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Le Guilvinec and the Love of the Sea

Spanning four months, from June 1 to September 30, 2023, the Guilvinec Photo Festival offers a new perspective on the Bigouden region. Its 13th edition offers sixteen exhibitions that once again explore the relationship between man and the sea.

Rocks around here are as big as icebergs, ancient menhirs dot the landscape, and langoustines are eaten with the fingers. With 125 boats and 570 sailors, the port of Guilvinec-Léchiagat is France’s leading artisanal fishing port. This identity, proclaimed with pride, is the inspiration for the photo festival’s flagship theme: Man and the Sea.

© Rodrigo Gomez Rovira
© Rodrigo Gomez Rovira

This 13th edition of the Festival opens under a bright sun in the Bigouden region, renowned for its friendly oceanic climate. The climate is almost as friendly as Michel Guirriec, creator of the festival and the son of a fisherman. A Breton through and through, he has little interest in formalities. From the very first edition, he has championed the idea of opening up the festival to the public, with images exhibited in the open air, welcoming Guilvinec residents and out-of-towners alike. 

This year, the festival features fifteen photographers, including five winners of the photography commission Radioscopy of France: Glimpses of a Country Affected by the Health Crisis, a project entrusted to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France by the French Ministry of Culture, which has financially supported the festival since its inception. This significant support complements that provided by the town council and volunteers. With a budget of just 70,000 euros, Guirriec applauds this “widespread effort to carry on the adventure.”

© Romain Laurendeau
Young bikers after a fresh swim on Etretat’s pebble beach. © Romain Laurendeau

Fishing in their genes

“Fishing is one job at sea for every five jobs on land,” notes Michel Guirriec. Painters, carpenters, mechanics…: Irène Jonas rubbed shoulders with them during her photographic project on the Armement Bigouden. A photographer and sociologist, she has become a staple figure among locals as she crisscrossed the port. Her series La saga des Baras [The Saga of the Baras]captures the tenacity and passion of these little-seen workers.  

© Irène Jonas
© Irène Jonas

Everything crosses the sea: goods transported by ships, undersea communication cables, pipelines… Essential to our daily lives, the sea is also a raw reality. Lorraine Turci spent ten days aboard a boat in Guilvinec. As someone who keeps both feet on the ground, she discovered an “almost extraterrestrial way of life.”

Olivier Jobard looks at this world apart through the eyes of those who have the breath of the sea in their lungs. His project, À l’école de la mer [Schooled at Sea], gives a voice to the new generation of young immigrant fishermen. Recently arrived in France, the sea is their only way out. Drawing on passion and the desire to escape, his images show that being a fisherman is an identity that defies borders. 

© Lorraine Turci / Grande Commande Photojournalisme
© Lorraine Turci / Grande Commande Photojournalisme
© Olivier Jobard / Grande Commande Photojournalisme
© Olivier Jobard / Grande Commande Photojournalisme

Women and the sea

They’re called Amiral Barjot, Face à Tout, or Étoile des flots. These tuna boats, built before 1960, were immortalized during the postwar period. With a space dedicated to old photos, Guilvinec becomes an open-air museum—a term that Pierre Karleskind, MEP and Chairman of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee, is reluctant to use, reminding us that “these images are not only a testimony to the past, but must also be the future of our territory.”

© Frédéric Mery
© Frédéric Mery
© Julie Bourges / Grande Commande Photojournalisme
© Julie Bourges / Grande Commande Photojournalisme

The aim of the festival is to pay tribute to the trades that have shaped the region. For a long time, these trades were considered an exclusively male domain, but that hasn’t stopped fisherwomen from pursuing their vocation. Julie Bourges portrays these strong women, while Frédéric Méry explores their desire for emancipation in the context of the Japanese society with its deep-rooted patriarchal tradition. Immersed in a community of fisherwomen, he documents the work and life of the “Ama San.” From April to September, these snorkelers set off in search of seaweed, crustaceans, and shellfish, which they use for food and trade. Pioneers of an era, only 2,000 Ama San remain in 2023, 647 of them operating in the Mie Prefecture where the photo series was shot. The harsh conditions of the job, as well as global warming, threaten their activity.

© Frédéric Mery
© Frédéric Mery

A gateway to the world

As Michel Guirriec reminds us, “The spirit of the festival is to extend welcome.” This year’s guest of honor is Chile. In tandem with the Valparaíso International Photography Festival, carte blanche was given to five Chilean artists. Alfonso Gonzalez and Ibar Silva, members of the artists’ collective Migrar Photo, settled in Guilvinec for a weekend.

Mathias Depardon, in turn, had taken up residence in Turkey for almost six years. His Gold Rivers series has already been exhibited at Arles in 2017, as well as at Visa pour l’Image and the Festival La Gacilly in 2021. His images document the “water war” raging on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, two Mesopotamian giants at the heart of geopolitical conflicts. 

© Cristobal Olivares
© Colectivo MIGRAR
© Colectivo MIGRAR
A tourist boat tour is visiting the former village of Savacan flooded by the reservoir lake of the Birecik Dam in 1999 located on the Euphrates river. Turkey. © Mathias Depardon
A tourist boat tour is visiting the former village of Savacan flooded by the reservoir lake of the Birecik Dam in 1999 located on the Euphrates river. Turkey. © Mathias Depardon

Tanguy Louvigny’s Les Mers Fendues captures the natural movement of water between low and high tide on the Atlantic coast. Casting himself as a modern-day Moses, Louvigny parts the sea using a timelapse technique. Accumulating successive shots for hours on end, the photographer creates hyper-accelerated films. His film Tidal Range, about the tides in Brittany, won an award at the Time Lapse Film Festival in Joshua Tree, California.

Nourishing, dangerous, enchanting… all the faces of the sea are portrayed at the Guilvinec Photo Festival. “The subject may seem redundant, but in my opinion it’s inexhaustible,” sums up Guirriec.

© Tanguy Louvigny / www.hdrskies.com
© Tanguy Louvigny / www.hdrskies.com
© Tanguy Louvigny / www.hdrskies.com
© Tanguy Louvigny / www.hdrskies.com


Festival L’Homme et la Mer. Impasse Jules Guesde, 29730 Guilvinec. June 1 to September 30, 2023. A virtual tour of the festival.

In the midst of the ocean mist Domingo catches a big fish. 5 miles. © Gaston Bailo
In the midst of the ocean mist Domingo catches a big fish. 5 miles. © Gaston Bailo

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