Every summer since 1970, the Rencontres d'Arles in southern France has been playing a pivotal role in disseminating the best of world photography. Each year this international photography festival offers numerous exhibitions held across the city in outstanding historic buildings and more contemporary venues.
It has been a decade now that I have been covering this authoritative festival, enjoying its exciting and enriching atmosphere. Throughout this week, I will offer summaries of last opening week [3-9 July 2017]. Let’s start with highlights of some of the exhibitions I have seen.
Michael Wolf, “Life in Cities”, at the Église des Frères Prêcheurs
Curated by the Dutch Wim van Sinderen, this exhibition presents a selective overview of works created by the German photographer Michael Wolf (born in Munich in 1954), who has been living in Hong Kong since 1994. Several bodies of work are displayed, from his early documentary records taken in the 1970s in the Rurh to more contemporary photographs that question issues of urban lifestyle and privacy in vast metropolises across the world, from Hong Kong to Tokyo, Paris and Chicago.
The first striking thing is the innovative scenography that plays around notions of interiors and exteriors. Wolf’s famous "Architecture of Density" photographs are hung in the middle of the church nave, as if they were floating in the air. Interestingly, photographs are associated with installations of objects and videos. Like every year, the church chancel offers a large-scale installation: this time Wolf’s “The Real Toy Story” (2014) revisits his childhood fascination with plastic toys while integrating portraits of workers in China.
Silin Liu, “I’m everywhere”, at the Atelier de la mécanique
Silin Liu is a young female Chinese photographer (born in 1990), who won the Jimei x Arles Discovery Award. Jimei x Arles is a festival organised in southern China, which gives the opportunity to an emergent Chinese photographer to win 200.000 RMB [around 25.760€] and to exhibit in Arles the year after [Further discussion on this exciting partner festival in China is coming tomorrow]. Her works have been also nominated for the Prix de la photo Madame Figaro [a French magazine dedicated to luxury and lifestyle].
Liu originally graduated from the the Academy of Arts & Design, Tsinghua University. In her series “I’m everywhere” started in 2002, she challenges our global cultural landscape by literally integrating herself in iconic portraits in the history of photography. Moving beyond time and space, Liu is portrayed next to famous figures in history, such as Pablo Picasso, Charlie Chaplin, Mao Zedong, Marilyn Monroe, and Andy Warhol. Her creative process is twofold: she first searches for portraits on the Internet that appeal to both Chinese and Western audiences; she then edits the portrait by pasting herself in and upload it back to the internet. In doing so, she raises concerns about the irrational worship of celebrities while considering the functions of photographic images nowadays.
“Champ – Contrechamp – Billy Kidd”, at Atelier de la mécanique
For the second consecutive year, the Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Huawei is associated with the prestigious Rencontres d’Arles festival. More than a mere partner, Huawei sets up an interesting “double exhibition”, in which stolen pictures of visitors will be captured and exhibited next to the current portraits of the New-York based portraitist Billy Kidd. Conceived by Buzzman, this evolving exhibition will also be diffused on social networks and on http://huawei-photoacademy.fr.
“Rencontres in Réattu”, at Musée Réattu
This exhibition rethinks the museum’s photography collection, by making visual connections between disparate works. For the last fifteen years, the Musée Réattu has been receiving works from the Rencontres d’Arles Festival, and thereby has been constituting a rare repository of both historical and contemporary photographs. The collection includes the Belgian photographer Roel Jacobs and his group portraits taken in Tian’anmen in 1989, which provides an alternative coloured vision of this watershed period in China. It also includes Song Chao’s portrait of Chinese miners in the 2000s, as well as one portrait of Sandro Miller’s "Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters" that was exhibited last year in Lianzhou Festival [read more here].
“Festival Photo La Gacilly x Fisheye Gallery”, at Galerie Le Magasin de jouets
In concomitance with the Rencontres d’Arles, several off shows have spread across the city. Of particular interest is the group show that exhibits winners of the Festival Photo de La Gacilly [French Brittany region]. It includes emerging talents such as Teo Becher, Manon Lanjouère, and the female Chinese artist Zhen Shi.
Her series “Kwei Yih” represents intriguing and contemplative landscapes made of superimpositions of old and contemporary photographs, that remodel the original narratives. This series is deeply rooted in the artist’s personal experience and homesickness feelings. After many years of roaming away from home, she has found herself falling into a state of anxiety and helplessness, eagerly looking to regain a sense of belonging.
Stay tuned for next special reports on the Rencontres d’Arles photo festival!
The Rencontres d'Arles
Until September 24, 2017