Indian Photo Festival is on a mission to champion local talent

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The annual festival was established in 2015 to address the lack of support for the Indian photography community. Here, we speak to the festival’s founder Aquin Mathews about its origins, and this year’s program

“Ultimately, it’s a celebration of photography in India. This has been our ongoing mission and we continue to build on it year after year,” says Aquin Mathews, founder of Indian Photo Festival (IPF). A practising photographer, Mathews recognised a notable gap in support for the Indian photography community. In 2015, he established the festival with a mission to platform local photographers, as well as highlight vital stories from around the world. “We aim to create a new cohort of storytellers and provide a space for discussions on the social issues around us, as well as a forum for dialogue with the general public,” he explains.

Running till 19 December 2022, IPF takes place in Hyderabad –  the capital of southern India’s Telangana state – offering a programme of exhibitions, workshops, talks, and more. Ahead of the launch, Mathews reflects on how the festival came to be, and its importance to the Indian photography community.

© Aakriti Chandervanshi.

British Journal of Photography: Why did you feel it was important to create the festival?

Aquin Mathews: The festival was born out of a need to support the photographic community in India. There is a lot of interest in photography in India and not enough avenues for people to discuss, appreciate, and question the medium of photography. Even now, there are only a handful of galleries which show photography year-round. It’s essential to have platforms to support photography and photographers, but these spaces are dwindling fast due to a lack of institutional and governmental support, as well as because of the pandemic.

BJP: Since the festival launched in 2015, have there been any stand-out moments?

AM: As the artistic director, every edition is special to me. However, a notable high point was having National Geographic come on board as a partner and the fact that the festival has been able to facilitate photography grants up to ₹10M (roughly £100,000) so far.

© Santanu Day.

BJP: How does the festival champion the photographic community in India?

AM: Over time, the festival has successfully built an ecosystem for the photographic community in India with a programme of exhibition opportunities, photography grants, and free mentorships with access to world-class mentors. IPF has become a great networking platform for photographers in the country today, who get to meet editors, collectors, curators, gallerists, and more from around the world. It’s now one of the most highly-awaited events on the Indian art calendar.

IPF is also run by a team of volunteers, primarily photographers, all from different parts of India. For each one of us, it’s about giving something back to the community – a festival for photographers, by photographers.

© Amar Ramesh.

BJP: Tell us about how the festival platforms social issues.

AM: IPF aims to explore how photography can be a powerful tool for social change. We see photography as one of the most capable visual mediums to create awareness of the numerous social issues around the world, and every year at the festival there’s a considerable amount of vital storytelling which does exactly that.

Among the features this year we have: Indian photographer Smita Sharma’s investigation into human trafficking, French photographer Ana Bloom‘s work exploring the current refugee crisis, Italian photographer Diego Fedele‘s work highlighting the absurdity of war, Australian photographer Matthew Dunne‘s work speaking to the global loss of biodiversity, Indian photographer Nishat Fatima‘s portrayal of the LGBTQIA+ community, and Iranian photographer Shaghayegh Moradiannejad‘s documentary of self-immolation among Kurdish women.

We also invite a host of speakers who have had an impact on society to be part of our yearly art talks, sharing their work and journey. The talks provide an accessible platform between the speakers and the audience, inviting conversation in an intimate setting and building a stronger community who aspire to change the world. It’s inspiring to see these artists using photography with the hope of creating a better world – for us and for future generations.

© Nishat Fatima.

BJP: What are you looking forward to this year?

AM: We are thrilled to be launching India’s first travelling photo gallery, a special project in collaboration with Telangana’s State Transport Department. It will be a monumental step towards making our festival and photography, in general, accessible to larger and newer audiences.

The 30 winning single images from Portrait of Humanity Vol.4  will be on show at State Art Gallery, during the eighth edition of Indian Photo Festival, launching on 18 November 2022 until 19 December 2022.