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Auckland Festival of Photography: A new Festival of Photography for difficult times

21 May 2020

Petra Leary, from Bird’s Eye short film

With the startling spread of Covid-19 across the globe, many beloved annual events were forced to close up shop for 2020, but Aotearoa’s largest celebration of photography has found innovative ways to thrive

There is perhaps no bigger event on the local photography calendar than the city-spanning Auckland Festival of Photography (AFP). But, in the wake of the devastating coronavirus, an event that brought so many people together in so many venues across the Auckland region seemed doomed to be shut down in the time of enforced social distancing. Luckily for photography lovers throughout the country, the festival’s dedicated team has instead developed a number innovative ways to interact with a programme bursting with exhibitions, presentations, and special events.

The AFP will not only continue with its scheduled 28 May to 14 June dates, but will reach far beyond Auckland via a number of online platforms, as well as being broadcast daily on Freeview TV, a first for any festival in New Zealand. Virtual visitors will be able to attend talks and panels through the AFP website, the Zoom platform, and a dedicated YouTube channel, and exhibitions can be experienced from the comfort of home on Freeview TV Channel 200 at 3pm and 8pm every day but Sunday, which has an 11am slot .

From the director

The AFP 2020 theme, Unseen, was decided in late October 2019, during attendance at an international photo festival in Pingyao, China. We were presenting Alex Plumb’s work made for the 2018 Annual Commission. I was seated around the lunch table in the ancient city’s courtyard with Australian photographer Shoufay Derz, talking about my creative block for the 2020 festival theme. She instantly suggested ‘Unseen’. That’s how it happened, in a moment. So, we need to thank our Australian neighbours, at a festival in China, for the idea for the 2020 AFP theme.

That was then and this is now, May 2020. I recall this genesis from international collaboration as entirely fitting given today’s altered, Covid-19 state; that we hold onto the shared humanity of what is happening and be kind to each other. We in New Zealand find ourselves in a time of the unknown, of uncertainty and crisis. Our way of life is seemingly changed forever and anxiety fills the air.

Given Shoufay’s serendipitous gift of the Unseen theme, we asked her to write the festival message which, in our new world, seems to foster a searing connection between the virus and the artist’s work, Collective Shroud, about the death of the Great Barrier Reef due to climate change; “A shroud is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it,” Shoufay writes.

Dark words in a dark time. To have darkness we must be deprived of light.

Fortunately, in a photographic world, we are never ever without light. With that in mind, the AFP Trust and team have worked tirelessly. The objective has been to honour the light, hope, and work of the artists, photographers, groups, photo clubs, and curators who have stayed the course with us — and all our stakeholders to provide a beacon of hope in these unprecedented times.

At the AFP, we aim to share the mystery of visual narratives, the hidden meaning of photography, the ‘Unseen’.

Tune in, turn on, and enjoy.

Julia Durkin,
MNZM, AFP director