Twenty-four exhibition venues, 105 artists, forty curators during a three-month-long festival: this is the biggest event in the photography sector. From July 3 to September 24, Arles will become the international capital of photography. Among the forty-four exhibitions featured this year, five main themes emerge: Geographies of the Gaze, Revisiting, Staging, Films in Images, and Reminiscences.
As a place that supports and defends creation, the Rencontres de la photographie d’Arles has asserted itself as “a veritable sounding board for the state of the world,” according to the festival’s team. It is not surprising to see major social and environmental themes take shape in its programming.
Revisiting the territory
“Arles does not host the Rencontres; the Rencontres were born in Arles.” Patrick de Carolis, Mayor of Arles’ words encapsulate the relationship between the selected artistic projects and the territory. To kick off our sample, Ici Près is a photo reportage conducted in the vicinity of Arles by Mathieu Asselin, Tanja Engelberts, and Sheng-Wen Lo. The artists investigate industries, transportation, and animal life and reveal the way in which the local ecosystems in and around Arles have been altered.
The festival’s ambition is to be united, committed, and responsible. These objectives are at the heart of its programming, since the first theme, Geographies of the Gaze, addresses the subject of climate change. Éric Tabuchi and Nelly Monnier’s Soleil Gris maps ordinary France, a country of race-horse-betting bars and gas stations. It’s a journey through a mindset and a territory in an effort to understand what the way we live and how we relate to the landscape says about our who we are.
Similarly, Saul Leiter’s project Assemblages invites us to take a fresh look at our relationship to the world. A stroll through the streets of New York, this historic exhibition covers more than 60 years in the history of street photography. The Centre de la photographie de Mougins will showcase Harold Feinstein and his portraits of outcasts amid postwar prosperity in New York.
Between heritage and history
Borrowing the words of Marcel Proust, the Minister of Culture summarizes what happens to us when we come to Arles: “Only through art can we emerge from ourselves.” Emerging from ourselves is precisely what Entre nos murs proposes. Through the construction of a Tehran house, we dive into the history of Iran, from the 1950s to the present.
A paper at the frontlines of historic upheavals, Libération presents 50 Years Through the Eyes of Libé. The daily, which made “subverting the codes” its watchword in the 1980s, stands out for its photographic view of current events. The exhibition presents major commissions that document the spirit of the era. The spirit of protest is captured by Henri-Cartier Bresson, Raymond Depardon, William Klein, and Françoise Huguier.
Light, camera, action!
This year, Arles brings together photography and cinema in one of its key themes, Films in Images. The highlight is an Agnès Varda exhibition which will be held at the Cloître Saint Trophime. We discover her childhood in Sète, where her parents had settled down after the war. These photos went on to define her future in the cinema, starting with La pointe courte, which she shot a few years later.
In order to understand how the photographic image can lead to the moving image, the Rencontres invites the American Gregory Crewdson. This big-screen enthusiast uses cinematographic techniques to transform his native Pittsfield, Mass., into a setting worthy of a detective story. He shares this cinematographic approach with Wim Wenders whose Polaroids served as a reference during the filming of The American Friend in 1976.
In addition to its focus on the Seventh Art, Les Rencontres d’Arles spotlights various artists to discover how images are constructed, staged, and written. Thus, Théâtre optique features Pierre Zucca’s archive of film-set photography. In Mythes et clichés, Nicole Gravier explores the possibilities of photography alongside other art forms, such as the photo novel, the photo booth, or the postcard.
Reminiscences: when the photo reappears
Straddling history and memory, Casa Susanna unveils 340 photographs and Polaroids from the 1950s and 1960s found at a New York flea market. Showing men in drag dressed as homemakers, these images testify to the participation of photography in LGBTQIA+ identity struggles.
Rosângela Rennó, the winner of the Women in Motion Award, also posits a reflection on identity, death, and time. The artist collects and modifies images from different eras. Editing, erasing, superimposing: the photograph becomes only a trace of the past. The Polish photographer Zofia Kulik also works with archival images and tries her hand at photomontage. Her complex and multidimensional photographic compositions evoke religious imagery, but also painting, tapestry, or mandalas.
The director Christoph Wiesner was also keen to highlight the place of women in art and culture by emphasizing the importance of rediscovering the feminine scene in Europe. Featuring eighteen photographers from the five Nordic countries, Søsterskap revisits nearly seventy years of the history of the welfare state in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Meanwhile, the Finnish photographer Emma Sarpaniemi illustrates the poster of the Rencontres d’Arles in her Autoportrait en Cindy, offering a feminist gaze through the prism of photography.
54th Rencontres d’Arles. July 3 to September 24, 2023.