I usually have pictures in my mind when choosing a holiday destination. During the summer other obligations take a break and free up time and mind space for photography. Going on the type of holiday where you lie around at the beach for a week is not an option, unless I opt to document such a culture.
This is a travelogue describing my experience attending the opening week of the photography festival Les Rencontres d’Arles in southern France. The rough translation «The Encounters in Arles» somewhat describes the whole thing. The festival consisted of 19 exhibitions, most of them spread out in churches, halls and monasteries throughout the old center of Arles, in addition to discussions, guided tours and even a concert accompanied by a slideshow. The town itself is a maze of streets and alleys, dotted with squares. Walking from A to B is usually achieved by walking in some sort of general direction and hope you hit something familiar. But you need not walk far to encounter a festival exhibition, or even one of the many un-official ones. Seems every space in town is lined with photos, either in a shop, a storage hall or as paste-ups on the street, and every bookshop is bursting with photo books.
Every evening (save for the first, when the football cup took precedence) there were slideshows in the old roman open-air amphitheater built around the time Jesus walked the earth. The shows were a real treat, but the program in previous years may have been a lot better than this. Most of the shows were dominated by awards and presenting nominees. On the last night, a sort of ‘highlights’-video was shown as part of the «Parade» anniversary theme. Seeing a recording of Elliot Erwitt on the stage put the scope of the festival into view. However, the program this year was not much to write about, sadly…
I do not intend to make this a review of the festival, as many excellent writers have already done this. A should mention the absolute highlights though:
– Chema Madoz, one of my favorites. Check him out!
– Retrospective of The Prix Pictet, award for sustainability and photography. Extremely thought provoking images.
– David Bailey
– The collages of Vik Muniz
– The Walter Collection, containing some defining pieces from the history of photographs. The collection could be a festival in itself, covering both the history of the medium in all parts of the world, as well as commenting on current state of the world.
– Erik Kessels collection, a straight-in-your-face glance at eccentric dutch need to document and collect.
– Léon Gimpels war children
– Youngsoo Han, depicting the Korean recovery from war. Previously unknown document.
– Treasures of the Institute the France, a collection of photographs from early egyptology. A surprising addition to the festival, but still a really interesting look at photography as an important tool for scientists in the 19th century.
One of my main concerns after the festival is the path art photography, as presented here, has taken. The festival has embraces the term ‘vernacular photography’, and included an array of this in this years festival. The term refers to the plain, everyday and ordinary objects and situations. The term has led collectors to flea-markets looking for old family photos to re-use as art. Photographers shoot everyday, naïvistic photos and claim them as high art.
I ask myself, what does these works contribute to society? What can they teach us, or tell us about other people? I feel they speak of nothing but the artists loss of imagination.
I mentioned Chema Madoz. He arranges everyday objects into tableaus which, at second glance, shows the item disconnected from their use, still reflecting the original item. Øh, does that make sense? His pictures are clever, showing a lot of imagination and ingenuity, and love for his craft and for photography. The viewers are left amused and elated, looking at the world in a different way. The opposite is true for ‘vernacular’ «photographers», they give me the feeling they don’t give a damn…
The festival taught me that there is not enough humor in contemporary photography, the Madoz-exhibition being the enlightening exception.
I need to tell you about the mood of Arles during the week. Just like everyone is there for the music on a music festival, in Arles everyone is into photography. Towards the end of the week I got the feeling of being in a gigantic photo club, with everyone shooting everyone and agreeing photography is a neat thing. The feeling of being in a festival and not just an exhibition, is what I have tried to capture in the images below.