ARTicle Magazine

Five questions for Demi Heath

Guy Somerset · 16 February 2017

When the Photival director arrived in Wellington from the United Kingdom and found there was no photography festival, she dived in head first to do something about it.

The Rat Tribe

Image: Sim Chi Yin

Photival, Saturday 18 February–Saturday 4 March, various venues, Wellington, as part of the New Zealand Fringe Festival.

There hasn't been a photography festival in Wellington for over a decade. What made you decide to do something about it and why now?

My background is in photography in the United Kingdom so when I arrived in Wellington in early 2016 one of the first things I asked was when and where is the photography festival? To learn there was only one photography festival in the country and it was not in the capital city was a very big surprise to me. Every major city in Europe, at least, seems to have a photography festival. This was a glaring opportunity to create something really exciting and fresh for the city, so, not wanting to miss out, I dived in head first.

Connecting exhibitions and their audiences with charity organisations is an intriguing idea. How will that work?

Each of the exhibitions has been directly linked to a local or international organisation that is making amazing progress in the area depicted by the photographer. We’ll be providing information about the charities in the exhibition space and on our mobile platform. We’re aiming to make it easy for people to access information about the charities and perhaps donate to that cause or even volunteer their time. We want to offer a positive lens, if you will, to viewing the images, which are often highlighting problems or challenges in the world. Rather than leaving the audience feeling helpless to bring about change, we’re showing them a very real option to help.

Tamara Abdul Hadi

Image: Tamara Abdul Hadi

Are there any photographers you are particularly pleased to have managed to bag for the festival?

I’m extremely grateful to all of our exhibiting photographers for wanting to be involved in the festival and so excited to be showing their projects. We’re particularly excited to showcase Sim Chi Yin’s project ‘The Rat Tribe’, which was only made possible through support from the Asia New Zealand Foundation. She’s an incredible documentary photographer and is becoming quite in demand internationally. From a personal perspective, I’ve fallen in love with Tamara Abdul Hadi’s ‘Picture an Arab Man’ series, which manages to be soft and beautiful in appearance but hard hitting and thought provoking at the same time.

Did you get many submissions for your open call around the theme of 'Our world on the brink'? Is there an appetite among photographers for an opportunity like Photival?

We had roughly 50 submissions for the open call, which for an opening year I’m very happy with. The feedback I’ve had so far is photographers are really interested in an open call local to New Zealand. There are a lot of great opportunities to enter international open calls but the large number of entries make it a huge competitive barrier for local photographers. While larger photography festivals put on incredible programmes, they tend to be extremely varied in subject material. Photographers are excited by Photival specifically because we’ve narrowed our focus and because we’re trying to engage the community into positive action.

Will there be a Photival 2? And if so will it be in less than a decade?

We’re certainly hoping to come back in 2018 or 2019, and not only for a second instalment but for many more after. This, of course, will depend on whether what we’re doing really connects with people. We’d certainly like to encourage people to come out to see the exhibitions, which are all free to view. By coming along and showing their interest in the images and support of the charities, this will hopefully encourage our funders, the City Council and Creative New Zealand, to give us even more support in the future, enabling us to put on even bigger and better festivals in the coming years.

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Guy Somerset was the founding editor of ARTicle Magazine. He is a former Books & Culture Editor of the New Zealand Festival and Books Editor of The Dominion Post.

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