Since its inception in 1970, Les Rencontres d’Arles has been a major influence in disseminating the best of world photography, becoming a springboard for photographic and contemporary creative talents. Taking place in Arles, South of France, Les Rencontres d’Arles is set among the town’s crumbling Roman treasures, shady squares and bountiful pockets of Camarguais culture. Immortalised in hundreds of Van Gogh’s works, Arles has always inspired artistic sentiment.The festival plays on this, hosting exhibitions across its much-loved, instantly recognisable heritage sites, with 12th-century chapels and 19th-century industrial buildings transforming into bustling photographic stages.
Now in its 49th year, Les Rencontres d’Arles promises a breathtaking, celestial photographic journey that looks to the past while facing the future. Acknowledging photography’s unique position to reveal hard truths, Sam Stourdzé, director of the festival, writes of how “photography is often the best-placed medium for registering all the shocks that remind us the world is changing, sometimes right before our eyes.” The series of exhibitions relate to formative events that have taken place throughout the last century, seeking to parallel our current experience and uncertain future.
There is a focus on the seismic year of 1968, with a historical segment, Run Comrade, The Old World is Behind You commemorating ‘the year that changed the world’, a watershed year for French society, as well as a year of great upheavals internationally. Shown through archival images of civil unrest, alongside works from Argentine artist Marcelo Brodsky that depict worldwide protests, and Paul Fusco’s seminal work, RFK Funeral Train, the exhibition lends an international perspective to this historical moment.
Jumping forward 50 years into the present, we find ourselves in controversial times once again. Augmented Humanity considers the emergence of digital man, both a fascinating and troubling feat. The exhibition draws our attention to a scope of uncomfortable realities; the victory of artificial intelligence over human intelligence, how health and security are now managed on screens, also entering the realm of the cyborg to consider the impact of transhumanism on the human condition.
This edition’s monumental programme of events is a promise of what might come next year, when OpenWalls will put on a month-long exhibition at Galerie Huit Arles, a stunning 17th-century mansion and gallery space that has been at the heart of photography in Arles for over a decade, to coincide with the festival. 50 successful images will be on show at the gallery, throughout Les Rencontres d’Arles 2019, and three finalists will be invited out to Arles to view the show and surrounding exhibitions in person.
Although the programme for next year’s festival is yet to be announced, you can expect a number of confirmed fixtures, such as the Luma Rencontres Dummy Award, and symposia and panel discussions from some of the world’s most celebrated artists. Each year, Les Rencontres d’Arles also promises a number of surprising events, which in the past have included a Christopher Lacroix fashion show, and a Patti Smith concert at the Vu agency’s 20th anniversary.
In its 49 years, Les Rencontres d’Arles has confirmed its significance and prestige partly through its commitment to showing material that has never before been seen by the public. It has launched the careers of many photographers, by bringing together thousands of industry leaders and peers to view previously unknown works. In 2016, the festival broke a record, with more than 100,000 visitors coming to Arles during the month-long series of events. OpenWalls Arles is your chance to get your work seen on this world stage, and to immerse yourself in the world’s most established photofestival.