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Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Magasin Electrique. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Magasin Electrique. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Magasin Electrique. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Atelier des Forges. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Atelier des Forges. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Atelier des Forges. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Kechun Zhang. Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Kechun Zhang. Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Kechun Zhang. Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Kechun Zhang. Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Kechun Zhang. Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014, Kechun Zhang. Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Martin Parr and Wassinklundgren,
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Martin Parr and Wassinklundgren, "Chinese photobook". Bureau des lices. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Martin Parr and Wassinklundgren, "Chinese photobook". Bureau des lices. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Martin Parr and Wassinklundgren,
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Martin Parr and Wassinklundgren, "Chinese photobook". Bureau des lices. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Martin Parr and Wassinklundgren, "Chinese photobook". Bureau des lices. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Martin Parr and Wassinklundgren,
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Martin Parr and Wassinklundgren, "Chinese photobook". Bureau des lices. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Martin Parr and Wassinklundgren, "Chinese photobook". Bureau des lices. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Liu Zheng,
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Liu Zheng, "The Chinese Photobook". Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Liu Zheng, "The Chinese Photobook". Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Bons baisers des colonies, Bureau des Lices. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Bons baisers des colonies, Bureau des Lices. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Bons baisers des colonies, Bureau des Lices. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Léon Gimpel,
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Léon Gimpel, "Kids at War". Eglise des Fréres-Precheurs. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Léon Gimpel, "Kids at War". Eglise des Fréres-Precheurs. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Magasin Electrique. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Magasin Electrique. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Magasin Electrique. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Festival Voies Off.
Festival Voies Off. "Spasibo" exhibition by Davide Monteleone. Hotel de Luppé, Arles. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Festival Voies Off. "Spasibo" exhibition by Davide Monteleone. Hotel de Luppé, Arles. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Festival Voies Off.
Festival Voies Off. "Spasibo" exhibition by Davide Monteleone. Hotel de Luppé, Arles. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Festival Voies Off. "Spasibo" exhibition by Davide Monteleone. Hotel de Luppé, Arles. Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Raymond Depardon
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Raymond Depardon "France", Eglise des frères prêcheurs. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Raymond Depardon "France", Eglise des frères prêcheurs. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Melanie Bonajo, Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Melanie Bonajo, Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Melanie Bonajo, Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Patrick Swirc, Montmajour Abbey. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Patrick Swirc, Montmajour Abbey. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Patrick Swirc, Montmajour Abbey. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Lucien Clergue, Musée Réattu. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Lucien Clergue, Musée Réattu. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Lucien Clergue, Musée Réattu. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Prix Picte retrospective: Nadav Kander. Magasin électrique. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Prix Picte retrospective: Nadav Kander. Magasin électrique. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Prix Picte retrospective: Nadav Kander. Magasin électrique. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Parc des Ateliers. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Parc des Ateliers. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Parc des Ateliers. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Will Steacy, Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Will Steacy, Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Will Steacy, Atelier de Chaudronnerie. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Vik Muniz,
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Vik Muniz, "Album". Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. Vik Muniz, "Album". Ph © Mariateresa dell'Aquila.

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. David Bailey at the Église Saint-Anne. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù
Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. David Bailey at the Église Saint-Anne. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014. David Bailey at the Église Saint-Anne. Ph © Gabriele Magazzù

Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014: comebacks, repetitions, variations.

It was a known fact that the latest edition of Rencontres had been born under a particular star. Even prior to its commencement, a number of people in the industry had turned up their nose for various reasons, which can all easily be linked to the change of management of the kermesse.

Therefore a premise is quite suitable: after working on the festival at the end of the Eighties, Frençois Hebel returns in 2001 to revitalise an event that was collapsing under debts and boasting a mere 9,000 visitors per year. In the span of just a decade, the organizational and financial plan of Hebel’s has secured the festival big private sponsors, an ever-growing acclaim from the audience and the expansion of Recontres within the massive Parc des Ateliers area - the former train workshops which later became the “solid ground” of the festival for years. It is understood that it is exactly these workshops that are causing Hebel’s resignations. The town of Arles has sold them to LUMA Foundation and they are now set to become a 20-acre campus for visual arts - thus moving away Recontres, de facto. Hebel’s dismay must have been just so enormous to lead to his resigning.

As we had previously noted here, this edition originates from the intent to celebrate the glories of the past, by displaying the images of photographers (and of one designer) who have left a mark in the festival history. An exhibition of the “family jewelry” - Depardon, Clergue, Lacroix, Bailey - from quite differentiated and omni-comprehensive private collections, in addition to new photography and photo books from all around the globe. The overall set-up is certainly worth a special mention: great care and attention to detail informed each display, which at times resulted in defining the code and meaning of the entire exhibit.

Scattered all around town, Depardon’s images of the Great War memorials in France have an interesting documental value. However, the installation created with photos taken by common people is definitely more attractive - featuring slideshows submerged in the dark and accompanied by randomly alternating sounds captured on the field. On the same location, a blood-red hallway takes the visitor to Leon Gimpel’s tiny backlit images, where the children of 1915 were staging the tragedies of the adult world.

Great attention is given to two notable Arlesians: Lucien Clergue, with the pictures that made him famous – nudes, Picasso and Cocteau, the Camargue’s Gipsies – exhibited at the Musée Réattu, and fashion designer Christian Lacroix, with his collection of contemporary depictions of the Arlésienne - Arles’ iconic traditional female character.

Portraiture is granted great room, too. David Bailey’s portraits of celebrity and common people were beautiful indeed, although (perhaps) much too self-referential. The photos by Swirc and Perez were interesting – and wonderfully located at the Abbaye de Montmajour. slightly factitious As for Rouvre’s portraits of common people, they resulted to be slightly artificial, whereas Vik Muniz’s large photo-collages must be acclaimed for the impressive technical brilliance and imagery.

The collections aroused mixed feelings. Which good is to favour between the collection as a way of exhibiting and the photographs?
We deem the Hunt collection somewhat unattractive. Although skillfully sorted, it merely stacks hundreds of pictures depicting fraternities, clubs and every kind of associative group in 1940s America.
On the other hand, the Walther collection is wisely divided into three sections (typology, taxonomy and seriality), thus bringing together authors varying in terms of style, geography and time: from Sander, Avedon, Bernd and Hilla Becher, to Malick Sidibé and Samuel Fosso, to Seydou Keïta and Araki.
Equally captivating are the Trepat collection (curated by Joan Fontcuberta) that reveals the industrialist signature of the Spanish avant-garde between the two World Wars, and the Bons Baisers des colonies exhibition, a collection of exotic/erotic postcards from the former French colonies.

Deemed annoying or irritating by some viewers, the Chinese Photobook exhibition curated by Matin Parr and Dutch duo VassinkLundgren is probably the most interesting set-up of this year’s Rencontres. Upon receiving torches at the entrance, visitors wander through red-lit rooms and corridors. Each room contains glass table-displays and cases, with dozens of photo-books published in China between the early XX century to the present day - a proper photographic inventory covering Imperial China, the Japanese occupation and Communist China. We agree on the fact that orientating in semi-obscurity handing a torch amongst these volumes (including a number of propaganda pamphlets, and solely alternated by a few slideshows) is not exactly what the average visitor is accustomed to. Having said that, the exhibition does constitute a real exploration, a discovering game of unknown pictures from the past that eventually lands to contemporaries of the likes of Liu Zheng and Patrick Tsai.

The wide space of Ateliers hosts miscellaneous materials: a crowded and ever-interesting selection on photo-books – amongst which Hidden Islam by Niccolò DeGiorgis (winner of the Author Book Award) really shines; Small Universe, an unremarkable selection of Dutch “trivial photography”, with the exception of Melanie Bonajo’s crying self-shots; and the good Prix Pictet retrospective, featuring Nadav Kander and Luc Delahaye amongst others.

Within the Discovery Award selection (managed by five international curators) we were pleasantly stunned by Kechun Zhang with his subtly estranging pictures of the Yellow River, Korean Youngsoo Han with his revival of post-war times, and Will Steacy, patient narrator of a newspaper’s daily life spanning through three decades until its final closing.

Finally, we would like to point out two young photographers from the annual SFR Young Talents contest - Serena de Sanctis and Delphine Schacher. Whilst the former displayed the pictures of her father Dino, a mechanic, subtly caught between detachment and personal involvement, the latter presented her take on timeless country life, drenched in a thin light.

What to gather from this edition of the Rencontres, then? Aside from the “family reunion” imprint, the festival could be used as an indicator of current tendencies in photography. There is an undeniable strong return of the series as a projectual form, perhaps marked by an excessive and auto-referential display of mundane details – now conceptually flimsy. A different - and promising - direction seems to be drawn from the intersection between documentary, reportage, and contemporary art practice: capturing and describing places, events and people. With no explicit formalism, but through great attention to the intimate and immediate value images are capable of achieving. Often taking their time, using medium and large formats.
Wide presence of manipulated images, from old-fashioned ways as collage, to digital pastiche and the production of photo-objects, at the same time exposing and incorporating images.
On a different note, little room was left to video and multimedia, which were used as back-ups to the general presentation rather than tools and approaches that are actually investing today’s photography more and more increasingly.
We also witnessed a positive “revival” - so to speak - of the photo-book. In the era of intangible images, there is a manifest search for the need to give projects concrete form, volume, shape and scent.

A great deal of pictures and observations spark from this short report, that we tried to shape in the most exhaustive – and hopefully interesting – way we could. Regardless of the controversy around management and contents, the Rencontres retain their precious role of being a point of reference for contemporary photography. New director Sam Stourdzé is invested with the arduous task of constant and ever-growing betterment, whilst preserving the festival’s original spirit.

 

Italian text by Gabriele Magazzù

Photographs by Mariateresa dell'Aquila and Gabriele Magazzù

 

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