August 08, 2010

Les Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles : 40 years of existence

By Lauren Hasty

The annual rendez-vous for international photography, Les Rencontres de la Photographie, in Arles, France kicked off on July 3rd and lasts until September 19th. The festival, which presents exhibitions in various locations throughout the city’s historic quarters, has become, after 40 years of existence, one the most important photography festivals in the world.
Spectacle, 2003  © Fundación Augusto y León Ferrari
This year’s Guest of Honor is the Argentine artist Leon Ferrari, who won the Golden Lion at the 2007 Venice Biennale. A collection of his works is on display in Saint Anne’s Church and ironically highlights the artist’s tendency towards blasphemy and the denunciation of the Catholic Church. The exhibition features such pieces as Spectacle, 2003, which shows a young woman mooning a group of Apostles.
View of Ernst Haas exhibition held in the Cloitre saint Trophime
Two politically charged exhibitions not to be missed are the portraits of “Mothers of the Disappeared” by Marcos Adandia, and “The Other History” by Zhang Dali. The first, shows pictures of some of the many mothers whose children seemingly evaporated without a trace during the “Dirty Years” of military dictatorship in Argentina (1976-1983). Every Thursday afternoon these women, now elderly, walk together in a circle around the Plaza de Mayo, Argentina’s symbolic site of freedom. The later, offers 130 tricked photos, powerful tools of propaganda in Mao’s China. By placing the negative next to the original image, the artist reveals startling differences, and analyzed versions of the pictures show how the undesirable sections were manipulated to offer utopist political scenes.
French Minister of the Culture, Frédéric Mitterrand, during the inauguration of the Festival
This year, the Musée Reattu offers the first institutional retrospective of photographer Pierre Jahan (1909-2003). The exposition covers a twenty year span of the artist’s career from 1930-1950 offering an extraordinarily intimate peek at the quotidian life of a photographer living in post-war Paris. The 150 images assembled offer portraits of urban landscapes in the 1940’s, snapshots of Jahan’s experimentation with the surreal, an image collections inspired by both the artist’s poetry and that of Jean Cocteau, and a fascinating collection of photographs clandestinely taken during the German occupation. While the city was under siege, and the extreme measures called for the melting of countless municipal bronze statues for both artillery purposes and the preparation of a large sculpture honoring the Reich by Arno Becker, Hitler’s appointed sculptor, Jahan was there to capture the moment. One of the best features the Mona Lisa, one of many chef d’oeuvres confiscated by the German army during the war, being restored to the Louvre after the liberation.
Pierre Jahan, Observing the Mona Lisa, Paris, 17 juin 1945 © Pierre Jahan. Courtesy of Objectif. Ed. Marval, 1994
A touching exhibition of works by Mario Giacomelli can be found at La Chapelle Saint Martin du Méjan. The Italian artist, whose strong images manage to capture some of the most personal moments, offers a glimpse at the young lovers who’ve stolen away for a frolic in the countryside (Un Uomo, una Donna, un Amore), or the elderly couple who still kiss like young newlyweds in the hospice where the artist’s mother worked doing laundry. The artist’s touch is so fine, so delicate, that it’s as if those being photographed don’t even know he’s there.
© Mario Giacomelli, Scanno 1957-1959
A fun take on a dying art is offered in the “Polaroid in Peril” pavilion at l’Espace Van Gogh, where one finds approximately 100 pictures coming from the 4000+ collection of the Polaroid Foundation. The small Polaroid camera captured many a happy memory for the children growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, before being abruptly forgotten in the wake of digital technology.
Oliviero Toscani , Andy with a Camera, 1975 © Oliviero Toscani. Courtesy The Polaroid Collections / Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne
At the Eglise des Frères Prêcheurs, one can walk through a labyrinth of excerpts from the extensive collection of French independent film director and producer, and founder of the powerful film distribution company, MK2, Marin Karmitz. The collected works, presented by arguably the most important French photography gallery, La Galerie VU’, shows the work of 12 artists including Anne Messager, Christian Boltanski and Dieter Appelt. The exhibition has been extensively reviewed in a book released this year, Un parcours dans la collection photographique de Marin Karmitz (A journey through the photographic collection of Marin Karmitz), editions Actes Sud, by the gallery’s founder, Christian Caujolle.
A delightful exhibition based on the analogy of shooting a picture and shooting a gun SHOOT! LA PHOTOGRAPHIE EXISTENTIELLE , is to be seen at the Atelier de Maintenance. The candid exposition, considered by Le Monde to be the most original and interesting, is curated by Centre Pompidou’s Clément Chéroux. The exposition was inspired by a once extremely popular carnival attraction that has now become obsolete where one aims a gun to take a picture and all those who hit the target walked away with a self-portrait, however, Chéroux says he’s not rendering homage to the forgotten attraction, but rather its metaphorical significance. Photographic vocabulary he explains, load, aim, shoot, suggests a relationship between killing and photography, and thus taking a photo, is a way of capturing a moment that has passed on, allowing the image to live indefinitely. Among many anonymous photos one finds a poignant group compiling photographs taken by amateur photographer Ria van Dijk, a Dutch woman who experimented with the photo shoot for the first time in 1963 at age 16 - and continued to do so with a commendable determination - except during the war - for over sixty years leaving images of a bright eyed young woman graduallymetamorphosing into a white-haired elderly lady. Also on display are renowned personalities such as Jean Cocteau and Federico Fellini, and photographers Man Ray, Lee Miller and Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others. One can’t help but link the title to the photograph of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who regularly practiced taking photographs at carnivals, and were without a doubt inspired by the eminently existential art of being at once photographically incarnated and symbolically annihilated.
Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Satre, Paris Porte d’Orleans, June 1929 © Jazz Editions/Gamma/Eyedea
 Along with the exhibitions found through the city, this year’s Village des Rencontres, the meeting place for photography professionals, offered a few pleasant and unexpected surprises. Galleries, editors, private collectors and professionals from across the globe united to present outstanding photography discoveries, both old and new. A highlight was the Japanese artist Hal, whose work is represented by Parisian art dealer Sophie Boursat. The young artist’s photographs of actual couples in colorful, quirky situations explode with energy and joie de vivre, and will not remain unknown for long.
Hal, Pinky & Killer, 2004 © Hal. Courtesy of Sophie Boursat,
60 expositions from July 3rd until September 19th
Open daily from 10 am – 7 pm

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