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Photival: Wellington’s photography festival with a conscience

22 November 2016

The creation of Photival marks Wellington’s first photography festival in over a decade, and this one aims to use the art of photography to open discussion around society and the issues the world faces today.  We spoke with Festival Director and Curator Demi Heath about the concept, and what to look forward to during the February 18–March 4, 2017 event.

D-Photo: Photival sounds incredibly exciting! Can you give D-Photo readers a rundown on what the festival is all about?

Demi Heath: Photival is a photography festival for positive change and Wellington’s first photography festival in over a decade. Our aim is to celebrate photography as art, show people thought-provoking photographic work from all over the world and connect them with local community groups bringing about change. We are working with established, international, and home-grown photographers, and we’ve partnered with a range of charities. We will showcase a small selection of outstanding work from the general public from our Open Call competition as well as new talent from Wellington’s tertiary institutions.

The concept of positive change is one that is closely tied into this festival. Can you explain a bit about this and how photography will encourage and enable a conversation around this?

I wanted to create a festival that not only celebrates the art of photography but also the utility of it. When presenting factual, current, worldwide issues, photography is the best media to enhance already compelling messages. We are showcasing photographers who do this in variously beautiful and empathetic ways.

I see it as unfortunate that I so often leave an exhibition or documentary film screening, asking myself, OK, but what can I do? Photival will be proud to act as a bridge between these two industries so that the audience doesn’t have to ask this question, they will be immediately presented with options as to what they can do to get involved. We hope they will not only feel more uplifted after seeing hard-hitting work, but they will be more likely to get positively engaged by giving a koha, signing up to volunteer, or by simply educating themselves further.

Demi Heath

Positive social change will be easily accessible, as each exhibition will be linked with a charity, NGO, or activist group that works within the area being showcased by the photographer. Photography is such a diverse industry, but I feel that documentary photography can easily be overlooked and less encouraged as an art practice. I hope that the work we’ll be showcasing will exemplify that this practice can be equally artful and informative.

This festival’s theme is Brink — where did this idea originate from? And what do you hope it instills in those who visit the festival?

We as a world population have huge decisions to make, in a very short time period, that are going to affect what the world looks like and how people experience it within the next 50 years. Images from photographers like Sim Chi Yin will generate conversations. Her series The Rat Tribe captures people living on the brink of acceptable living conditions in Beijing, China. I view it as incredibly important to bring these photographs and the subject matter to the forefront of public discussion in an engaging and fresh way. It seems to me that the world is on the brink of destruction or salvation, so these issues and decisions around them are hugely important.

Picture an Arab Man by Tamara Abdul Hadi, as featured in Photival

Where will the public be able to see exhibitions and participate with the festival?

Photival will be running from February 18–March 4, 2017. We will be hosting exhibitions across Wellington CBD in various galleries, public areas, and pop-up spaces. Please visit our website for further information.

What options are available for photographers to get involved?

We are running an open call to the general public until Friday, January 6, 2017, which anyone in New Zealand can enter. We are requesting three images per submission that fit with the theme of Brink, and people can enter more than once if they wish! We have an international panel of expert judges who will be reviewing the work: Athol McCredie, Curator of Photography at Te Papa Museum, Nigel Atherton, Editor in Chief of Amateur Photographer, UK, and Myles Little, Photo Editor for TIME Magazine in New York City. The three selected winners will have their work exhibited in a central city location as well as having one of their images displayed across central Wellington as part of our publicity campaign. People can enter on our website

How many photographers are already confirmed to be taking part — can you give us an insight into who will be involved and what they’ll be doing?

We have confirmed eight photographers from all over the world (Canada, China, Egypt, and Germany) for solo exhibitions, and we have a guest curated show by Myles Little, containing work from 30 more photographers. We will also be including work from Massey and Victoria University students, alongside the work of our open call winners. The works being presented cover issues such as wealth inequality, environmental destruction, and mass migration.

How do you think holding the festival in Wellington will enhance the experience? The large number of people? Other factors?

Wellington is a city where everything feels accessible. The variety of exhibition spaces, the supportive creative community, and the geographically condensed nature of the city make it possibly the best city in the world to host this photography festival and bring together a community that appreciates the art form. Wellington has not had a photography festival in over a decade, despite the wealth of photographers, galleries, and people interested in the visual arts, so we’d like to think that the city will embrace this opportunity to celebrate and be inspired by photography across the two-week event.

If people are wanting to follow the progress of the festival, where can they go?

For more information, visit, or find the festival on Instagram or Twitter: @HelloPhotival.