Les Rencontres de la Photographie

“Les Rencontres de la Photographie” has Arles buzzing with a whole range of venues, attracting a host of visitors, each one in search of a different light – personal or that of others – to contemplate.

Les Rencontres de la Photographie
After moving to Arles in 1888, Van Gogh apparently loved to stroll past the ancient buildings and yellow-tinted walls of the old city, perhaps because their uniquely porous material reflected the city’s special light on the Rhone.

For more than 45 years, that same and virtually unchanged summer light has bathed “Les Rencontres de la Photographie”, a festival founded in 1970 by the photographer Lucien Clergue – an 80-year-old artist who showed his photographs to Picasso in Arles.

As occurs every year, the festival now has Arles buzzing with a whole range of venues – from 12th-century churches to industrial buildings. Fifty scattered exhibitions, encounters, debates, events, guided tours, workshops, photography nights, posters and books are attracting a host of photographers, tourists, musicians, journalists, professionals and collectors, each one in search of a different light – personal or that of others - to contemplate.

Les Rencontres de la Photographie
Top: Patrick Willocq, Walé Asongwaka Takes Off. Above: Miguel Mitlag, T.V. Set

Parade is the theme of this year’s event, partly devised as a goodbye to Francois Hebel in his last year of 15 as its artistic director. This photographic procession features famous names such as the British portraitist David Bailey and French photographer Raymond Depardon but also other exceptional “eyes”.

The photographers in the Prix Découvert section are a special draw as it showcases the work of ten professionals presented by five major names from the world of photography. Displayed in a huge industrial space outside the city centre – for which Frank Gehry has designed a conceptual art gallery funded by the Luma Foundation – this section has announced Chinese photographer Kechun Zhang as its winner with The Yellowstone River Surging Northward Thunderously series.

Les recontres de la photographie
Katherina Gaenssler, HD (Hanne Darboven studio) Tower, 2012. Photo installation (setting up) by Florian Härle. (Courtesy Barbara Gross Galerie, Munich.)

Katharina Gaenssler

For 12+ years now, Katharina Gaenssler has used the photographic medium for her installation work, deconstructing and reconstructing spaces often linked to artwork production and display. Presented by Quentin Bajac, the new Chief Curator of Photography at New York’s MoMA, this German artist, born in 1974, uses thousands of pictures that are taken from different angles and often collected in the book-objects that accompany her installations. The result is a staggering kaleidoscope that throws onlookers, who lack their standard points of reference. In some of her projects, Katharina appropriates the spaces and details of other works to create collages inspired by Cubism or Futurism. As in Arles, these are then placed on walls to become unique executions.

Ilit Azoulay

Quentin Bajac is also presenting Ilit Azoulay, an Israeli photographer born in Jaffa in 1972. She goes looking for and reflects on the memory possessed by places. Using photography and software, she painstakingly and scrupulously produces works that conserve traces of places about to be destroyed and then reconstructs them on computer in her studio. As they are reconstructed in large scale images, they undergo a radical transformation and Azoulay’s artificial sites prompt questions about sight and perception, showing that the memory may sometimes surface but it also sometimes remains hidden.

Les rencontres de la photographie
Nadav Kander, Priozersk II, (Tulip in Bloom), Kazakhstan 2011.

Mitch Epstein

The huge and evocative Parc des Ateliers is also hosting the Prix Pictet section, displaying new works by the first photographers to win the prestigious award, established in 2008 and centred on sustainable development. As well as photographs by Benoit Aquin, Nadav Kender and Luc Delahaye, those in American photographer Mitch Epstein’s New York Arbor series are a must-see. His b/w photographs immortalise the majesty, resilience and might of the trees growing in New York’s parks, shopping centres, gardens, cemeteries and sidewalks, often adapting to their surroundings and defying all laws of physics. The Pictet 2011 award-winner spent nearly two years travelling across five districts of the Big Apple, his home city, seeking out unusual forms and often returning to places in different temperatures and seasons – in a quest for that nature so often hidden by urban architecture.

Les Rencontres de la Photographie
Kechun Zhang, Man Pumping Water in Wasteland, Ningxia Province, 2011.

The W. M. Hunt Collection

An assortment that is certainly wacky and perhaps a little stupid, like any self-respecting manic assembly, features in the “Collection W.M. HUNT” exhibition at the Palais de l'Archeveché. Mr Hunt is an American dealer and writer obsessed with pictures of groups and mad people who has turned his fixation into a striking and fascinating photographic archive of mysterious, and very Kubrick-like, photographs taken in pre-1950 America. All long and horizontal, some are contained in frames made out of cigar boxes by homeless people. There are male and female workers, beauty queens, swimmers, nuns, boxers, middle-class attendees of exclusive clubs and American Ku Klux Klan members; all are photographed at parties, reunions, prize-givings or ceremonies. All have their own expression, their own life and a specific place, at least in the photograph.

The Trepat Collection

Works from the Trepat Collection of Modern Photography, curated by the critic Joan Fontcuberta, also feature on the long list of “Rencontres” exhibitions, and are presented alongside the ancient exhibits of the Musée Départemental de l'Arles Antique. The industry of the magnate Josep Trepat Galceran, who started manufacturing farm machinery in 1914, became one of 20th-century Spain’s economic drives. Mr Trepat was also a huge photography enthusiast who adored – and sometimes commissioned for his machinery ads – Man Ray, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Alexander Rodchenko and all the historic avant-garde photographers who drew on sinuous industrial forms to inspire this new aesthetic form. His virtually unknown collection is on show in a pictorial testimony of the history of photography, from Cubism to New Objectivity, or Neue Sachlichkeit, and from Precisionism to Surrealism.

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