Arles in the South of France is defined today by a strong relation to photography. This year is the 50th anniversary of the start of the Rencontres d’Arles festival, where all forms of photography are celebrated. The city has changed as has the forms in which photography finds its ways of expression.
The festival was founded by photographers and curators Lucien Clergue, Michel Tournier and Jean-Maurice Roquette in their hometown. In half a century it has grown into a vast summer long ritual for all photography enthusiasts. As the festival director Sam Stourdzé points out, the city’s identity with historic landmarks, has been transformed by a contemporary art form, photography.
This year the start of the festival coincided with the opening of a new building for the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie, designed by Marc Barani. The photography school will mark a new era in Arles. Built close to the Luma Arles arts foundation, the city will continue expanding outside the historic centre.
Maja Hoffman, the founder of Luma Foundation, has a mission to activate the city and local culture with arts and contemporary architecture. She started working for the photography festival as Lucien Clergue’s assistant, when still a student. Since 2014 Luma Arles has been hosting exhibitions at the Parc des Ateliers, where old industrial halls have been transformed into 12000 square metres of gallery space. It’s now the largest exhibition area during the festival.
There are over fifty exhibitions in total of different sizes, spread around Arles, also as satellite events in surrounding cities and historic sites. Beautiful historic monuments, such as Abbaye de Montmajour outside Arles, have been converted to galleries during the festival. In a city with such a strong heritage of Roman and Romanesque architecture, the history adds another layer to the experience.
Environment and domestic spaces are key themes this year at the Rencontres. Some humanistic views into the history of architecture, concern for the planet as well as the changing standards of living, are pressing topics amongst the many issues explored.
At Abbaye de Montmajour a series documenting the works by French architect Fernand Pouillon in Algeria is beautifully showcased. A joint project by Daphné Bengoa and Leo Fabrizio aims to show the human aspect in Pouillon’s architecture. Pouillon is a controversial figure and has designed some important post-war constructions. Bengoa says she developed a deep understanding of the complex questions and the humanity in Pouillon’s oeuvre during this project.
Exhibition titled Dataspace in central Arles is housed at Église des Frères Prêcheurs. French photographer Philippe Chancel’s work is an outcome of fifteen years of documenting the decline of our planet. Through an interest in ecology and environmental questions, Chancel’s classic documentary style photos describe a world in crisis and the complex issues of globalisation. Showcased in the historic space, the display gains an extra layer of meaning.
The VR presentations provide a channel for immersive experiences, where photographic images are used as a starting point for complex visual explorations. Danish artist Jakob Kudsk Steensen’s work Re-Animate, created in collaboration with sound artists, animators and scientists, was awarded a special mention from the jury.”Through VR I can offer a viewpoint unlike any other media, going very close to nature and showing it on another scale”, Steensen said.
Les Rencontres d’Arles 1.7-22.9.2019