The biggest and most important festival of photography in Europe, the Rencontres d’Arles, returns to its home in the south of France this year, following its closure last year.
Every summer since 1970, the historic city of Arles has welcomed photographers, collectors, authors, curators, and enthusiasts to its ancient streets in order to celebrate photographic marvels and developments. The biggest names in photography, like Nan Goldin, Raymond Depardon, and Wang Qingsong have participated in this grand festival, which has also welcomed important cultural figures, including home-grown icons, like the fashion designer Christian Lacroix.
The Rencontres d’Arles was founded in 1969, by one of France’s most evocative black-and-white photographers, Lucien Clergue, along with author Michel Tournier, and historian Jean-Marie Rouquette. At that time, photography was still considered a minor art form, and didn’t have the reach or prominence it does today. The festival has since grown from a bunch of small encounters between like-minded photography enthusiasts, to receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe, and forging the careers of photography’s brightest talents.
Spread out over an expansive three months, the festival offers its guests an initial week of events, including conferences and debates, then a further series of photography workshops, guided tours of the heritage sites and the exhibitions, and professional training. The festival takes place throughout the city, and around forty photography exhibitions are held in a diverse list of locations; ranging from important heritage sites like the 13th century Église des Dominicains Frères-Prêcheurs, to the unusual Monoprix, one of the standard French department stores that appears across the country.
Even when the festival is over, the photography doesn’t stop. The Rencontres d’Arles Collection holds nearly 3,500 photographs which have been contributed by exhibiting photographers over the years. The practice started in 1976, when each participating photographer was invited to donate one of his works to the collection. Now, with each new festival, more works are added to this growing archive, which the Rencontres curates and protects, and promotes to new audiences.
The Gallery Pick
Since it’s unlikely anyone will be leaving the country to visit the Rencontres d’Arles this summer, we’ve got a top five pick of photographers. You can find more information about the photographers and their projects on the Rencontres d’Arles website, or look them up separately.
The Poverty Line by Chow and Lin
Creating a visual dictionary of poverty across 36 countries, this project takes each country’s individual definition of poverty and translates it into food. Photographed against the local daily newspaper, these food items appear as objects, rather than nourishment. Always identifiable, they show the unstoppable march of globalisation across the world. This book won the LUMA Rencontres Dummy Book Award at the Rencontres d’Arles in 2019.
Sibadala Sinbancane by Lebogang Tlhako
Part of the Africa2020 season, Tlhako’s project explores the photographer’s relationship with her mother. Meaning “we are old, we are young,” the project looks at how that relationship shaped the woman Tlhako has become. Shot on 35mm film, the work also rediscovers the nostalgia of album-making through Tlhako’s use of collage, which combines images from her mother’s own personal albums.
Sabine Weiss, A Photographer’s Life
French photographer Sabine Weiss will, at 96 years old, be the subject of a huge retrospective this summer. The show will feature highlights from her photographic career, which spanned many fields, from advertising to editorial, and reportage to personal. Weiss received the Rencontres d’Arles and Kering ‘Women in Motion’ award for Photography 2020 for her entire career.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Portraits
Stéphan Gladieu’s series of individual portraits of North Koreans goes completely against the prevailing tradition of collective portraiture, and collective thinking, in the Asian continent. Gladieu’s fascination with an administration that survived where other authoritarian regimes crumbled is reflected in his approach; he flirts ironically with the visual tenets of propaganda imagery through his use of frontal poses and strict composition, but shoots individual rather than group portraits.
Being Present, Pieter Hugo
Part of the Africa2020 season, and featuring over 100 head and shoulder portraits taken since the early 2000s, this exhibition is an examination of Hugo’s commitment to this style of portraiture. Rooted in the forensic, scientific, and surveillance photography of the 19th and 20th centuries, this style of objective portraiture was popularised by Dusseldorf School photographers like Thomas Ruff, who captured passport-style photographs of completely unemotional individuals. In Hugo’s own words: “My work is about the notion of being an outsider… There is beauty in being held in the gaze of another.”
Find out more about the Rencontres d’Arles festival through the website, here:
APPRECIATING PHOTOGRAPHY: TIPS TO START COLLECTING
So, you want to start collecting photography, but don’t quite know how or where to begin? In the first installment of this series on Appreciating Photography, we suggest some helpful methods you can use as you start your collecting journey.
Why collect photography…
The best reason to buy anything is that you cannot imagine living without it. What’s interesting about photography is that its market has expanded hugely since the 1980s, making it more available, popular, and easier than ever to start collecting. It doesn’t even matter what kind of photography you’re keen on, there’s something for every taste.
Where to start…
Most galleries nowadays operate online as well as through gallery spaces and at art fairs, so you can see a huge variety of artworks on individual gallery websites. Most sites also offer a search function, so if you’re stuck for ideas you can try searching for keywords to get started.
How to start…
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to something as subjective as art, so think about what appeals to you. It could be landscape photography, nighttime imagery, or maybe you like bold shapes and vivid colours; once you start looking you’ll soon find that any field of fine art photography is hugely varied because there is no one way of interpreting a subject matter or theme. Keep in mind that it is better to have too many choices than not enough.
Creating a collection…
So, you’re starting to gather some ideas and want to see how things look. Think about starting a mood-board, or at least a collection of images you like. Whether it’s a physical book that you’re sticking images into, or a Pinterest board, this process can stimulate fresh ideas. It will show you how photographs might look next to each other, or in one space. It can also tell you what doesn’t work or what you don’t like, which is just as important!
Getting in the gallery door…
Visiting a gallery and being surrounded by images is a really valuable way of gauging your reaction to a photograph the moment you see it hanging on a wall. Although it might still not be possible to do this right now, don’t discount it. The next best thing to do is ask the gallery for high resolution images of the photograph, which can give you a better idea of the details of the print. When you are in contact with the gallery, ask practical questions, like the size of the edition, the pricing ladder, or any queries you have about the print type.