Since its founding in 1970, the Rencontres d’Arles has been the ne plus ultra of photo festivals—a place for discoveries, and the exchange of ideas and work. During the opening week in early July, the streets of this medieval town (and home to Vincent Van Gogh for many years) are flooded with photographers—and photographs.
This year, Aperture was delighted to coproduce an exhibition with the festival: The Chinese Photobook, curated by Martin Parr and WassinkLundgren, and with accompanying contributions by scholars Gu Zheng, Raymond Lum, Stephanie Tung, and Gerry Badger. One thing Arles excels at is the odd and funky (and sometimes downright awkward) installation site—in this case, a Brutalist office building from the 1970s, lit primarily by flashlight.
Other exhibition highlights included Small Universe, a presentation of Dutch photographers, curated by the irrepressible Erik Kessels and presenting a group of contemporary photographers loosely organized around the theme of obsession and the mundane, and including both older and recent work by quintessential Dutch photographers Hans Eijkelboom [above] and Hans van der Meer [below], among others.
Small Universe was presented with an installation design by designer Roland Buschmann, in the now-classic Kessel fashion that he has established: mounting photographs in a sculptural manner on freestanding columns and boards and radically playing with scale via blow-ups and the juxtaposition of images, overlapping prints, and combining framed and pinned images, as with the installation of Milou Abel’s Ik ben jou [I am you] series [above].
The Discovery Award is an ongoing staple of the Festival since 2002, in which photo luminaries nominate and organize small exhibitions by up-and-coming or under-recognized figures. Serious contenders for the award included Will Steacy, Patrick Willocq, and Katherina Gaenssler, who was nominated by Quentin Bajac. (Her installation, depicted above and in the image that follows, was one of our favorites.)
Gaenssler’s work offered a fascinating interplay of archives of images as contained within a book and presented in installation. Bajac describes her process as follows: “Gaenssler photographs a space from various perspectives employing a raster principle. Out of countless individual pictures she creates books as comprehensive visual archives of her projects, which not only depict the space, the object, or an environment in particularly rich detail, but also emphasize a certain amount of time.” This year’s winner of the prize, however, was the also excellent Chinese photographer Kechun Zhang, nominated by Korean curator and photographer Bohnchang Koo.
The offerings in general seemed to represent a celebration of familiar friends from earlier festival editions—Parr, Kessels, but also collector and historian Claude Hudelot, Joan Fontcuberta, who in classic trickster manner, presented his work under the guise of that of an historic avant-garde collection, and Bill Hunt, who organized a show of his collection of group portraits—firefighters, masons, school boys, cheerleaders, armies, “living flags,” and any number of mass portraits [above]. All of these figures, familiar to Arles veterans, gathered as a “parade” of sorts to bid adieu to outgoing director François Hebel, and welcoming Sam Stordze, formerly of the Musee d’Elysée in Lausanne, as the new ringmaster of the Arles activities.
The handing off of the baton this year from Hebel to Stordze marks the end of an era to be sure, the results of which, we’ll be waiting with bated breath to witness next summer. A complete listing of the more than fifty exhibitions up in Arles until early September which, in addition to those mentioned above, includes shows of work by Vik Muniz, selections from the collections of Arthur Walther and Daile Kaplan, among many others, can be found on the Arles website.