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The Festival du Regard: The Call of the Night

The theme of the 7th Festival du Regard de Cergy-Pontoise is “Bonjour la nuit!” Here are some handpicked images from among fifteen or so exhibitions featuring some twenty photographers.

Over the past seven years, the Festival du Regard has asserted its identity with each iteration, always rising up to the challenge of taking the visitors to a place out of the ordinary. After the former Post Office and the EDF tower, this year it’s the wing of a shopping mall slated for demolition.

“It was a real tour de force to transform about twenty storefronts, that is to say about 2000 square meters, into an exhibition space in just a few weeks,” says Sylvie Hugues, artistic co-director, with Mathilde Terraube. The core of the Festival du Regard is working closely with galleries in order to bring high-quality prints and make room for historical and classic works. 

This year is no exception. Some examples: originals of Brassaï’s “Paris by Night” and Loewy & Puiseux’s “Photographic Atlas of the Moon” (presented by the Françoise Paviot Gallery); Léon Gimpel’s illuminations of Paris (by the Société française de Photographie); René Burri’s “Blackout New York (1965)” (by Magnum Photos, the René Burri Foundation, and the Musée Photo Elysée Lausanne); Anders Peterson and unpublished works—ta-da!—from the “Café Lehmitz” series (1970s), accompanied by the more recent “Stockholm” series (presented by the Jean-Kenta Gauthier Gallery).

The diversity of photographic creation

The other secret of this festival’s success is telling stories, whether big or small, stories of photography or stories by contemporary writers offering their view of the world.

Kleinchen Rose And Mona, Cafe Lehmitz, 1967-1970, courtesy Jean-Kenta Gauthier gallery. © Anders Petersen
Swallow in front of the gate 1990, courtesy of Esther Woerdehoff Gallery. © Evgen Bavcar

As usual, we appreciate the diversity of photographic creation, starting with documentary approaches that place as much emphasis on information as on woolgathering. This is true of Thierry Cohen and his “Villes éteintes [Extinguished Cities]”, a series realized between 2010 and 2012, about the light pollution in cities obscuring the night sky. The series “Solar Portraits” by Rubén Salgado Escudero stems from research: 1.1 billion people on earth live without access to electricity. The Spanish photographer went to Mexico, India, and elsewhere to photograph them by the light of solar energy bulbs. Most of his subjects were discovering electric light for the first time. The series strangely echoes current events.

Nighttime equals nocturnal wandering, as depicted for example by Céline Croze in Caracas. Her work “Siempre Que”, published by Édition lamaindonne, has just won the Nadar Award. Night also evokes dangerous liaisons: see for example transgender women from Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina who prostitute themselves at the risk of their lives in the Bois de Boulogne. Françoise Evenou followed Angelica, Estrella, Jessica, Maria, Melissa, Tily, and Vanessa for 18 months, between 2020 and 2021: “I photographed and recorded them. Every time, I was deeply touched by their life stories, their strength of character, and their dignity,” says the photographer. 

Taharqa and the night, courtesy of Clémentine de la Féronnière gallery © Juliette Agnel

The festival makes room for contemplation

The night is also the time of voyeurs: the Japanese photographer Kohei Yoshiyoki, who died earlier this year, portrayed it in “The Park (1971)”, a series made using infrared film and a strobe flash with a filter, which infused these strange, disturbing scenes with a peculiar aesthetic. The images show couples making love and voyeurs spying on them. “What really appealed to me was the radical transformation of the park and the contrast between day and night. By day, this is a family place, but at night it becomes a playground for lovers and voyeurs, it’s a whole other world!”.

“Dirty Windows” made in New York in 1993 by Merry Alpern explores the same theme. Posted at a window in a friend’s apartment, the photographer captured prostitutes’ tricks; drugs and money changing hands between the staff and the customers of a clandestine strip club. This beautiful series hasn’t aged a bit.

When better to dream than at night? From Laure Vasconi and backyard Christmas lights in the U.S. to Todd Hido and his American suburbs, to Juliette Agnel and her enchanted landscapes of Pharaoh Taharqa’s Sudan, the festival makes room for contemplation.

Evgen Bavcar, a photographer blind since the age of eleven, gives us some of the most poetic images. As Roland Topor used to say, “When night falls, we see more clearly.”

Lighting, Galeries Lafayette, Paris, December 1, 1933. Positive photograph : glass autochrome, color, 9x12cm © Léon Gimpel

7th Festival du Regard, Centre commercial Les 3 Fontaines, Cergy-Pontoise, France. October 14 to November 27, 2022

Dirty Windows, courtesy galerie Miranda. © Merry Alpern

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