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The Photaumnales photography festival: when Planet Earth weeps

The festival, which takes place in northern France, chose anthropocene as its theme this year, i.e. the age when human activity began to have a significant impact on our planet’s ecosystem; images that can be violent at times and that take a hard look at our actions.

CTRL-X. A topography of e-waste © Kai LÖFFELBEIN

These people have their hands covered in metal. They’re digging for cables, computer RAM modules and cell phone chips. When these devices become obsolete, they end up in open landfill sites in Ghana, China or India. Sometimes children work there, touching substances that can dangerous to their health. Such is the bitter observation made by photographer Kai Löffelbein, who has recorded this parallel economy throughout the world and informs us that the machines we have in our pockets sometimes end up in the hands of these children.

Hands that a young woman photographed by Mathieu Asselin doesn’t even have. She was born with a deformity caused by exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War—a product manufactured by Monsanto, as the photographer notes in a book of photos, some of which are on view here. He shows the implementation of the industrial group in the United States and the disastrous consequences its products have on the environment.

Italian photographer Stefano Schirato documents the link between pollution and human diseases in his country. He titled his work Terra Mala [Evil Earth] and, via simple black and white images, raises the alarm about the terrible living conditions of the people in his own world.

Casoria – Napoli, 2016 © Stefano Schirato 


But pollution is not detrimental to just humans; it also affects the living creatures around us. This is what Chris Jordan denounces with his shock images of sea birds lying dead on beaches, their belly filled with plastic objects. It’s a series that sends a particularly cold shiver up one’s spine given that across from it, images by Sylvester are on display. The latter went to photograph landscapes of disaster: huge landfills, devastated forests, the effects of intensive agriculture that doesn’t give the future a second thought.

These wounded landscapes echo the work of Gideon Mendel, who took portraits of people devastated by floods: emotionally powerful images in which they pose in front of their destroyed properties, standing knee-deep in water. These natural disasters are on the increase in this time of global warming and foreshadow the century ahead. And it’s because of our exploitation of the planet’s resources that global warming is upon us. This exploitation is effectively portrayed by photographer Charles Xelot, who traveled to the Russian Arctic, home to of the world’s largest natural gas fields and to gigantic industrial plants that prove how humans literally devour Earth’s soil and contribute to global warming. 

Dystopia © Alexa BRUNET/ Transit

The Mona Lisa

This frightening observation reaches its pinnacle in a work of fiction that won’t leave viewers indifferent: Dystopia. Photographer Alexa Brunet had fun inventing comical situations in an imaginary future: a group of tourists fighting for a glimpse of a few plants, as if they were the Mona Lisa; a farmer with a space helmet to protect him from the poisonous emissions of a tractor going off into the distance; and, infinitely darker, naked human beings in a pigsty on the ground, as if they were mere animals intended for the slaughterhouse. These deeply disturbing dystopian images powerfully echo the slices of reality captured by the work of the photographers exhibited around them. There is a kind of obvious statement in them, as if we were already accustomed to this film noir and this close to seeing plants as rare species and humans as game like any other.

Éloge de la simplicité, Trois rondes et juteuses, 2018 © Amélie CHASSARY 


Fortunately for our eyes and our spirit, other artists take the opposite stance of this disenchanted vision and show us the beauty of nature in all its complexity. Amélie Chassary does this beautifully with her still lifes of fruits. The photographer confesses to being very meticulous when it comes to choosing the apple for her shoot. In her view, fruits have the same aesthetic characteristics as a person’s face. As such, they are entitled to the same photographic treatment, and the artist positions them in a way that brings out their true nature and makes it shine, aided by a background in a carefully chosen color.

As for photographer Ursula Böhmer, she’s developed an infatuation with cows grazing in the fields of Europe. She makes humorous and touching portraits of them in which the animal is looking at the viewer with a dignified air, in a black and white setting that goes well with the subject.

All ladies. Cows in Europe, Barrosã, Portugal / Alto Trás-os-Montes © Ursula BÖHMER

While Thierry Ardouin takes close-ups of seeds—symbols of fertility, of the rebirth of a planet under threat—three other photographers turn their attention to glaciers, icons of a world that is in the process of burning. Two of them went to Greenland and they brought back—one in color, the other in black and white—vibrant images of the imposing frozen surface revealing itself in the light. As for Aurore Bagarr, she chose to travel to the Mont-Blanc glacier and has successfully extracted all of the fragile, endlessly admired and endlessly threatened beauty of the complex duo that summarizes our relationship to planet Earth today.

Glaciers du massif du Mont-Blanc © Aurore BAGARRY

La planète affolée © Hans Silvester 

Midway : Message from the Gyre © Chris Jordan

Du gaz sous la toundra © Charles XELOT / Courtesy of Sitdown Gallery

Le Quadrilatère

22 Rue Saint-Pierre, 60000 Beauvais

For the other places, go on the website of the Festival here

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