Sydney's Head On Photo Festival has shed staff and will have to shrink future events without more funding, organisers say.
Head On 2023 wrapped up on Sunday, attracting an estimated 400,000 people to free public exhibitions at Bondi Beach, Paddington Reservoir Gardens, TAFE NSW Ultimo and dozens of other venues.
Photographs by more than 700 artists from 30 countries were on show, with more than half by NSW photographers.
The event has been extremely successful, according to artistic director Moshe Rosenzveig, but on Friday he learned its application for $100,000 in federal government funding had been knocked back.
"I can be stoic and say 'well, that's life', but the reality is it's very difficult and getting more difficult," he told AAP.
It has meant two of Head On's six staff have had to end their contracts, and the festival's 2024 program may need to be reduced significantly.
The festival operates on a budget of about $500,000, with about half from government funding and half from photo sales and entry fees charged to photographers.
But Mr Rosenzveig says twice that amount is needed for it to be financially sustainable due to increased costs.
For the past 14 years Head On has applied for funding from Creative Australia - formerly the Australia Council - but has never been successful, he said.
In his view, the federal arts body is already committed to funding larger organisations, and there are no photographers involved in the selection process.
"I think there's a special sort of attitude towards photography, which is that it's not really an art form," Mr Rosenzveig said.
Creative Australia funding decisions are based on artistic merit according to robust and publicly available selection criteria, it said in a statement to AAP.
"Assessors with expertise and experience in photography are among the diverse panel of peer assessors who assess applications," it said.
It all leaves Head On with more financial support from foreign countries than it receives from the Australian government.
Germany, Spain and Italy backed this year's festival, and it has previously received support from Japan, Korea, Canada, the US, France and Uruguay.
Head On certainly has an international reputation, having been invited to send exhibitions to France, Switzerland, China and New Zealand in 2024.
This year's festival also received $140,000 from Create NSW, as well as just under $90,000 over the past two years, intended for arts organisations still getting back on their feet after the pandemic.
That's on top of donations from the public and some money from local government.
A decision about whether state government funding will continue in 2024 has been delayed until late January, Mr Rosenzveig said.
Create NSW said it could not comment on individual funding applications.
"Create NSW appreciates this may be a challenging time for applicants, with the announcement of results later than anticipated due to a delay in the assessment process timeline," the funding body said in a statement.
Head On was one of few arts events able to continue during pandemic shutdowns, and in 2020 it received a two-year $433,762 RISE grant for online development, including a digital archive of Australian photography.
Australian Associated Press