Since 2013, the Festival Portrait(s) in the French city of Vichy has been promoting the long established yet unceasingly changing genre of portrait photography. Planned between 16 June and 10 September 2017 in several indoors and outdoors venues, the fifth instalment of the festival invites visitors to discover emerging talents and rediscover authoritative actors, such as Vincent Ferrané from Modds Agency, Christer Strömholm, Jean-Loup Sieff, Elliott Erwitt and Jean-Marie-Périer.
By inviting national and international photographers, the festival aims at bridging the gap between the photographic circles and local audiences. Of particular relevance is the Chinese artist Liu Bolin, whose retrospective is held at the esplanade along the Allier River. Liu made his name as a renowned contemporary artist from China thanks to his series “Hidding in the city”, in which he paints himself to blend with the backdrop. Fany Dupêchez – the Festival Art Director – tells us more about this exciting festival.
Marine Cabos: How did you come up with the idea of creating this festival?
Fany Dupêchez: Seven years ago we planned a retrospective of the French portraitist Denis Rouvre in Vichy’s cultural centre with the co-founder of today’s festival [Karim Boulhaya]. Following this retrospective, we met Vichy’s Mayor Claude Malhuret and we started to elaborate a project surrounding the theme of portrait with our collaborators Pascal Michaut and Karim Boulhaya. This gave rise to the festival five years ago .
Since the beginning the festival has been spreading across the city: at the cultural centre Valery-Larbaud (650 square meters), the Saint Louis esplanade dedicated to the residence; and along the bank of the Allier River that aims at paying tribute to a career, a story, or a project. We wanted to curate outdoors exhibitions and to link the Cité des Ailes [a rehabilitated district in Vichy] to the city centre through photography.
MC: What is exactly the residency program in concomitance with the festival?
FD: Each year we offer a one-month residence to one photographer. We invite him/her to document freely Vichy by plunging him/herself into the city. The final project is then exhibited outdoors during the festival, and accompanied by a monograph published by Filigranes editions. This year the Portuguese photographer Sandra Rocha completed her residence with us.
MC: Tell us more about your encounter with Liu Bolin’s photographs.
FD: I have been following Liu Bolin’s works for a while. I discovered his works years ago at Paris Photo. I have been thinking about this photography project for a certain period of time. I believe his works are particularly relevant, more specifically the ways in which he explores both performance and self-portraiture, but also how he tackles political, consumption, and environmental issues.
The goal was to interrogate the audience. What was of particular interest for us was to plan the first outdoor retrospective of Liu Bolin. His works are not contemplative at all; on the contrary we can grasp their meanings by carefully scrutinizing them, by asking where he is and what the performance is truly about.
MC: What other Chinese artists do you like?
FD: I like Ren Hang as well as Li Wei, with whom I have already worked a few years ago for a large-scale production project in collaboration with Pernod Ricard. For the fortieth anniversary of this company, I wanted to advocate Li Wei’s works, and we exhibited him during  Paris Photo. In fact, Pernod Ricad is one of Paris Photo partners and I am in charge of the artistic campaign.
MC: What are the photographic portraits that have left strong imprint on collective memory?
FD: Actually we have set up an exhibition during this year festival with Catherine Balet and his Argentine stylist friend Ricardo Martinez Paz, in which Balet asked Paz to re-enact iconic portraits that impacted on our history. It ranges from the earliest daguerreotypes to Diane Arbus, from Cindy Sherman to Robert Capa, and so forth. I think many images impacted us and eventually became icons. Balet and Paz’s collaborative works convey the issue of memory of such authoritative photographers. It invites the visitors to embark on a journey through the history of photography.
MC: What’s next for the Festival Portrait(s)?
FD: It is still a secret. We are currently working on it. We just finished the fifth instalment and have already begun to work on the sixth for next year. We hope to reinforce the overall pedagogy for children and to develop more participative projects with the city.
Until 10 September 2017