On the Level: Demi Heath

Demi Heath is the Founder and Director of Photival, the Wellington photography festival. Demi studied photography for 7 years gaining a BA (Hons) in the UK and worked in the photographic publishing industry before moving to New Zealand. The festival, focusing on documentary photography, attracted several thousand people in its inaugural year. Demi runs the festival alongside working at Te Papa where she has been since 2016. She hopes to expand and update the public photographic offerings in New Zealand over the coming years.

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In five words, describe your place in the sector.

Bringing photography to the public

What first drew you to the sector i.e. Do you have a particular memory of a moment that got you hooked?

I don’t know if there was a particular moment. Since school though, and through to university, I found that the thing I enjoyed most about studying was the visits to museums and galleries. I found that I was just as interested in other people’s practice as my own and loved the atmospheres and architectures of different GLAM buildings. I was particularly drawn to the storytelling elements of the visual arts and the ability for these to completely change my world views and introduce me to fantastic new ideas, places and people.

What challenges have you faced in your career so far?

I think figuring out a career path coming out of university was the toughest challenge. Graduating from a photography degree in the UK, it was difficult to come into a dying photographic job market which was completely oversaturated. To try and figure out a way into that, which you could still be passionate about, was next to impossible! The second biggest challenge was trying to push myself from being quite an introverted person to extroverted when setting up the photography festival here in Wellington. I had to meet a lot of new people and talk confidently when presenting the concept, this would have me physically shaking initially, but as with most things in life, all it took was some practice and time.

Has anything or anyone in particular provided you with support?

There have been countless people who have been fantastic here. In particular would be my Te Papa colleagues, from whom I have learnt so much and have given me fantastic advice every step of the way, the Wellington arts community have been so open and have given their time, energy, venues and people for collaboration with me, and of course my partner, who has put up with and supported my endless late nights of work!

What do you think people at your own level (emerging etc) bring to the sector?

I think they bring a vibrancy to the sector that you can’t get elsewhere. They seem particularly open to collaboration and are more adverse to competition. I think millennials in particular have grown up in such a connected and hugely populated world that they can clearly see the benefits of working with people rather than against them. They’re also very open to experimentation and innovation, this is a product of living in a fast paced technological environment and having seen that established ways of doing things aren’t necessarily the best and don’t even necessarily work. It’s very refreshing to be around and is definitely the attitude I embrace when working on the festival and at Te Papa.

What is a positive change you would like to see in the sector?

I would like to see photography taken more seriously as an art form in New Zealand and to see the visual arts sector given more space in Wellington in particular. There’s historically been a focus on the performative arts in the city (which is fantastic and I’ve seen some amazing work here), but I think if Wellington wants to really sell itself as the creative capital then there needs to be more of an even spread across disciplines. Te Papa’s new art gallery (opening in March) is definitely a step in the right direction and I’m very excited to see the public’s interaction with the space.

What is your karaoke song?

Feeling good – Nina Simone (I’m so sorry Nina!)