Make a big difference to The Big Idea.

Help us tell the most creative stories.

Become a supporter

Demi Heath: Advice to my 22-Year-Old Self

Photograph by Michael Hall
Demi Heath, Director of Photival
Advice to My 22-Year-Old Self is a new segment at The Big Idea, our way of connecting those starting out in the arts with virtual mentors. This week, Demi Heath, Director of Photival shares her best.


After studying photography and working in publishing in the UK, Demi moved to New Zealand and now works at Te Papa as well as directing Photival, the Wellington photography festival. She has a vision to expand and update the public photographic offerings in New Zealand over the coming years.

Photograph by Michael Hall​ - a keynote speaker at the festival.

I don’t think, at 22, I could have even come close to guessing at the work I do now, there’s been a lot of hard work and good luck involved! But some things never change, and as a person who gets a kick out of organisation (#supergeek), I LOVE a good list, so below is the advice I would give my 22 year old past self in list form:

  1. Grow Your Confidence: As a born introvert, confidence can only be learned through (sometimes scary) practice and it will take time, but you will get there! With a little nudge in the right direction, remember that regardless of title or status, everyone else in the room is human. Therefore your voice is just as valuable, so share your ideas with people, you never know where it may lead. Start small and share a project or idea with one person you trust and talk it through with them, it’s great to have someone to bounce around ideas with.

  2. Work Collaboratively: People in the creative industries are generally a welcoming, enthusiastic bunch, so be trusting and open. Remember, you can learn something from every person you meet, no matter who they are, so ask as many questions as you can. The best projects and organisations are so because they have collaboration at their heart and are the joint efforts of a heap of people. The era of working competitively is dying, so don’t be scared to ask for a helping hand and for people’s expertise.

  3. Manage Your Time: So let’s be upfront. You are going to work a lot of unpaid hours! This is under your own initiative (but within the framework of the arts being underfunded) because you’ve found your passion, something to build from the ground up, and you want to put everything into it that you can. This means that nights will be long and the weekends less sun-soaked. The most important thing you’ll come to is to be present in the moment. This is good spiritual, mental and business practice. Your diary will be your best friend, schedule your tasks in. Have cut off times at night and the weekend for when to stop working and arrange fun things to look forward to with your favourite people. Do not let your relationships suffer, the people you love are more important than any work.

  4. Look After Your Mental Health: At 22 you’re furious at those in power, the government and the capitalist system. You’re petitioning, campaigning, marching and voting, great work, keep it up! But you also wake up angry, stressed and sad because it didn’t seem like any of it was making a difference. You’ll come to the realisation (quite late!) that you can’t change the world alone, and the weight of it should not sit on your shoulders. To stop from going back to that state avoid overwork, exercise, talk when you’re upset, but most importantly, be grateful. every. single. day. Once in the habit it’s easy to find at least one thing to be grateful for.

  5. Embrace Feminism: This will be become an important part of your life and a big part of discussions in 2018. Start early and make room for other women and those in a less privileged position than yourself to have a voice, you are each other’s allies. Encourage those in leadership positions to do the same, be vocal!

I have tried to put these values into Photival, the Wellington photography festival. This year we’re having workshops, panel discussions and portfolio reviews on the role of documentary photography in raising the big issues that we (New Zealand and the global population) are facing for discussion, debate and action.

Photival is a not-for-profit social documentary photography festival focusing on social, economic and environmental issues from around the globe. Its aim is to show people thought provoking and inspiring photographic work and then give them the tools they need to engage with positive change.

Photival is on from 26 to 29 April in Wellington, tickets are available at


Written by


29 Mar 2018