This article is printed in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography magazine: Ones to Watch, available to buy at thebjpshop.com.
The sprawling festival showcases an impressive programme focused on women working in photography
The exhibition designer Olivier Etcheverry (1952–2022) was the scenographer of Rencontres d’Arles’ exhibitions for over two decades: in 1986 and 1987 and from 2002 to 2022. He pioneered the photography festival’s remarkably unconventional approach to showcasing the medium, conceiving colourful, imaginative presentations often occupying unlikely places, including a highway bridge, chapels, apartments and schoolyards.
This year, the 53rd iteration of the world’s largest photography festival, which occupies the southern French coastal city annually, is dedicated to Etcheverry, who passed away in March. The 2022 event, which runs from 04 July to 25 September, sustains the festival’s commitment to experimentation with an expansive offering of over 40 exhibitions showcasing work by more than 160 artists with a specific focus on female practitioners. “Every summer, Rencontres d’Arles seizes a condition, demands, criticises, rebels against established standards and categories and shakes up how we look at things from one continent to another,” says Christoph Wiesner, director of the festival since 2020, when Covid-19 forced the event’s cancellation.
The festival has since rebounded under Wiesner’s direction, with the 2022 iteration reflecting upon the photographic canon’s historical, and indeed contemporary, failure to reflect the diversity of its participants, specifically relating to women. “A long process of recognising women photographers has been underway for about 40 years,” continues Wiesner. “This year, many venues will host shows reflecting their influence and creativity, from historic figures to forgotten or poorly known artists and today’s emerging young talents.”
The exhibition A Feminist Avant-garde, a collection of over 200 photographs from the 1970s, occupies the vast interior of La Mécanique Générale, formerly a mechanical workshop. The show, which evolved from 18 years of research, presents work from a generation of female photographers (including Cindy Sherman, Ana Mendieta, Orlan, Helena Almeida and Martha Wilson) who employed the medium to emancipate themselves from an art history dominated by men. Elsewhere, in the 17th-century Église Sainte-Anne, film-maker and photographer Babette Mangolte’s images resurrect New York’s performance scene of the 1970s. Her distinctive work frames performances by artists including Trisha Brown, Richard Foreman, Lucinda Childs, Robert Wilson and Simone Forti.
The programme is varied with a balance of younger artists and established names and a mixture of exhibitions that expand the boundaries of photography while also honouring its traditional forms. Writer and historian Taous Dahmani will curate this year’s Louis Roederer Discovery Award group show. And at La Mécanique Générale, Norwegian- Nigerian artist Frida Orupabo blends visual material sourced from the internet with family photographs to create reassembled bodies, especially those of Black women. Her powerful collages challenge stereotypes and the violence inflicted upon these bodies by their depictions throughout art history. Other exhibitions include a collaborative installation from Susan Meiselas and musician Marta Gentilucci that examines the experience of ageing; and a look at the career of fashion and war photographer Lee Miller. However, Rencontres d’Arles’ exhibition programme is just one element of an immersive experience where art, architecture and landscape coalesce to create something distinct. In a post-pandemic world where virtual presentations are increasingly the norm, the festival remains an event that demands to be experienced first-hand.