Les Rencontres Transforms Arles Into World Photography Capital This Summer

Les Rencontres d’Arles

Les Rencontres d’Arles (from 6th July to 20th September this year) is to photography what the Venice Biennale is to Contemporary Art: an international gathering of photography lovers and professionals meeting each other and enjoying a feast of exhibitions under the sun of the old Roman city of Arles.

This year however is quite special. It is the first edition by Sam Stourdze as the Director of Les Rencontres, after Francois Hebel, who was at the helm for 13 years, resigned.

I love Arles, so emblematic of the Provence I grew in.  I love Les Rencontres, strolling through the narrow streets, going from one exhibition to another, dining on the terrace of Celine and Franck’s excellent restaurant Le Galoubet, with Martin Parr, Orlan, Mathieu Chedid, Bice Curiger or Maja Hoffmann sitting next to me.

I started my visit at “Le Parc des Ateliers” which now belongs to the Luma Foundation where Frank Gehry is building a 56 meter high tower. The Foundation presents  “Imponderable” by Tony Oursler who not only is a Contemporary Art Star but, as I discovered, has been collecting and archiving objects, spirit photography relating to the occult paraphernalia. The project includes a book and a film both presenting the artist’s extensive collection of over 2,500 works. It investigates the manufacture and demystification of ideas. I wish some of the objects and curiosities could have been on display… I guess we will have to wait for the completion of the Luma Foundation in 2019…

Next is one of my favourite exhibitions of the 2015 Rencontres, “Total Record”: a history of photography through the prism of the vinyl record.  Antoine de Beaupre, who curated it together with Serge Vincendet and Sam Stourdze, explains there are over 700 albums covers which encapsulate the history of photography and music. From Warhol, David Bailey,  and Annie Leibovitz, to Robert Franck, Irvin Penn, William Klein, Guy Bourdin, Robert Mapplethorpe… Music and photography become entwined … “ Think of your ears as eyes”, as Gertrude Stein once said.

Further down in the Parc des Ateliers, I could not help smiling at the playful and funny exhibition of Thierry Bouet’s “Personal Affairs”, featuring unusual items people sell on dedicated websites such as a beautiful made-to-order fitting room cage, a boat light or dog trophies.

Next to it, in contrast to the lightness of Bouet’s works, Ambroise Tezenas embarks us on an unconventional voyeuristic journey. His dark tourism or memorial tourism works feature places marked by tragedy: violence, wars, genocides as well as natural disasters, such as the “Sichuan Wenchuan earthquake ruins tour” in China.

Arles is a great place to discover new talents such as Robert Zhao Renhui from Singapore (“Guide to the flora and fauna of the world”), Omar Victor Diop (“Diaspora”). I was pleased to reconnect with Cyrille Weiner and see his latest work : “Twice” where three photographs have been transferred to glass plates, one behind the other, to reveal a floating natural and urban landscape.

At L’Eglise Saint Anne, Simon Baker, Tate Curator for photography, was kind enough to give me a special preview of his excellent exhibition:  “Another Language, eight Japanese photographers”. I particularly liked the subtle and poetic body of work of Sakiko Nomura: “Another black darkness”.

I stopped at Espace Van Gogh, to see Stephen Shore’s retrospective: definitely a “must see”.

Unfortunately, I left Martin Parr and Mathieu Chedid’s exhibition at L’Eglise des Freres Precheurs disappointed… Did I miss something? I felt a strong disharmony between the two artists, two parallel monologues rather than a collaboration.

I discovered a true gem in the works of Aranka Israni at Anne Clergue’s gallery. The New York-based artist captures the energy and inner beauty of the bodies she photographs.

But time flies, I had to leave Arles already … with one regret …I skipped Walker Evans retrospective… will try to come back before end of September…

Words/Photos: Virginie Syn © artlyst 2015




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