Introducing the theme of next year’s Prix Pictet Award at an event marking the opening week of Rencontres, Prix Pictet chairman Stephen Barber began proceedings by saying ‘Je suis European’. In doing so, he summed up the mood of the visiting UK based photographers. With the festival’s emphasis on developments in photography in Europe and beyond, it was impossible not to think about the future for photography in a post-Brexit Britain. How will the seismic shocks of the vote to leave Europe register in photography over the coming years?
Last week, however, the sun was shining stronger than ever on the first week of Rencontres. Those who have visited Europe’s most influential photo festival before will notice several changes. This year brings new venues (the remodeled Parc des Ateliers (look left as you walk into the complex and you will see the scaffolding for the newly commissioned Frank Gehry building), new categories (the first VR Arles Festival – won by Aaron Bradbury whose short ‘LoVR’ uses data and VR to describe what happens in the brain when people fall in love), and new awards.
One of the most talked about exhibits this year was Spanish photographer Laia Abril’s harrowing photographic history of abortion On Abortion (part of a larger project called A History of Misogyny). Abril’s project was a worthy winner of Arles’ newest award for women photographers, the Madame Figaro-Arles 2016 Photo Award.
Abril’s project is shown within the Parc des Ateliers, which also houses the lavish Luma Foundation exhibition SYSTEMATICALLY OPEN? Zanele Muholi shows a series of striking self-portraits as part of this sprawling exhibit, many of which were shown in London last year at the Photographers Gallery. Alongside her portraits are two powerful films documenting violence against the lesbians and the LGBT community in South Africa. Don’t miss these films.
Also recommended (and showing within the Parc) is South African artist William Kentridge’s installation More Sweetly Play the Dance, 2015. Kentridge, best known for his powerful hand drawn animations documenting life in South Africa, mixes live action, music and hand drawn animation to create a visually stunning panoramic piece which uses music and movement to create a moving procession of characters which follow one another across the screens.
The real pleasure of Arles is coming across work that takes you completely by surprise. There were two exhibitions which really stood out for me this year, one a group show and the other a solo project. Nothing but Blue Skies – looking back at the media’s images of 11 September curated by Mélanie Bellue and Sam Stourdzé reflected on the events on September 11th 2001 using film, painting, photography and sculpture to convey its message. In a show with many great pieces to recommend (Hans Peter Feldman’s room-sized installation of newspaper front pages from September 11th was particularly good) Marseille-based artist Guilliame Chamahian’s installation of a tower of TV sets all replaying news footage from September 11th stood out. This is a powerful show.
One of the last visits of my trip was to see Dublin based artist Eamonn Doyle show End. which turned out to be one of my best. End. focuses on Doyle’s native Dublin and is presented as an installation rather than a collection of individual images. Doyle uses sculptural elements, screen-printing, drawing and panels of translucent colour to transport this work from street photography (all of the work was shot within a square mile of his studio in the city) to something altogether more nuanced and lyrical. The installation is accompanied by painted elements and a soundscape produced in collaboration with Niall Sweeney and David Donohoe. Don’t miss taking a look at the beautiful bookwork which accompanies the show (and happily now sitting on my bookshelf here in my studio). A great discovery to end another trip to Arles with.
Rencontres d’Arles 2016 runs until September 25, 2016.
Wendy McMurdo, OCA Tutor.