25 April 2019

May's Best Photo Festivals

25 April 2019 - Written by Simon Hall

The photography festival season is now firmly in full swing with CONTACT Photography Festival (Canada), Head On Photo Festival (Australia), and ImageSingulières (France) among the highlights on the calendar this May. Learn all about their exhibition programs and supporting events.

CONTACT Photography Festival / Toronto, Canada / 1 - 31 May

© Meryl McMaster, from the series As Immense as the Sky. 2019 exhibitor

Throughout the entire month of May, CONTACT Photography Festival will transform Toronto into a stage for contemporary photography, showcasing exhibitions and supporting events that present a broad spectrum of both physically and conceptually engaging forms of visual storytelling. Comprised of collaborations, new discoveries, and commissioned projects, the curated program collectively offers multi-layered perspectives of some of today’s most critical cultural, social, and political issues.

The exhibition highlights this year include Ayana V. Jackson’s collection of contemporary portraits laced with historical illusions that look to deconstruct racial and gender stereotypes; Nevet Yitzhak’s portrayal of complex geopolitical concerns and the fraught relationships between global powers and the Middle East; Meryl McMaster’s examination of the overlapping cultures and histories - public and private, familial and non-familial - of both her Indigenous and European ancestors; Sophie Sabet’s immersive installation that takes a personal and honest approach to understanding how it is that we might contend with home as both a place and a feeling; and a five-part solo showcase by Carrie Mae Weems that tells impassioned stories about humanity, probing the realities of losing and gaining privilege.

In the supporting events, a Women and Photobooks symposium will delve into the history of photobooks by women and explore a variety of contemporary projects, addressing current trends in design, aesthetics, and subjects; the CONTACT Photobook Fair brings together over 20 independent publishers and leading photographers to present newly released publications; curators Sara Knelman and Shani K Parsons are joined by educator Zun Lee for a roundtable discussion dedicated to the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Awards shortlist; and Delphine Bedel – founder of publishing and curatorial platform Meta/Books – will host a workshop examining feminist strategies in photobook making. For further information about the full program, go to

Head On Photo Festival / Sydney, Australia / 4 - 19 May

© Jennifer Greenburg, from the series Revising History. 2019 exhibitor

89 venues. 157 exhibitions and events. 900 exhibiting artists. Head On Photo Festival is back, bigger, better, and bolder.

Ever since it was established over a decade ago, Head On has been dedicated to promoting the work of photographers at all stages of their career, encouraging innovation and raising awareness of many of the world’s most pressing issues. The primary aim of the curators is to bridge Australian and international photographic markets through the organisation of an open call to select the exhibited work, with proposals judged solely on merit without the artists’ names or pedigrees.

In the exhibition line-up this year Tariq Zaidi presents a series of portraits depicting people who follow La Sape in various districts across the city of Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo; Elena Kollatou and Leonidas Toumpanos explore the social and environmental impact of the unprecedented opening of the Arctic to commercial development; Roger Grasas describes the shift in the Gulf region from a traditional and austere civilisation to a postmodern culture that is heavily influenced by capitalism and consumerism; PHmuseum 2019 Photography Grant Honorable Mention awardee Jennifer Greenburg calls attention to the power photography has in creating cultural mythologies and in contributing to historical revisionism; and Alec Von Bargen showcases the collection of images he produced while on assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors Without Borders) documenting life amidst unfolding global conflicts.

The public program is dominated by a collection of artists talks hosted by Chris Cuffaro (music photographer), Camillo Pasquarelli (documentary photographer), Oded Wagenstein (photojournalist and author), Aki-Pekka Sinikoski (portrait photographer), and David Dare Parker (award-winning photojournalist), among others. A mini series of seminars and workshops led by industry experts rounds-up the events. Visit for more details.

ImageSingulières / Sète, France / 29 May - 16 June

© Nick Hannes, from the series Garden of Delight. 2019 exhibitor

Celebrating its 11th anniversary this year, ImageSingulières is primed once more to take over the French port city of Sète with the aim of bringing together both emerging and established visual storytellers from around the world to create opportunities for the exchange of ideas and artistic expression.

The program of shows and projections, created under the artistic direction of Gilles Favier, will be held across a mix of both traditional independent gallery venues and unconventional cultural spaces. Among the main attractions, John Trotter chronicles the consequences of the sweeping human alteration of the Colorado River in south-western United States and north-western Mexico; Nick Hannes showcases Dubai as a visual case study for high-speed consumerism and the ultimate playground of globalisation; Mathias Depardon takes a look at how depleting water sources in Iraq could potentially tip the country into another war; Yan Ming explores the growing urban-rural divide in China and the capacity of its people to rise above the country’s unprecedented transformation; and Jon Lowenstein presents his decade-long work South Side that portrays the embattled yet exuberant communities of Chicago.

Away from the exhibitions, the supporting program has much to offer visitors. NOOR Agency photographers Alixandra Fazzina and Léonard Pongo will host a workshop focused on themes ranging from design and research to visual documentation and dissemination; a screening at the open-air Théâtre de la Mer will showcase a collection of projects dedicated to the Nordic countries and Russia; and Météores Films will be screening a collection of documentary films including City of Dreams by Steve Faigenbaum and Monrovia Indiana by Frederick Wiseman. Go to for more information.

Les Boutographies / Montpellier, France / 4 - 26 May

© Sébastien Cuvelier, from the series Paradise City. 2019 exhibitor

Every year since 2001, spring in Montpellier, France has become synonymous with Les Boutographies. This small but compelling festival has, from its very inception, been based on the simple principle of discovering and promoting the latest proposals of contemporary image-making from Europe. The 12 official exhibitions this year cover a wide range of photographic expression. They include Sébastien Cuvelier’s utopian interpretation of Iran based on personal stories and dreams of the upper middle-class youth; Geoffroy Caffiery’s deeply personal portrayal of the emotions that irradiate from coping with his son’s psychological troubles; Patricia Morosan’s documentation of the seven European towns that have been considered, at one point or another in history, as situated at the centre of the continent; Martha Frieda Friedel’s collection of portraits that together question the standards that define beauty; and Matthieu Gafsou’s poignant exploration of the everyday realities facing drug abusers in his home city of Lausanne, Switzerland.

The highlight of the supporting events comes in the form of a juried screening comprised of work by Adrien Vautier, Alexandre Chamelat, Aurélie Scouarnec, Camillo Pasquarelli, Ciro Battiloro, Karol Palka, Liliya Hryn, and Thomas Gauthier, Valérie Kaczynski, among others. Elsewhere, students from FAMU International, Prague - the fifth oldest film school in the world – will present a continuous projection throughout the duration of the festival; and in the alternative OFF program – Hors les Murs – various cultural venues and gallery partners showcase exhibitions of photographs from their own independent collections. More information can be found at

Ci.CLO Bienal Fotografia do Porto / Porto, Portugal / 16 May – 2 July

© Claudius Schulze, from the series State of Nature. 2019 exhibitor

How can we contribute to transitioning towards a better adapted and more sustainable society? How can thought and artistic practices creatively expand discourse around these issues and translate thinking into action? These are the questions posed in the first Ci.CLO Bienal Fotografia, a new festival held in Porto, Portugal that seeks to challenge existing cultural, environmental, political and economic contradictions in our contemporary world. The theme of this inaugural edition is Adaptation and Transition, with the programming set to explore this dialogic relationship within the current context of the twenty-first-century. “Being both a constructive and destructive force, we are drastically shifting the structure of our planet” assert the curators. “It is an unavoidable challenge to adapt to a changing and increasingly uncontrollable environment, where all forms of life negotiate their survival. Adapting to transition is already an inevitability.”

Many of the works on display are the result of residencies and research laboratories carried out within the framework of the Bienal. Among the main exhibits, Katrin Koenning looks at the human impact upon a wounded Australian ecology in which mankind’s legacy is undeniably carved into the natural world; Mandy Barker photographs the mass accumulation of plastic debris that exists in an area of the North Pacific Ocean known as the Garbage Patch; Martin Errichiello and Filippo Menichetti capture the anthropological, geopolitical and environmental transformation of the Calabria region in Italy over the last 50 years; Lucas Foglia documents government initiatives in the United States bringing people back into contact with the great outdoors; and Claudius Schulze examines the consequences of climate change and the extent to which disaster management has become part of our landscape.

The Bienal will also present a series of workshops dedicated to the core theme based on the 'training-creation-action' model. The program will look to consider what constitutes an art practice with social and environmental concern and is intended as a crucial contribution to recognise the arts as proactive in raising awareness about social action in relation to sustainability. Check out to find out more.

Photo London / London, United Kingdom / 16 - 19 May (Preview: 15 May)

© Max Pinckers, from the series Margins of Excess. 2019 exhibitor at Gallery Sofie Van de Velde

Moving into its fifth edition this year, Photo London was first created to give London an international photography event befitting the city’s status as a global cultural capital. From major museums to auction houses, independent galleries large and small, and right into the burgeoning creative communities in the East End and South London, Photo London harnesses the city’s outstanding creative talent and brings together the world’s leading photographers, curators, editors, and the general public to celebrate the power of visual storytelling.

The main Fair, set once again to be held at Somerset House, features 100 galleries from 21 different countries. Among the major highlights from the booths, Max Pinckers explores the notion of how personal imagination conflicts with generally accepted beliefs at Gallery Sofie Van de Velde; Bénédicte Kurzen and Sanne de Wilde showcase their collaborative work that looks at the mythology of twinhood in Nigeria at TJ Boulting; Karen Knorr takes viewers on a wondrous journey through northern India and its rich cultural heritage at Sundaram Tagore Gallery; Nick Brandt examines the escalating environmental and ecological degradation in East Africa at Atlas Gallery; and PHmuseum 2019 Photography Grant New Generation Prize winner Liza Ambrossio presents an intimate portrayal of her own personal and family story at Camara Oscura Galeria de Arte.

Away from the main section, the supporting fringe events will delve into the diverse history of photography and consider the current and future direction of the medium. In the standout attractions, the annual Pavilion Commission Program takes the theme Women in Photography, celebrating the work of Rachel Louise Brown, Mary McCartney and Susan Meiselas; acclaimed works by pioneering photographer Roger Fenton, known as one of the first war photographers, will be on loan from the Wilson Centre and the Victoria and Albert Museum; Martin Parr discusses British identity in his work with historian and broadcaster Dominic Sandbrook; and the 2019 Master of Photography showcase sees Stephen Shore present a selection of new work that will shown for the first time in the UK. To learn more, visit

PhotoIreland Festival / Dublin, Ireland / 1 May - 31 July

© Monica Alcazar-Duarte, from the series The New Colonists and Ascension. 2019 exhibitor

First conceived back in 2008, PhotoIreland Festival is Ireland’s first international event dedicated solely to photography and image culture. The festival’s aim is to raise awareness of both local and international photographers, and to underline the work of those organisations and individuals that for years have been promoting an engagement with the medium.

Among the main exhibition program this year, Luis Alberto Rodriguez presents his new body of work focused on Irish heritage realised as part of a residency hosted by PhotoIreland Festival; Nadim Asfar showcases his expansive photographic series of the mountainous Lebanese countryside that conveys the meticulousness of an ambulant land surveyor; Fotobookfestival Kassel present the 50 books shortlisted for the Kassel Dummy Award; Benedetta Casagrande, Leonardo Falascone, Lucie Khakhoutian, Clare Lyons, and Yvette Monahan feature in a group show that collectively examines the relationship between memory and identity; and to mark Apollo’s 50th Anniversary, artist Monica Alcazar-Duarte displays the first chapter of her acclaimed work The New Colonists and Ascension, which takes a look at current efforts towards space exploration.

Elsewhere throughout the festival, artist and lecturer Alan Butler will lead a four-part conceptual development seminar that invites participants to respond to changing and emerging conditions of the photographic image in our time; documentary photography Sarah Pannell will run a workshop that seeks to challenge participants to find interesting and original visual elements in their everyday life; and The Photography Ethics Centre will host a workshop exploring what ethics are and how photographers can makes ethical decisions in their practice. To learn more, go to



PhotOn Festival / Valencia, Spain / 7 - 11 May

Founded in 2011 by a group of photojournalists working in Valencia, PhotOn Festival supports the work of contemporary photographers who use their medium as a tool to promote social change. The primary exhibitions in this edition include Llano by Juanita Escobar, a love story with a land and a way of life; Yolanda Domínguez’s Little Black Dress, an examination of the influence and pressure exerted by the canons of the fashion world; and Shakers of Conscience, a group show exploring the role of women in photography and in the world.


Krakow Photomonth / Krakow, Poland / 24 May - 23 June

Krakow Photomonth has taken many forms in search of a defined identity over the years. Once packed into tiny burgeoning galleries and crowded bars, the festival has developed into one of the most engaging events on the photography calendar, with a focus on inspiring and stimulating the Krakow community. The theme this year is Like We Like It. Visitors can enjoy visual stories told by both local and international artists exploring a variety of themes including the current climate of political correctness, the effects of living on the frontlines of conflict, the strange afterlives of post-war Polish palaces, and the social pressures exerted on individuals in modern society.


Kyotographie / Kyoto, Japan / 13 April - 12 May

Set against the backdrop of Kyoto in spring, Kyotographie is one of the truly international artistic events held in Japan, founded upon a vision of fostering an appreciation of photography as a medium and art form. In a varied and balanced program, valuable collections and works by renowned visual storytellers are exhibited in historical venues as well as modern cultural spaces. The shows are spread across the city, staged creatively outside of the traditional white cube gallery format and in harmony with the natural and cultural settings in which they will be displayed. Weronika Gęsicka, Osamu James Nakagawa, Alejandro González, Paolo Pellegrin, and Kosuke Okahara are among the exhibitors this year.


Circulation(s) European Young Photography Festival / Paris, France / 20 April - 30 June

Since it was first established back in 2011, Circulation(s) festival has evolved into a laboratory of contemporary creativity dedicated to the dissemination of European photographic diversity. François Cheval and Audrey Hoareau from The Red Eye are in charge of the artistic direction this year, placing a focus on giving fresh impetus and new perspectives on the emerging generation of visual storytellers. The exhibition line-up features Emile Ducke, Sina Niemeyer, Yorgos Yatromanolakis, Margaret Mitchell, and former PHmuseum Grant awardee Ulla Deventer.


Fotografia Europea / Reggio Emilia, Italy / 12 April - 9 June

Featuring over 20 exhibitions and a rich community program, Fotografia Europea has returned to transform the charming northern Italian town of Reggio Emilia into a space dedicated to the celebration of contemporary photography. Bonding. Intimacy, Relationships, New Worlds is the theme this year, curated by the Scientific Committee of Fondazione Palazzo Magnani under the artistic direction of Walter Guadagnini. Michele Nastasi, Kenta Cobayashi, Pierfrancesco Celada, and Jaakko Kahilaniemi all feature.


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Written by

Simon Hall

Reading time

18 minutes

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