Since July 3, the burning streets of Arles, in the south of France, have been swarming with pedestrians eager to discover the 54th edition of the Rencontres d’Arles, the unmissable photography event in France, if not in all of Europe. Europe. Last year’s edition saw around 127,000 visitors attend at least one of the many exhibitions that make up this festival; for several years, regulars have got into the habit of booking their rooms a year in advance.
This year’s edition consists of around 30 exhibits, which can seem overwhelming. Gregory Crewdson’s latest black-and-white series or a 450-image tribute to Diane Arbus might be a good place to start, but Les Rencontres isn’t just about showcasing the giants of photography. The Emergences sector, in which the winner of the Discovery Prize of the Louis Roederer Foundation will be chosen, is an example of this. The cinema is at the heart of the Stills to Stills section, where you will find one of Agnès Varda’s first series on the top floor of the Cloître Saint-Trophisme or Polaroids by Wim Wenders at the Espace Van Gogh. And with themes ranging from climate change to contributions from a female photographer, festival director Christoph Wiesdner calls Les Rencontres the “seismogram of our times” – a place to take the pulse of what makes society tick.
Below is an overview of the five best exhibitions of the 2023 edition of the Rencontres d’Arles, which runs until September 24.
“Insolare” at the Saint-Trophisme Cloister
The Saint-Trophisme cloister stands in the middle of the episcopal district of Arles. This is where the collaboration between Eva Nielsen and Marianne Derrien takes shape, within the framework of the BMW Art Makers program, which invites an artist and a curator to collaborate on an exhibition. Nielsen and Derrien met in their twenties, when Derrien was already studying art history and Nielsen hoped to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which she eventually did. The result of this long-standing friendship are 12 photographs combining topographic images, traditional paintings and silkscreens, each presented on a “module” or freestanding (and heritage-friendly) structure. “We drove through changing landscapes, where sea and land seem to merge,” Nielsen said of the Camargue region, which she hadn’t expected to be as uncrowded as it is in low season. There she zoomed in on the cracks in the earth, both wet and dry, in an effort to capture what is often invisible. Back in her studio in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, Nielsen plays with textures and layers, to offer a fragmented and blurred vision of the places she visited with her sidekick. The show is both poetic and hypnotic.
“Mobile Definitions” at the Church of the Frères-Prêcheurs
The Louis Roederer Foundation is one of the most important supporters of the Rencontres, and the ten shortlisted candidates for the Discovery Prize of the champagne house can be found in the 15th century church of the Frères-Prêcheurs. Their submissions, collected under the title “Moving Definitions,” were curated by New Delhi-based editor and author Tanvi Mishra, who specializes in South Asian stories as well as photography fiction. During the opening week of the festival, the jury named Isadora Romero, whose images focus on agrobiodiversity, as the winner; a selection of his works will thus be acquired for €15,000.
Just to the right of the entrance is Philippe Calia’s exhibition, which serves as a manifesto for the rest of the exhibition: the curatorial narratives are not set in stone but intended to be, if not contested, at least recovered and open to interpretation. Through her images presented in the exhibition and her comments in the accompanying visitors’ books, Calia questions the impact of institutions on our relationship to art.
The center of the church is reserved for body-focused projects, such as Riti Sengupta’s ‘Things I Can’t Say Out Loud’ series, which is inspired by when the 30-year-old Indian photographer had to return to live with his parents. during the pandemic, only to realize how different her mother’s life was from hers. A photograph of a housewife with rubber gloves and a mop on her head says it all: women can still be defined by what they do with their jobs. Taken with the title of the series, it’s a poignant reflection on what can and cannot be said.
One of the most moving projects on display is that of Soumya Sankar Bose A stealthy exit through the darkness. When he was nine, his mother disappeared. Her grandfather died three years later, just before her mother was rescued. The artist confronts family photos with a reading of his grandfather’s fictional diary in an attempt to reconstruct the past.
“Optical Theater” at Monoprix
What if your local target organized a major art exhibition? This is the case of its French equivalent, Monoprix, which has been doing so since the 2018 edition of the Rencontres. Dating from the 1960s, the building is located near Arles train station. Past its automatic entrance doors, follow the “Exhibitions” signs upstairs. Aurélien Froment’s “Optical Theater” is worth the detour. The series is a tribute to set photography which, for the artist, must be considered as a genre in its own right, somewhere between advertising, documentary and fiction.
To illustrate his point, the mixed media artist of Angevin origin, who frequently performs on the biennial circuit, has brought together still images of films made by the French director and author Pierre Zucca (1943-1995) between 1963 and 1974. This captivating selection includes shots by François Truffaut two english girls (1971) and day to night (1972), and a series of illustrations for Liliane Siegel’s book yoga through images (Yoga Through Image), which reflects the theatrical and choreographic aspect of Zucca’s practice but also his closeness to his models.
“Søsterskap” at St. Anne’s Church
Emma Sarpaniemi’s 2022 self-portrait as Cindy Sherman – in this iteration as a redhead with freckles, a yellow shirt and pink tights – is the poster for this year’s edition of The Encounters. The image is included in “Søsterskap” (the sisterhood, in Norwegian), an exhibition devoted to 18 female photographers from the Nordic countries. Near the entrance are photos of arrested women, all shown from behind to protect their identities. This ongoing series by Swedish artist Annika Elisabeth von Hausswolff, titled “Oh Mother, What Have You Done,” can be interpreted as a metaphor for the female artist rising above societal norms. On the opposite wall is ‘Fathers’, a project by Norwegian artist Verena Winkelmann who photographs new dads with their babies, to counter the fact that men are rarely shown as primary caregivers in an effort to encourage them to take responsibility. this responsibility. The closeness – both physical and emotional – between father and child is touching.
“Casa Susanna” at Espace Van Gogh
In 2004, two antique dealers discovered 340 photos from the 1950s and 1960s at a New York flea market, showing cross-dressing men and trans women, often dressed as “respectable” housewives. They were accomplished clerks, engineers and pilots by day; the perfect cooks and night hostesses. Their names were Virginia, Doris, Fiona, Gail, Felicity, Gloria. Located in upstate New York, Casa Susanna, which is also the title of the show, is where they would all meet in secret to find peace, near New York but outside. away from prying eyes. This captivating photo album records the private moments of one of the first transgender communities in American history.