Top 10 Photo Festivals in the World in 2019

Yvan Cohen

Fri Oct 18 2019

Top 10 Photo Festivals in the World in 2019

We’ve put together this global list of the top photo festivals around the globe to help you identify fun and engaging ways to seek out inspiration and perhaps even launch – or further – your photography career.

Because photo festivals are no longer just venues for exhibitions. They’ve become fully fledged interactive events that feature workshops, portfolio reviews, screenings and fantastic opportunities for networking. Not to mention giving visiting photographers access to influential industry players.

In a profession characterized by individualism and in a digital world where we can sometimes lack the the opportunity for genuine human interaction, photo festivals are a place where you can meet like-minded photographers and tap into the global photographic community.

So finish off your (LightRocket) website, hone your portfolio, sharpen your personal pitch and make a note of some of these major festivals in your diary.

1. Rencontres Arles

Rencontres Arles Rencontres Arles

Venue: Arles. South of France

Type: Fine art and photojournalism

Dates: 1st July to 22nd September

The grand dame of photo festivals, the Rencontre D’Arles festival has been going strong for over 50 years. Well over 100,000 people descend on the picturesque Roman city of Arles in southern France. If you’re hoping to meet some of the world’s top editors, then aim to be in Arles for the first week of one of the most prestigious and influential festivals around the globe.

2. Visa Pour L’image

2. Visa Pour L’image 2. Visa Pour L’image

Venue: Perpignan. Southwest France

Type: Documentary & photojournalism

Dates: 31st August to 15th September

Headed up by its colourful founder and director Jean-Francois Leroy, Visa Pour L’Image has become the premier festival for photojournalism. Each year hundreds of photographers and editors from around the globe descend on Perpignan to network, review portfolios and enjoy the exhibitions and screening which run throughout the festival. The festival makes a point of highlighting major stories around the world, but also provides a forum where photographers can meet with agencies and editors. This makes it a great place for networking if you’re looking to break into the world of photojournalism, or simply to promote your most recent stories.

3. Nooderlicht

Nooderlicht Nooderlicht

Venue: Groningen/Friesland Netherlands

Type: Emphasis on documentary photography with an arty edge

Dates: 6th Oct to 1st December

Founded in 1996, Noorderlicht has earned a place for itself among the world’s top photo festival by virtue of its commitment to blending documentary work with cutting edge style. The festival, which alternates venues between Groningen and Friesland, has a distinctive off-beat persona which makes it a great place to seek out inspiration if you’re looking for new directions in your work.

4. Chobimela

Chobimela Chobimela

Venue: Dhaka. Bangladesh

Type: Emphasis on documentary photography

Dates: Held every two years. Dates vary.

Founded by the charismatic photographer, agency director (Drik) and former World Press Photo judge Shahidul Alam, Chobi Mela has emerged as a popular and prestigious festival which draws visitors from around the world to the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. The Chobi Mela is held every two years. The festival features workshops, talks, portfolio reviews and of course a wide selection of curated exhibitions.

5. Paris Photo

Paris Photo Paris Photo

Venue: Grand Palais. Paris. France

Type: Art fair dedicated to photography

Dates: 7th-10th November

This is where the who’s who of the art photography world gather to show, share, buy and sell their wares. The event bills itself as “the largest international art fair dedicated to the photographic medium” and features up to 200 exhibitors from around the world. There’s a mixture of historic and collectible work as well as the latest in contemporary and experimental photographic art. There’s also a section dedicated to book publishers. In short, this is perhaps the best known and best attended of any when if comes to the business of art photography. A great place just to hang out, browse, look for inspiration and even buy photography if you’ve got some cash to spare.

6. Photo Espana

Photo Espana Photo Espana

Venue: In Madrid and 9 provinces across Spain

Type: Art & documentary exhibitions, workshops and talks.

Dates: 5th June – 1st September

Photo Espana is perhaps one of the longest running and most widespread of all the photo festivals.The festival is espiecially known for placing art and documentary photography in the spotlight. While the festival is focused in Madrid, it also spans multiple venues in many of Spain’s provinces. It reportedly draws some 600,000 visitors a year. Exhibitions range from historical, to contemporary art, and to photojournalism. All in all, Photo Espana has it all. From portfolio reviews to workshops and master classes to shows which feature the work of both established and emerging talents from around the planet. If that isn’t enough, you’ll be having fun just being in Spain!

7. Photoville

Photoville Photoville

Venue: Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York City. USA

Type: Art & documentary exhibitions, workshops and talks.

Dates: 5th June – 1st September

Slap bang in the epicenter of hipster Brooklyn, Photoville is among the smaller global photography festivals. Exhibitions are held in a series of containers in Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s a completely free event, providing great access to a curated selection of exhibitions as well as workshops and nighttime screening events. The setting, directly beneath the Brooklyn Bridge on the banks of the Hudson makes this a great place to hang out and catch some photographic inspiration.

8. Format Festival

Format Festival Format Festival

Venue: Derby, UK

Type: Art & documentary exhibitions, workshops, portfolio reviews and talks.

Dates: April – June

There’s a touch of unmistakable Brit-grit-down-to-earth coolness about the Format photo festival in the UK’s northern city of Derby. The festival bills itself as the “UK’s leading international contemporary festival of photography and related media” and claims to draw over 100,000 visitors from all over the world. Format covers the entire spectrum of photographic practice from ‘out-there’ conceptual work to hard-nosed photojournalistic realism. Each year the festival is organized around a core theme and includes workshops and portfolio reviews. Not as exotic as some of the other venues, perhaps, but what Format lacks in exotic charm, it makes up for in content.

9. HeadOn Photo Festival

HeadOn Photo Festival HeadOn Photo Festival

Venue: Sydney, Australia

Type: Art & documentary exhibitions, workshops, portfolio reviews and talks.

Dates: 1-17th May

Head down under for Australia’s premium photo festival which features a who’s who of Australian and international talent. While the emphasis is on spotlighting homegrown talent, Head On also makes a point of opening their doors to international talent, whomever or wherever they are from. Submissions for the festival are anonymous, to ensure merit and not renown is the basis for selection. While the organisers of Head On refer to photographers as ‘photo-artists’ in their about sections and the festival does feature a good helping of fine art, the festival’s identity seems more closely tied to the documentary tradition.

10. Angkor Photo Festival

Angkor Photo Festival Angkor Photo Festival

Venue: Siem Reap. Cambodia

Type: Emphasis on documentary photography, workshops, portfolio reviews and talks.

Dates: 28th November – 7th December

Very much an Asian focused festival, Angkor Photo Festival places an emphasis on creating opportunities for and providing training to emerging talent in the Asian region. Set in Siem Reap, adjacent to the ruins of Angkor Wat, the Angkor photo festival is attended by an impressive line of international talent. Since its origins in 2005, the festival has emerged as Southeast Asia’s premier event featuring exhibitions, screenings, portfolio reviews and workshops. More accessible and low key than many of the other major international festivals, this might be an exotic starting point for your journey around the global photo festival circuit.

Written by Yvan Cohen | Yvan has been a photojournalist for over 30 years. He’s a co-founder of LightRocket and continues to shoot photo and video projects around South East Asia.

Featured Photograph by Erik McGregor

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