A new lease of life for the Rencontres d’Arles



Under the humble title “Les Rencontres de la Photographie”, the annual festival of photography in France’s southern town of Arles represents one of the largest events dedicated to photography in Europe. Founded in 1970 by the photographer Lucien Clergue Arles, the writer Michel Tournier and the historian Jean-Maurice Rouquette, the Rencontres usually attracts over 80,000 visitors at a number of different sites. This year’s edition (open until 20 September 2015) marks a turning point as Sam Stourdzé has taken over from François Hebel, the festival’s Director for the previous twelve years. The result is a successfully reconfigured event, concentrated around thirty exhibitions (versus fifty in previous years).

The 2015 Rencontres has been organised into six different sections: Rereading, Resonances, I am writing to you from a far off country, The platforms of the visible, Odd collectors and Emergences. This 46th edition aims to break down the customary barriers between artistic disciplines, a message clearly projected in the l’église des Frères Prêcheurs (until 30 August) by the team of curators that includes the singer Mathieu Chedid and the photographer Martin Parr. One of the remarkable exhibitions in the festival (at the Musée départemental – Arles antique) focuses on works by two major American photographers, Walker Evans (1903-1975) and Stephen Shore (born in 1947). Another shows works by a selection of Congolese photographers that seems to reply to the current exhibition at the Cartier Foundation (Beauté Congo, 11 July – 15 November 2015), while Another Language provides an excellent insight into the Japanese scene via a subtle walk-through designed by Simon Baker, photography curator at the Tate Modern in London.

Another Language, eight Japanese photographers is indeed one of the most impressive exhibitions at this year’s Rencontres. It pursues an idea originally conceived in 1974 when the MoMA presented New Japanese Photography, a show that largely contributed to the discovery of Japanese photography in the West. The eight artists in the Arlesian show include well-known figures like Daido MORIYAMA, Eikoh HOSOE and Masahisa FUKASE. Eikoh Hosoe’s black and white photographs project a melancholic atmosphere inspired by Japanese theatre and Butoh. Born in 1933, Eikoh Hosoe is a recognized artist whose reflection on the body and identity is apparent throughout his work. Between 1991 and 2000 the American public discovered his work via a travelling exhibition that toured the United States. The Arles show includes pictures of his Butoh dancer dressed as a woman, works rarely seen elsewhere in France.
Daido Moriyama (born 1938) opens another window on the Japan of the second half of the 20th century, chasing images in the narrow streets of Shinjuku. His high-contrast prints complement the rich texture of the Masahisa Fukase’s photos (born 1934), one of the most expensive and most sought-after photographers of contemporary Japanese photography. Fukase collaborated with Nobuyoshi Araki, Eikoh Hosoe and Daido Moriyama in the 1970s. Nowadays his works are very rare at auctions. In fact, these artists have only marginally penetrated the secondary market, which was never a priority for them. Although both rare and important, their works (when they do appear at auction) are not overpriced (selling for between $3,000 and $6,000 on average). It is important to remember that the Arles photography Festival is not an Art fair and does not focus primarily on the most popular artists. Its priority is to highlight (or revisit) significant chapters in the history of photography.

The next edition of the Rencontres in 2016 will welcome some major changes. The entire geography of the Rencontres d’Arles is currently being transformed after the acquisition of SNCF workshops (where most of the exhibitions are held) by the Swiss patron, Maja Hoffmann, who heads the Luma Foundation. The renovation of these buildings by architect Frank Gehry is to be completed in the summer of 2016. For the 47th edition, the Luma Foundation will have recovered all the SNCF workshops and they will host an exhibition of Hoffmann’s personal collection.

Listed artists: Lucien CLERGUEMartin PARRWalker EVANSStephen SHOREDaido MORIYAMAEikoh HOSOEMasahisa FUKASENobuyoshi ARAKI