OpenWalls Arles 2020: An interview with Galerie Huit Arles

This year marks the launch of the second instalment of OpenWalls Arles, an award that elevates the work of emerging and established photographers by exhibiting their work in prestigious locations around the globe. For the second time, Galerie Huit Arles will host the OpenWalls Arles group exhibition which will coincide with Les Rencontres d’Arles, the world’s biggest photography festival.

OpenWalls Arles 2020 centres around the theme Growth, inviting photographers to submit work that conveys a sense of change or transition; whether that is in the form of personal growth, or changes happening in nature and the environment.

As we welcome submissions to this second edition, we revisit an interview with judge and exhibition host Julia de Bierre, the owner of Galerie Huit Arles.

Can you tell me about Galerie Huit Arles?

In 2007, I was fortunate to find a semi-ruined 17th century mansion right in the historic centre of Arles, with an extensive ground floor ideal for art exhibitions, and rooms above for artists’ residencies. At that time, there were very few independent galleries in Arles, so it was pioneering work. Now, the town absolutely buzzes with art galleries, both permanent and pop-up. My gallery specialises in photography, and its summer programme coincides with the Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival.

Over the years, the gallery has built a solid reputation for its careful selection of artists – both established and emerging – and the quality and originality of its hangings and installations. The diverse salon settings create an inspirational and convivial atmosphere, and we encourage visitors to take time to interact with the work.

What is the atmosphere at the gallery like during Les Rencontres d’Arles?

Les Rencontres d’Arles is the highlight of the year. Public and private spaces all over town are devoted to disseminating the very best of world photography, through exhibitions, workshops, conferences and projections. The opening week in July is especially intense, as the who’s who of the photography world descends on Arles to participate in this extraordinary celebratory event. Arles is largely pedestrian, which also gives the festival a delightfully human-scale touch, just right for spontaneous networking and late-night partying.

© Nina Röder, OpenWalls Arles 2019 shortlist
© Carlos Barradas, OpenWalls Arles 2019 shortlist

Why did you choose to host OpenWalls at Galerie Huit Arles?

I am an avid reader of British Journal of Photography – it’s the magazine I use to stay photographically tuned-in. It widens my horizons and pushes me to explore images and ideas that I might miss if left to my selective, gallery-honed aesthetic.

One of Galerie Huit’s specifics is an openness to artistic exploits. Hosting OpenWalls Arles is an exciting opportunity to create an outstanding curated exhibition in an unusual setting. And as a rare British national in Arles, I feel it particularly apposite to be hosting in partnership with BJP, which is British-based and yet the most global of photographic magazines.

What are you expecting the response to be to the theme Growth?

Mention the word ‘growth‘ and, if I am in the Provencal countryside close to Arles, this conjures up the advent of spring, of nature gracefully unfolding, and vines and olive trees emerging from their winter hibernation. In the heat of summer, picture-perfect lavender fields remind me that this seasonal flowering is nothing short of a miracle – a growth process that we take for granted.

Back in urban life, and the word is weighted with something altogether less idyllic. Slow, organic development is replaced by the galloping expense of big city life, imposing economic growth and its attendant stresses. Artificial acceleration powered by consumerism gives a very different resonance to the theme.

This is your last chance to apply to OpenWalls Arles 2020! Submit your work responding to the theme ‘growth’, and you could be part of a group show at Galerie Huit Arles alongside Les Rencontres d’Arles 2020. Deadline: 25 July 2019 23:59 (UK time)

Inside Galerie Huit Arles. © James Bain-Smith, Galerie Huit Arles

© Adriana Granado, OpenWalls Arles 2019 shortlist
© Toby Binder, OpenWalls Arles 2019 shortlist