29 August 2019

September's Best Photo Festivals

29 August 2019 - Written by Simon Hall

As we move towards the end of summer in the northern hemisphere, there are plenty of festivals to enjoy across Europe and North America, including industry favourites PhEST (Italy), Verzasca FOTO Festival (Switzerland), and Photoville (United States). Find out what exhibitions and supporting events they have in store.

PhEST - See Beyond the Sea / Monopoli, Italy / 6 September - 3 November

© Liza Ambrossio, from the series The Rage of Devotion

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 reverberations 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. “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” writes the festival’s curator Arianna Rinaldo. “Contemporary photography is the perfect means to trigger this reconstruction for many reasons. For the great fascination it plays on the public and for the unrest in which it lays” she continues.

Among the exhibition highlights this year, Norman Behrendt documents the newly built and state sponsored mosques found in the urban landscapes of Ankara and Istanbul; Boglárka Éva Zellei explores the visual language of contemporary Christian communities through the environments of immersion baptism; Roei Greenberg chronicles his journey through the Great Rift Valley which crosses Israel from its northernmost point to its southernmost tip; Alessandro Gandolfi takes a look behind the scenes of the billion-dollar business concerned with researching longevity of life; and, courtesy of the 2019 Photography Grant prizes, Liza Ambrossio showcases her work Rage of Devotion that invites viewers to immerse themselves in her personal psychological make-up.

To supplement this main program, PhEST has also organised a series of portfolio review sessions to be hosted by Cynthia Doumbia (National Geographic Society), Sara Guerrini (independent photo editor), Katrin Iwanczuk (LFI magazine), Maysa Moroni (Internazionale), Giulia Ticozzi (La Repubblica), and PHmuseum Founder Giuseppe Oliverio. To sign-up to these sessions, photographers must arrive half an hour before they begin - online or preliminary reservations are not permitted. To learn more, visit

Verzasca FOTO Festival / Sonogno, Switzerland / 5 - 8 September

© Ayline Olukman, from the series Psyche

Set in the picturesque village of Sonogno in the foothills of the Swiss Alps, Verzasca FOTO is an open-air festival that invites artists working with humanistic and conceptual approaches to interact with the territory by inserting their work into outdoor settings and the forests of the Verzasca Valley. By offering this free space through connection and dialogues with nature, the festival curators aim to promote different forms of photographic expression and create new ways of visual storytelling that can heighten the reach of the medium.

The theme this year is centered around the physical and metaphysical duality of walking. “To walk is to fulfill a need, to have fun, to reflect and to observe” reads the curatorial statement. “Sometimes you’re going somewhere, sometimes you’re going nowhere. Walking can be enjoyable and liberating (a nice stroll) or it can be necessary and vital (the escape to freedom and a better future). Walking - even when you get lost - feeds our sensibility and broadens our horizons: it allows us to get to know our surroundings, the people who inhabit it and ourselves.” The artists on display responding to this concept include Elena Anosova, Isabelle Blanc, Thomas Brasey, Cesar Dezfuli, Andrea Ebener, Alessia Rollo, Maria Sturm, Roberto Tondopó, Diego Vidart, Marylise Vigneau, and Christian Werner. Ayline Olukman will also be exhibiting her work Psyche in a solo show that was awarded as part of the 2018 Women Photographers Grant prizes.

Beyond the exhibitions, visitors will also have the opportunity to enjoy a collection of supporting events in the form of nocturnal projections in the grottos and piazzas of the Verzasca Valley, free portfolio reviews with industry leaders, and a series of project presentations and roundtables. Further information about the full program can be found at

Photoville / New York, United States / 12 - 22 September

© Johis Alarcón, from the series Cimarrona: Women and African Spirituality

Returning for an eighth year under the directorship of United Photo Industries, Photoville is set once again to transform the picturesque Brooklyn Bridge Plaza in New York City into an immersive photography village populated by 90 plus shipping containers repurposed as miniature gallery spaces. The festival places a major focus on providing opportunities for photographers of all backgrounds to come together, with immersion and interactivity at the heart of what makes the event so successful and popular with visitors.

100 curatorial partners are coming together to realise Photoville 2019 and over 600 visual artists invited to showcase their stories. A sample of the standout work going on display includes Felipe Jácome’s exploration of the causes and consequences of the ongoing crisis engulfing Venezuela; Johis Alarcón’s visual essay challenging the representation of women and African spirituality in Ecuador; Kierra Branker’s extended representations of Blackness in American culture through the creation of portraits and still lifes; Verónica G. Cárdenas’ portrayal of transgender women preparing to seek asylum with dignity in the United States; and Roger Fishman’s depiction of the raw power and exquisite beauty of water through aerial photos from Greenland and Iceland. The likes of Rory Doyle, Griselda San Martin, Ed Kashi, Michael Curry, Kirsten Luce, Fethi Sahraoui, Laura Morton, and Lynsey Addario are also on the billing.

The supporting program offers a wealth of opportunity for visitors to network and socialise throughout the duration of the festival. Events comprise night-time projections, hands-on workshops run by industry influencers, and a whole series of panel discussions, artists talks, and walking tours. Photoville also features interactive programming, tents with vendors, family-friendly photo activities, publishers and gear demonstrations, a community photobook store, tintype portraits by the Penumbra Foundation, and a beer garden with a range of food vendors. To find out more, visit

GETXOPHOTO International Image Festival / Getxo, Spain / 4 - 29 September

© Juno Calypso, from the series What to do with a Million Years

Moving into its 13th edition this year, GETXOPHOTO looks to bring together different proposals from photographers and visual storytellers from all over the world, promoting contemporary conversations around some of the pressing concerns of our time. Under the curatorship of Monica Allende for the third year running, the festival likes to keep an open dialogue with its visitors by presenting exhibitions in public places and unconventional cultural spaces, aiming to encourage free debate and reflection. The central concept in 2019 is Post Homo Sapiens, with the program of events set to address the issues faced by individuals in a present where the processes of acceleration, automation, artificial intelligence and scientific and technological advances are posing new challenges. “Programming, defined as the new literacy of the digital age, along with advanced scientific and medical developments, poses new bioethical challenges to traditional social conventions” writes Allende. “The way society engages with education and information, establishes human relations or chooses to entertain itself is undergoing a significant shift, and it is still too early to fully evaluate its impact. Thinking about humanity’s future and reflecting on its possibilities is this year’s Festival theme.”

In the exhibition line-up Juno Calypso presents a series of surrealist self-portraits shot in a luxury underground bunker in Nevada; Ezio D’Agostino uses abstract and futuristic imagery to reflect upon the dematerialisation of wealth in Luxembourg; Jaakko Kahilaniemi examines the contradictory and complicated relationship between mankind and the natural environment; Matthieu Gafsou looks at the Transhumanism movement that aims to augment the human body through science and technology; and Haley Morris-Cafiero reflects on visual representations of the female body and associated concepts such as beauty, acceptance, tolerance and cyberbullying. Interlaced among the shows are workshops, artist talks, and an education program designed to help visitors approach the content of the festival more broadly. Go to for further information.

Unseen Amsterdam / Amsterdam, The Netherlands / 20 - 22 September

© Vasantha Yogananthan, from the series A Myth of Two Souls

Unseen Amsterdam lies between an art fair and a contemporary photography festival, providing a unique space for exchanging ideas and knowledge, hearing different voices, opening up new ways of thinking, and expanding the international community. The event’s flagship Art Fair returns bigger and better than ever before and looks to continue its mission of showcasing the brightest artists from across the globe and drawing attention to the most exciting developments in the world of contemporary image-making. Visitors can discover art from more than 50 galleries, with 85 premiering artists presenting new work for the very first time. Bharat Sikka, Bryan Schutmaat, Cécile Smetana, David Favrod, Jacob Aue Sobol, Lorenzo Vitturi, Marcelo Brodsky, Raymond Meeks, Roger Ballen, and Vasantha Yogananthan are among the names to feature.

Outside of the fair, Unseen has devised a public program that is designed to encourage debate around the current and future issues and challenges of our reality and the world we live in. In among the highlights, a collection of supporting exhibitions feature artists exploring a range of topics from migration and post-colonialism to feminism and religion; the Book Market is set to host over 80 independent publishers showcasing their very latest photobooks; the Futures platform presents a pop-up show displaying the works of 69 talented emerging artists and collectives; and the Living Room initiative brings together influential creatives and industry professionals worldwide to form a dynamic series of lectures that aim to trigger questions and provoke thought on some of the pressing subjects surrounding contemporary visual storytelling. To learn more, visit

Tbilisi Photo Festival / Tbilisi, Georgia / 12 - 21 September

© Yuri Kozyrev and Kadir van Lohuizen, from the series Arctic: New Frontier

Celebrating into its 10th edition this year, Tbilisi Photo Festival has developed into not only the most important photography event in the Caucasus but also one of the major annual cultural celebrations in the region. Over the past decade, the festival’s identity has been fashioned by the creative ways it uses the photographic medium to reflect on pertinent issues and its commitment to promoting regional emerging talents alongside more established industry names.

Displaying a collection of mixed-media presentations of photography and video, this year’s exhibition line-up features a variety of narratives told through five major shows. Among them, NOOR photographers Yuri Kozyrev and Kadir van Lohuizen travel 15,000km across the Arctic Circle to investigate the startling effects of climate change on the land and its indigenous communities; Weronika Gęsicka uses archival imagery to create a collection of photomontages that comment on memory and confront truthfulness in photography; Vincent Moon and Priscilla Telmon present a multi-screen installation comprised of more than 100 films that explores the world of sacred music and rituals; and a group showcase titled Across the Mountains: South Caucasus Photography brings together 20 projects from Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbeijan covering topics that mainstream media often overlooks.

Elsewhere, away from the main exhibitions, Tbilisi Photo Festival has launched a number of public events including a night projection, a photobook fair, and a two-day intensive workshop centered around photobook production hosted by Jeroen Kummer. For further information, go to



PHotoEspaña / Madrid, Spain / 5 June - 1 September

Since its inception in 1998, PHotoEspaña has fostered a decidedly international vision, focusing both on grand concepts and defined artistic territories. Once again under the directorship of Claude Bussac, the 2019 edition is one of the most compelling yet with an exhibition and supporting program that celebrates the power and beauty of photography as a storytelling medium. Some of the major attractions include Diana Markosian’s portrayal of Cuban girls celebrating their transition into womanhood; Clément Verger’s research-based work that questions the apparent naturalness of the landscapes; and Javier Vallhonrat’s investigative fieldwork at the Maladeta Glacier in the Pyrenees which is in a delicate state of conservation.


Visa Pour l'Image / Perpignan, France / 31 August - 15 September

For 16 days across 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 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. Some of the exhibition highlights include Louie Palu's investigation into the gradual militarisation of the North American Arctic; Ivor Prickett's record of the human struggles resulting from the devastating fighting between Iraqi and Kurdish forces; and Adriana Loureiro Fernandez's exploration of Venezuela's free-fall into chaos.


Les Rencontres de la Photographie / Arles, France / 1 July - 22 September

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Les Rencontres de la Photographie continues to enhance its reputation in the role of industry trendsetter. For this edition, in tribute to the founders’ trailblazing spirit, the curators have devised a busy program to acknowledge a jubilee of an adventure that has lost none of its vibrancy in half a century. The exhibitions fall under four main themes, namely My Body Is a Weapon, On the Edge, Inhabiting, and Building the Image, and together they look to shed light on a world in upheaval where the image often plays a key part as witness or actor. Evangelia Kranioti, Pixy Liao, Philippe Chancel, Marina Gadonneix, Juno Calypso, Natasha Caruana, Karen Knorr, and Martin Parr all feature.


Paraty em Foco / Paraty, Brazil / 20 - 22 September

Staged in one of Brazil’s most spectacular settings, Paraty em Foco has emerged as an important hub for photography in South America since its inception more than a decade ago, presenting exhibitions and outdoor installations that work in harmony with the beautiful urban and natural landscapes of colonial Paraty. The festival this year is dedicated to the theme of migration and all the effects that come with it. The exhibition line up includes Gabriela Vivacqua, Matías Quirno Costa, Claudia Guimarães, Elias Rodrigues de Oliveira, Livia Kessedjian, Luca Meola, and Vitor Queiroz. A number of workshops, screenings, and portfolio reviews complete the program of events.


Cortona On The Move / Cortona, Italy / 11 July - 29 September

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 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 has taken shape around mankind and the landscape, with Nadia Bseiso, Yan Wang Preston, Paolo Verzone, Nanna Heitmann, and Andrea Botto among the names on display.


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Written by

Simon Hall

Reading time

17 minutes

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