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Photography at first sight
Arles 2020: Must-see exhibitions this summer

Arles 2020: Must-see exhibitions this summer

Synonymous with photography, Arles will be spending this summer without its Rencontres because of the coronavirus. Nonetheless, local cultural actors have taken up the challenge with a multidisciplinary program where the image holds the pride of place. We present a selection.
Jacques Léonard, Barcelone, 1960 © Archivo Familia J.Léonard

A summer without the Rencontres d’Arles – this has never happened since the creation of the festival in 1970! Deprived of this great annual international event, photography professionals and amateurs feel orphaned. In 2019, a year of record attendance, more than 145,000 people visited the city…

Over the years, the first festival in the world dedicated to photography has become both a witness and an agent of photography’s recognition as an art form, of its evolution and transformations. In five decades, this festival has welcomed the key figures in world photography as well as revealed many new talents: from Ansel Adams, Brassaï, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, to Annie Leibovitz, Nan Goldin, Miguel Rio Branco, Andres Serrano, Martin Parr, Raymond Depardon…  

Usually, Les Rencontres mean exhibitions and parties as well as portfolio showings and internships for young photographers, a book fair, an auction, conferences, debates… In short, the life of photography in all its forms. In addition to some fifty plus events on the official agenda, there are over a hundred off-site events…

De l’exposition On n’est pas là pour se faire engueuler © Cohérie Boris Vian

Although the mother ship has called it quits because of the coronavirus – it is difficult to produce work in lockdown – galleries, foundations, and other museums in Arles have taken up the challenge by throwing together a program entitled Contemporary Arles, named after an association created in 2013 which brings together many of Arles’ cultural players all year round. “It was a bit drowsy, but we woke it up. The result: we are going to present more than sixty events in two months. Neither the Rencontres nor the Off, this spontaneous initiative focuses on diversity,” said Nicolas Havette, the coordinator of Contemporary Arles. 

While all the arts are represented, the image holds a special place, for instance at the Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation, a site dedicated to documentary films and photography, headed by Nicolas Havette as the artistic director. Under the title “The Pioneers,” he has envisioned a journey through six exhibitions in this 6,500 square foot town house. In addition to the two current themes – ecology and migration – there is also a tribute to Boris Vian, who would have been 100 years old this year. Entitled “On n’est pas là pour se faire engueuler” [“We didn’t come to get yelled at”] – a nod to one of the songs by the author of I Spit On Your Graves – the exhibition brings together photos and other documents. The Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation is also featuring “Giving Birth in Exile” by Sylvie Léget, which tells the story of five women from Africa and Eastern Europe who all gave birth on the road, in exile, or upon their arrival in Switzerland. “Sylvie Léget photographed them and collected their testimonies which can be read in the exhibition,” explained the curator Audrey Hoareau. As a counterpoint to these hard-luck stories, Wu Cheng-Chang’s landscapes of Taiwan, beneath apparent beauty point to another harsh reality, that of an environmental crisis.

De l’exposition Giving birt in exile, Ubah, 2018 © Sylvie LÉGET

Contemporary Arles also makes room for history: the Anne Clergue Gallery showcases the work of Jacques Léonard, a forgotten photographer who captured Barcelona’s gypsy community in the 1950s. There are also some “crowd pleasers”: the Réattu museum presents a new installation of its photography collection, featuring among others Corinne Mercadier and Bogdan Konopka. The Actes Sud bookshop in turn is banking on “the ‘big names’ in photography,” to borrow the title of their exhibition around the origins of three Photo Poche editions dedicated to women. If you are arriving by train, don’t miss “Hexagone” by Eric Bouvet and Yan Morvan: originally slated to be shown at the Rencontres, it is now on display at the Gard de Lyon in Paris and at Avignon-TGV train station. This project was carried out over two years in the four corners of France in an attempt to address the urgent question: “What does it mean to be French?” In the end, tradition has been fulfilled: there is photography in Arles this summer!

Jeremie – Crédits ® Yan Morvan

Marie – Crédits ® Eric Bouvet
Jacques Léonard, Rosita, BCN, 1960 © J. Léonard, Archivo Familia J. Léonard

De l’exposition Giving birt in exile, Rosina, 2018 © Sylvie LÉGET
De l’exposition Vision of TaiwanJia Dong, 2011 © WU Cheng-Chang

Par Sophie Bernard

Arles Contemporain, June 26 to September 6, 2020,

Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation, July 3 to September 5, 2020,

Galerie Librairie Actes Sud, July 1 to August 30, 2020,

Gare d’Avignon TGV and Paris–Garde de Lyon, June 25 to September 1, 2020

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