Arles is to photography just as Cannes is to film. Les Rencontres de la Photographie, one of the most prestigious and most acclaimed international photographic festivals, adopted this small Provençal town as its natural home in 1970, just as the mad genius of Van Gogh was captivated by the beauty of its colours and timeless atmosphere.
Time itself is the great protagonist of the 49th edition of the Festival which, under the direction of filmmaker Sam Stourdzé, is rereading the past while looking to the future, reflecting on the changes that have come about during our time and propelling us towards a post-human digital age. So, photography, as an extraordinary time machine.
This year’s theme is Back to the Future, split into a number of themed sections. Within just two months of eclectic and contemporary programmes – a constellation of (30) exhibitions, meetings, dialogues, exchanges and visions, capable of straddling time and space and featuring big names in photography and emerging talents – the Festival takes its visitors through different epochs: from 2018 to 1968, channelling that spirit of rebellion that believed it could change the world, across sixty years of America on the road, up to the narration of a possible future built on augmented and digital reality. The following are the three main sections.
AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
Bang in the middle of the Trump era, and sixty years on from the publication of Robert Frank’s book Les Americains, which unveiled a completely unknown side of the country, the Rencontres highlight American history as seen through the lens of five photographers – Robert Frank (1924, Switzerland), Raymond Depardon (1942, France), Paul Graham (1964, England), Taysir Batniji (1966, Palestine) and Laura Henno (1976, France) – all totally different in terms of approach and age, but brought together by the fact that none are native Americans. Their work takes us through Fifties America (Sidelines, Robert Frank) and the following decades, (Depardon USA, 1968-1999, Raymond Depardon), the increasingly marked class differences that divide the country today (The Whiteness of the Whale, Paul Graham), migrant cultural integration problems (Gaza to America, Home Away from Home, Taysir Batnij) and the peculiar existence of the inhabitants of the Slab City camp in the California desert (Redemption, Laura Henno).
RUN, COMRADE, THE OLD WORLD IS BEHIND YOU
Half a century on from the fateful year of 1968, which demolished a system of values hitherto considered unassailable, four exhibitions narrate the revolts, the utopias and the changes that marked that particular era. The exhibition 1968, What a story! Barricades, Expression, Repression, curated by Bernadette Caille, illustrates the revolts that set France aflame, with photographs and documents from the archives of the Paris Police Department. The Train, RFK’s Last Journey documents the death of Robert F. Kennedy and his presidential dream with picture after picture of the train journey carrying his casket from New York City to Washington. The photographic projects and videos by the artists Paul Fusco, Rein Jelle Terpstra and Philippe Parreno reveal three different perspectives on this key moment in American history, setting up an original dialogue between past and present. The exhibition Paradise! From Fos-sur-Mer to La Grande Motte: Between Dreams and Concrete uses largely hitherto unpublished images to document the changes wrought by the French State in the regions around the Rhone delta between the Sixties and Seventies. The Auroville Project, an installation by artists Christoph Draeger and Heidrun Holzfeind, featuring videos, sculptures, photos, objects and plants, illustrates the concept behind Auroville, South East India, designed to be a “universal [city], dedicated to an experiment in human unity.”
What does augmented humanity mean? What will the humans of the future be like? How does present-day man react to the progress of artificial intelligence? Where does spirituality come in? Four photographic shows are built around these questions. The H+ project by Swiss photographer Matthieu Gafsou explores our relationship with technology, with a reflection on the transhumanist movement, which harnesses the use of science and technological progress to boost human physical and mental capacities. With Midnight at the Crossroads, Cristina de Middel and Bruno Morais are lifting the lid on the African spirituality that runs through the veins of Latin America, in a journey taking in Benin, Cuba, Brazil and Haiti. In The Last Testament, Jonas Bendiksen portrays seven men, each hailed as the new Messiah, probing the fine line between religious faith and human salvation. Lastly, The Hobbyist. Looking for Passion, curated by Pierre Hourquet, Anna Planas and Thomas Seelig, explores the relationship between photography and the hobby culture.
The exhibition programme has yet more in store. The World As It Is explores the complexity of the current constantly shifting geopolitical situation. Platforms of the Visible illustrates the latest trends in documentary photography. Stylistic Figures reflects on the matter of style in the field of photography. Dialogues compares work by great artists in different parts of the world - from Godard to Picasso, by way of Pigalle and Barrio Chino. Emergences is a festival within a festival, scoping new talents. Arles Books illustrates the creative avant-garde of photo books. What’s more, there are many attendees with their own individual projects and a large number of programmes associated with Les Rencontres. Fans of industrial architecture should make a beeline for the Luma Foundation, where Frank Gehry’s tower is under construction, and view the exhibition space conversion by Selldorf Architects.
The exhibitions run until 23rd September, every day from 10am to 7.30pm, in various locations.
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