All images by Zoe Harrison, unless otherwise stated.
Last week, the historic photofestival welcomed over 18,000 visitors to the southern French city. Here, we select some of our favourite moments from opening week
Les Rencontres d’Arles was founded in the summer of 1970. Organised by photographer Lucien Clergue, writer Michel Tournier and historian Jean-Maurice Rouquette, the inaugural event invited six photographers to exhibit work and host workshops. By the late-1970s, as its network expanded, the festival was established as the most important ‘rencontres’ – meeting – of professionals and enthusiasts. Writing in British Journal of Photography in July 1977, journalist William Nesser described it as “one of the most attractive and attracting spectacles we have in our medium”.
This year’s opening week welcomed over 18,000 visitors to the southern French city. For those unable to travel to France for the festival’s last edition due to Covid-19, it felt like a reunion. By Wednesday afternoon, the city’s cobbled streets were buzzing with people – photographers, curators, and enthusiasts alike – discussing the best shows, or, more often than not, complaining about the temperature. The heat of Arles is usually unforgiving, but this year’s punters were blessed by the mistral, the legendary wind of Provence. This epic gale, which gushed through the city’s stone walls, launching napkins, maps and scarves into the air, added a certain sense of drama to the opening week. After three years away, we’d all finally made it.
Running until 25 September, the festival offers 40 exhibitions presenting 165 artists. The list that follows is by no means a definitive guide, or the ‘best’ of what the festival has to offer. The show that emerged as many people’s favourite – Arthur Jafa’s Live Evil – was not even part of the official programme. There really is something for everyone at the Rencontres – whether it’s contemporary and dynamic; pensive and classic; or delicate and thoughtful.
Here, we pick out some of our favourite shows from opening week.
Phoenix: Noémie Goudal
Paleoclimatology refers to the study of the history of the climate. Scientists examine chemicals buried deep beneath layers of sediment, preserved in tree rings, or sealed in ice sheets, glaciers and microfossils.
These studies anchor Noémie Goudal’s dynamic series of films and constructed photographs, Phoenix. Presented within the gothic arches of a 17th century chapel, the work takes on new significance as a study of time, history and our existence within it.
We unpacked Goudal’s unique process in the latest issue of BJP. Taous Dahmani – who curated this year’s Louis Roederer Discovery Award (below) – visited her studio in Paris, taking a deep dive into her practice.
In its early decades, the Rencontres was an exclusively male affair: its first edition was founded by three men, and exhibited six male photographers. This year’s program, and this show in particular, is evidence of how far it has come.
A Feminist Avant-Garde: Photographs and Performances of the 1970s from the Verbund Collection, Vienna, presents over 200 works by 71 female artists. A product of 16 years of research, the monumental exhibition has been spotlighted and praised by many publications, including our own.
Dress Code brings together works by around 30 artists who offer different perspectives on and interpretations of clothing and identity. Set across four floors of a late-17th century mansion, the exhibition explores multiple identities from New York drag queens and Zapotec women in Mexico, to voodoo rituals in Benin.
‘Songs of the Sky’ and Lukas Hoffmann’s ‘Evergreen’
Exhibited adjacently, these two exhibitions occupy the top floor of a supermarket just outside the historic city centre. Accessed through the brightly lit aisles of the Monoprix – the French equivalent of M&S, we are told – these two exhibitions are a welcome break from the bustle of the old town.
Lukas Hoffman’s crisp and formalist images are both pensive and calming. The Swiss artist brings together two series, both shot with a large-format camera. Whether depictions of the city, people, or nature, the soothing images are a testament to Hoffman’s calculated and precise approach.
Songs of the Sky: Photography and the Cloud is the perfect example of the strength in a simple concept executed thoughtfully. It examines how artists today interact with ‘the cloud’ – whether generated by surveillance cameras or satellites, or more abstractly referring to digital data.
Each year, the discovery award invites 10 emerging photographers to exhibit their work. In the words of its curator Taous Dahmani, this year’s exhibition “focuses neither on theme nor genre, but on the attitudes of the selected photographers towards image creation”.
‘The land where the sun was born’ by Julien Lombardi
Julien Lombardi’s multimedia installation explores the transformations that have shaped Wirikuta, a desert valley in central Mexico, sacred to the Indiginous Huichol Indians. During his travels in 2017, Lombardi was invited to take part in an Indian ceremony, and the French photographer found himself immersed in a complex territory, occupied by a number of conflicting identities: Indians, activists, anthropologists, ecologists, industrialists, and tourists, to name a few. Lombardi has since continued to travel between France and Mexico, drawing on his background in archeology to gather information. The resulting work, which is ongoing, evokes a sense of magical realism, elegantly weaving multiple narratives to illustrate a complex story.
Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.