Few artistic mediums reveal the mood of their moment as clearly as photography.

From May 31 to June 11, the 20th Auckland Festival of Photography/Whakaahua Hākari will bring the big issues of our time into sharp focus, as seen through the lens of local and international photographers.

The anniversary program balances poignancy with levity and brings the distant close, covering subjects from the revitalisation of te reo Māori to Aotearoa’s natural beauty to the devastation of war.

This year’s theme – resistance/ātete – pays tribute to the artists, funders and sponsors whose dedication has sustained the event over the past decades.

“As it relates to visual imaging and culture, resistance/ātete speaks to innovation, initiative and challenging the status quo,” notes festival director Julia Durkin in a statement.

“Artists must resist pressure to comply with an economic model, and within an art establishment where, for many, making a living out of being creative is so difficult … The festival was founded and developed outside the institutions that currently hold establishment power and privilege.”

Carrying forward that mission this year is a range of in-venue, outdoor and online shows.

Highlights include Ans Westra: retrospective (June 1–July 30, Queen’s Wharf Fence), which explores the breadth of the adopted New Zealander’s 60-year career through a rare collection of images curated by Westra’s family together with Suite Gallery’s David Alsop.

At Orewa’s Estuary Arts Centre, Ukraine: A War Diary of Lives (June 7–July 2) exposes the daily realities of life in wartime. Accompanying events – including a fundraising dinner and art auction, and a traditional vinok (Ukrainian flower wreath) workshop – uphold the festival’s spirit: untethering photography from passive objectivity and tapping into its potential as a call to action.

The 20th edition of Auckland Festival of Photography/Whakaahua Hākari is on at various locations throughout the Auckland region from May 31–June 11. Find the full program at photographyfestival.org.nz.