Once a boarder at the villa Medici, on 1 October 2014 Sam Stourdzé (born 1973 in Paris, France) became director of the Rencontres d’Arles. Previously he was director of the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne and, from 2010 through 2014, editor in chief of ELSE magazine. For years he has studied the mechanisms at work in the circulation of images, with the relationships between photography, art, and film as his preferred field. He has been curator or co-curator of numerous exhibitions and published several works, including Le Cliché-Verre de Corot à Man Ray; the Dorothea Lange and Tina Modotti retrospectives; Chaplin et les images; Fellini, la grande parade; and, most recently, Derrière le rideau: L’esthétique Photomaton and Paparazzi! Photographes, stars et artistes.
On the occasion of the preview of the Jimei x Arles International Photography Festival on Saturday morning 25th November 2017, he cordially answered our questions.
Tell us more about the relationship between Les Rencontres d’Arles and Jimei Festival?
Sam Stourdzé: This relationship started three years ago. The goal is to bring each year eight of the best exhibitions from Arles. There are also two other layers of collaboration: the first being the ability to use our name as a warranty of quality; the second is the cultural expertise, the way to set up exhibitions, we teach Jimei team how to set up high standard exhibitions like in Arles. A lot of things are different though. Jimei Festival holds thirty or so exhibitions, including twenty that are new and exclusively produced for this event.
How did you select the eight exhibitions from Arles to be brought in China?
S.S.: We have chosen these eight exhibitions together with Rong Rong, Bérénice Angrémy and Victoria Jonathan. We thought that they were the most interesting to be shown to Chinese audience. This year comprises Audrey Tautou, the well-known actress and little-known photographer, but also Mathieu Pernot’s works on a gypsy family he followed during twenty years, and also thematic exhibitions such as “Iran: Year 38”, with 66 photos introducing the Iranian photographic scene, and “Blank Paper” that presents the young Spanish photographic scene.
It’s true there were many other exhibitions in Arles. However these eight exhibitions can give a glimpse of European/Western photography, and I believe it’s very interesting to confront these views with this part of the world.
What are the special focuses of this year festival?
S.S.: There are several. As each year, there is first a special focus on exhibitions coming from Arles. We also aim to introduce one Asian country, such as the artistic scene from Indonesia this year. Moreover, there is the Discovery Award in which five nominators curated two artists. The price award is 200.000 RMB, which is the highest currently in China. The winner will also be exhibited in Arles next year.
How about the other price that honours the works of a Chinese women photographer exhibited at Jimei x Arles?
S.S.: Indeed we have launched this new price in collaboration with Madame Figaro, a major magazine in France that has just established itself in China. We think it’s essential to examine photography everywhere in the world, by looking equally at both female and male photographers. Photography is a discipline in which we can easily cite ten major female photographers, whereas it’s very difficult to do the same in the history of painting.
We love art and we work within this field because it contributes to liberty and equality. It’s through artists’ visions that countries can become freer, such as in the exhibition on the Iranian scene in which local artists unveiled a more open country that we might have thought.
Joel Meyerowitz and Wang Wusheng’s exhibitions held at the Three Shadows Centre seems to engage in a dialogue with Sino-French cultures, was it done on purpose?
S.S.: Actually there were two different exhibitions in the first place, although both showcase two masters of photography: one is American the other is Chinese. We placed a great emphasis on showing exclusively vintage prints for Joel Meyerowitz. And such prints needed to fit within strict procedures and conservation standards for international museum, hence it had to be exhibited in Three Shadows.
How Jimei x Arles festival evolved since its advent in 2015?
S.S.: If Les Rencontres d’Arles has been existing for the last 48 years, Jimei x Arles festival is only three years old. So it’s perhaps slightly too early to evaluate it now, it seems difficult to delineate the evolution, we are still at the beginning of our project. What I can tell you is that year after year, more and more medias are covering the event, the overall audience grows wider, and we continuously increase the exhibitions’ level of demand and quality.
What has Jimei x Arles festival brought to the Chinese photographic scene?
S.S.: We should remain modest, it seems difficult to say there was a before and an after. However in general the Chinese photographic scene has been evolving. A few years before, the 80s-90s generation were still indebted in performance and political issues. We see now that concerns shifted and evolved, perhaps photography in China now seems most in accordance with a sort of global art while keeping its local specificity.
What are the differences and similarities between the local and international curators and artists invited to participate in Jimei x Arles festival?
S.S.: The first difference is perhaps the youth of the overall Chinese artistic scene, including the artists, the journalists, and the curators. We meet loads of young people who bring about new energies and refreshing views on their country. I believe this scene is marked by a strong curiosity.
I also noticed that, despite the level and difficulty of the exhibitions we brought from Arles, the audience remains very curious and able to understand. For instance each year we bring the Photobook Award from Arles in which we introduce around a hundred photobooks. We can see how much it attracts a wide audience, including artists, curators, and students, all scrutinizing in detail these publications they have little occasions to see. I found it very important. It seems that by being here in China, we are where the world of tomorrow invents itself.
What is your relationship with Rong Rong, co-founder of the Three Shadows Centre and co-founder of Jimei x Arles festival?
S.S.: Chinese audience is lucky to have one of the best institutions for photography. Rong Rong and his team are very professional. This collaboration allowed us to introduce European artists we believe in, while enabling us to discover Chinese artists and to include them in our program in Arles. It’s a very balanced relationship in which we mutually bring new ideas.
The collector and curator Huang Jianpeng introduced three historical photographers active in 1920s and 1950s China. What do you think of their works?
S.S.: I found this exhibition very interesting. It’s important to include historical references next to the young photographic scene. In a similar fashion, we pay a particular attention in Arles to show collections of vintage photographs. It reminds us that photography has a history, that it was built little by little. Huang Jianpeng’s exhibition enhances this historical anchorage, just like did the exhibition at Three Shadows Centre about “40 years of Chinese Contemporary Photography (1976-2017)” last October 2017.
How would you describe Jimei x Arles in three words?
S.S.: Contemporary, prospective, and surprise.