For twenty-eight years, the Rencontres de la Jeune Photographie Internationale has extended an invitation to eight (sometimes seven) young people and hosted them at the Fort Foucault, an artists’ residence in the city of Niort. When the festival was launched in 1994, the guest photographers worked with photochemical film and applications were sent by mail. The general idea, however, was already the same: to offer time and place dedicated exclusively to photographic creation. Patrick Delat, artistic director of the Rencontres, sums up the event as “a sort of creative laboratory, all in a spirit of goodwill.”
“Every year, I put together a program that allows the general public to discover all facets of photography, whether it be photojournalism, as with Philip Blenkinsop; classic analog photography, as with Descamps or Françoise Huguier; or visual arts, as with Corinne Mercadier,” says Delat.
This year, Joan Fontcuberta is the guest of honor of the Rencontres. The Spanish artist occupies the Villa Perochon with his exhibition Monsters. A true “image recycler,” he recovers “orphaned” images from archives and puts them into dialogue with others, produced by artificial intelligence. Fontcuberta, who is also the sponsor of the 2023 residency, mentors the seven young artists-in-residence in their creative process.
Time to experiment
The Rencontres are organized in two phases. From March 25 to April 14, the Médiathèque Pierre-Moinot exhibited the works of the 2023 guest artists which they had submitted in their applications. Following fifteen days of creation, the first exhibition dedicated to the earlier works of the seven residents is replaced with the work they completed during their residency. The new works are now on view until May 27.
The 2023 residency offers a very varied selection in terms of creation. Representing France, Romy Alizée takes a feminist look at sexuality in her erotic, transgressive, black-and-white prints. Chloé Milos Azzopardi, through her almost supernatural pictures, questions our relationship with the natural world, between domination and servitude.
Valia Russo approaches the concept of collapse. Between 2021 and 2022, she created a photographic documentation of the early signs of this collapse, which according to her, has been unfolding for some time. Soft and poetic, her flash photographs of night subvert the idea of chaos that they foreshadow. Finally, France-Lan Lê Vu’s photographic installations are a reflection on the reprisal of natural techniques and alternative modes of photography in the face of ultra-modernity.
As for the international artists, three photographers have come to settle down in Niort. Md Fazla Rabbi Fatiq approaches the colonial history of Bangladesh and the reality of tea cultivation. Victor Gamarra retraces his childhood in Peru, on the beaches of Lima; while the Ukrainian photographer Yehor Simakov develops his memory on old Soviet paper, like a puzzle of archives and films.
A journey into the heart of the city
In parallel to the residency, the Rencontres hosts a panel of exhibitions, made up of works by former residents and guest artists. This is an opportunity to discover the emblematic sites of Niort, “a city built on a human scale,” points out Delat.
Niort’s former city hall and now visual arts space, Le Pilori showcases the works of former residents, Soham Gupta and David Fathi. Artist in residence in Niort in 2015, David Fathi presents his new project The Dead Govern the Living. Combining photographic images and archival videos of politicians fighting with their bare hands, the artist reflects on the future, order, and progress.
Similarly, in his photographic archive Desi Boys, Soham Gupta focuses on marginalized Indian youth and victims of xenophobia, as they confront the Hindu nationalist right, new technologies, and globalization. A photographer whose work straddles documentary, art, and writing, Gupta also exhibits Angst, a series of portraits of the poor in Calcutta, his hometown, which had already been presented during his residency in 2016.
Silver gelatin prints on photosensitive paper from the 1970s, reproductions of letters and archival documents on original Chinese paper. It is at the Pavillon Grappelli, former school of drawing and now a digital arts space, that Rachele Maistrello presents her series Blue Diamond. The Italian photographer plunges us into a fictitious universe more real than life itself. Reality or science fiction? It is up to the visitor to make up their own mind.
Not far from there, in the green island of the Desmettre gallery, the artificial botany gives way to an anarchy of wild grass. In this place, entirely surrounded by water, Sylvie Bussières combines botany, photographic images and graphite mines. Created during the confinement, her works give life to the weeds that proliferate in the absence of human presence.
Finally, Greece is invited to the Séchoir, with the works of six Greek photographers curated by Manolis Moresopoulos, director of the Athens photo festival. The exhibition Rites of Passage questions the culture and identity of Greece, a country with a considerable historical past, but with an uncertain future. Whether it is about the impact of the industrial crisis, spirituality, mourning, or the rituals of the afterlife, each artist reveals the intermediate space between presence and absence.
Rencontres de la Jeune Photographie Internationale. Exhibitions on view Tuesday to Saturday, 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., free admission.