Blind Magazine : photography at first sight
Photography at first sight
Close this search box.
Arles Festival 2019: Photo brut is brutal

Arles Festival 2019: Photo brut is brutal

At the Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles, an exhibition featuring nearly 500 works is dedicated to the photographic practice of art brut. Faced with this very large corpus, the visitor goes from surprise to sadness and sometimes even awe.
Anonyme, Obsession, vers 1880. Collection Bruno Decharme.

One is immediately aware that certain works provoke emotions. For instance, Elke Tangeten is a Belgian artist who uses pages from illustrated magazines to weave images of religious icons. Her methodology is meticulous and organic, demonstrating vivid creativity and great sensitivity. It is hard not to be touched by her life, which was shattered by a car accident, and by the intense fragility that makes her an unusual artist. 

The exhibition represents the lives of the artists well. Each work is accompanied by an in-depth study and the provenance of the work. The unusual processes employed by the artists arouse curiosity and are a daring event on the festival’s agenda. The show has been often mentioned in the media as a key exhibition in this year’s Rencontres. 


The visitor, however, may be overwhelmed by a feeling of sadness at the sight of this multitude of images. For instance, the images taken by a man who photographed only his wife, whom he reduced to a sexual object in unhealthy scenes; or those of a voyeur who invented a sordid device to capture his neighbors in the privacy of their homes; or the businessman who lecherously documents his relationship with his secretary and goes so far as to expose the woman’s pubic hair, nails, and contraceptives while describing their intercourse in great detail. One feels sorry for these artists locked in the repetitive, melancholy circle of their obsessions. The utter loneliness and isolation in which they pursued their creation arouses pity. 

Anonyme « Zorro », 1967. Collection Bruno Decharme.


What is even more striking is the obscenity present in many of these images, which some visitors may find shocking. For example, the work of Marian Henel who photographs himself naked, with his back to the lens, exhibiting his posterior in pornographic postures while wearing a dress. These raw photographs may offend viewers’ sensibilities and are presented without warning. The same can be said for for Lubos Plny, who sewed his face with thread to feel the movements of his body and had himself photographed by a friend. These are disturbing images that have a legitimate place in a festival dedicated to photography, but which ought to have an explicit warning to the public. The devil is in the details. 

Zdenek Kosek, 1980. Collection Bruno Decharme.

Alexandre Lobanov, vers 1960. Collection Bruno Decharme.

By Coline Olsina and Jean-Baptiste Gauvin

PHOTO / BRUT, Collection Decharme & Compagnie

July 1 to September 22, 2019

Mécanique Génerale, Arles

Don’t miss the latest photographic news, subscribe to Blind newsletter.