

Installation view of Marcel Top's exhibition Sara Hodges at PhEST 2022 © Pippo Lacitignola

A detail of Marcel Top's exhibition Sara Hodges at PhEST 2022 © Luca Marianaccio

You were part of FOLIO 21, how did this PhMuseum Masterclass help the growth of the project?

The masterclass really helped me to have an outside eye on my project. I was so involved in it that I lost sight of how to make it easy and accessible for other people who didn’t know the project.

Do you have any advice for the new applicants to the PhMuseum Photography Grants?

Just apply to it. I didn’t have high hopes when I entered this competition as I was not sure if it would be something they would like but it just takes the right person to notice it at the right time. That’s what this competition is all about: maximising the chances that the right person might see your work at the right time. If it doesn’t work this time it might work another time.


This year another photographer will be selected by PhEST's team among the submissions of the PhMuseum 2023 Photography Grant and invited to exhibit at the Italian festival from September to November. Learn more and present your visual projects at

View of a light installation during the 2022's festival edition © Paolo Gimmi


Marcel Top is a 25-year-old London-based Belgian photographer. Alongside his traditional use of photography, Top also explores the limits and boundaries of the medium through his practice. In other words, he applies his documentary practice to his experimental work. Top has always been fascinated by the power of technology, by the ambiguity of its double-faced nature.

PhEST is a festival founded in Monopoli, Italy, dedicated to photography, cinema, music, art, and contaminations. PhEST has entrusted the artistic direction to Giovanni Troilo and the photography curatorship to Arianna Rinaldo. The 8th edition will inaugurate in early September 2023 and last until November.


The PhMuseum Photography Grant has established itself as a leading prize in the industry over the past ten years, renowned for celebrating the importance of contemporary photography and supporting the careers of emerging artists through monetary prizes and various opportunities across international festivals and online media. You are welcome to present your work before 16 February 2023 at 11.59 pm (GMT). Learn more and apply at

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