Arles 2010

 

Arles is not for the easily offended, the easily wearied or those who suffer from hardening of the categories. It is an assault upon the senses, the sensibilities, the liver and the feet. If you can face all this, you will see more good (and bad) pictures in a week than you would normally see elsewhere in a year, or possibly in a decade. And you will get more ideas than you thought possible.

 

x

Stalking the Magenta Rhinoceros

Every year, the Rencontres has a symbol. One year it was a banana; another, an aubergine. This year it was a magenta rhinoceros. Pink elephants are proverbial, but magenta rhinoceroses surpass them easily.

Let’s begin with the easily offended. If you can’t face the occasional picture of naked (and usually uncommonly unattractive) genitalia, stay away. There were fewer in 2010 than in most years, but there must still have been a dozen or two (out of thousands of pictures, to be fair). To make up for this, there was quite a lot more anti-religious art than usual, not all entirely photographic: the Leon Ferrari exhibition at the Church of St. Anne was a prize example.

Crucifix

The Leon Ferrari exhibition in the Church of St. Anne was only partially photographic, but it probably had the capacity to shock a lot of people. You may think it odd that our first two pictures from Arles are 'nothing to do with' photography, but maybe it's not a bad idea sometimes to conflate photography, other forms of art, and pure kitsch.

 

Moving on to the problem of being easily wearied, the organizers in 2010 promised 60 exhibitions, but in reality (as ever) there were a lot more. Cellars, empty shops, cafés, restaurants: all are taken over as exhibition spaces. One wonderful quote we heard reported was, “If you lift up a stone, you will find a gallery underneath it.“ Seeing all these exhibitions necessarily involves a lot of walking. This is especially true at the old Ateliers (workshops) of the SNCF (French Railways), a massive site with series of predictably cavernous sheds that harbour many of the exhibitions. This year it was also home to a massive inflatable tent called ‘the Village’, a collection of bookshops, photo galleries selling prints, and the indefatigable Leica camera company; one of the few hardware companies that habitually attends the Rencontres.

x

This is quite apart from the actual rencontres aspect of the Rencontres. Rencontres means meetings or encounters. Unless you are wilfully shy or self-contained, you will meet all sorts of other photographers.The Leicas we were carrying proved an extraordinary icebreaker, thereby proving that serious photographers do care about equipment. This is, above all, a show about pictures, not equipment; but even exhibitors in galleries commented on Roger's M9 and were delighted to get a chance to try it. All the pictures here were shot with an M8 and M9.

Unless you are of a teetotal disposition, you are likely to down quite a bit of cold rosé wine, normally ordered by the half-litre or even litre. If the wine starts getting too warm, ask for des glaçons (ice cubes: say ‘day glassawn’). They’re normally free. But you can stay up until surprisingly late, and drink more wine than you expect. This is where the liver comes in to it.

Nor are physical weariness, lack of sleep and hangovers the only risks. Inevitably, not all exhibitions appeal to everyone, and you will see a great deal that you do not care for. Never mind. You are under no obligation to take every exhibition seriously, and to go around each one in the spirit in which you might look at a single visiting exhibition in a local art gallery. There’s always somewhere else to go, and if you waste time on exhibitions you don‘t care for, you will almost certainly miss other exhibitions you would have enjoyed far more.

 

x

Mapplethorpe exhibition, Ateliers SNCF

Improbably, this was under the umbrella of the 'punk photography' exhibition, I am a cliché. The extraordinary thing is that the galleries are quite often all but deserted: you have them to yourself, or share them with no more than a handful of other people. There are just so many exhibitions that there aren't enough people to fill them all.

 

We were there for six days in 2010 and still missed several exhibitions. Some, we simply could not find. Others, we just gave up on because life is not long enough. There comes a time when some more wine, or a bit of air conditioning, or even just a cool breeze, is worth more than seeing another exhibition. Get an unlimited pass (40€ for 7 days, 50€ for 11 days), and you might just have time to see all of the official exhibitions and the majority of the (free-to-enter) ‘parallel’ or ‘fringe’ or ‘unofficial’ exhibitions in a week. A single-entry all-exhibitions pass at 34€ isn't worth the saving, even though it's good for the whole summer, and a 25€ day pass is just torturing yourself.

On top of the exhibitions, there are the picture-taking opportunities. The city of Arles itself is impossibly photogenic, even before you start taking pictures at the exhibitions - where the exhibition spaces are often as attractive as all but the best pictures, and not infrequently more interesting than many of the lesser pictures hung in them. If they see you trying to take pictures of individual photographs, the attendants will normally warn you off, but general pictures of the interior are rarely a problem.

x

Girl reading

Arles seems to have far more than its fair share of pretty and indeed beautiful girls. They are everywhere: at the exhibitions, walking around in groups, taking pictures, and (as here, especially during the heat of the day) sitting in cafés. She glanced up as I took her picture, smiled, and went back to reading her book.

 

There are always exceptions to the generally relaxed attitude, though. We apologize for kicking off with a negative review, but you’ll see why we did so in a couple of paragraphs’ time. Easily the most unpleasant exhibition in 2010 was the collection of Polaroids on the Place de la République in the Caisse d’Epargne. It was distinguished by ‘no photography’ signs, ‘no large bags’ signs, and a general atmosphere as if they wanted to charge you for wearing out the pictures by looking at them. All too many of the pictures were self-consciously ‘arty’, too, eschewing such bourgeois concepts as subject matter, focus, holding the camera steady, half-believable colours, and so forth.

Sure, there’s a place for all of this, but when a dozen different ‘artists’ all take the same line, and hardly any show you anything that you haven’t seen a hundred times before, it’s hard not to be cynical. There was a vastly better Polaroid exhibition at the Espace van Gogh, Polaroid in Peril, about the danger of the break-up of the Polaroid collection.

We’ll come back to other individual shows later, but the Polaroid show was a good example of hardening of the categories. Far too many people have very fixed ideas about what constitutes ‘Fine Art’ photography. They seem to believe that if anyone likes it or understands it, then it can’t be Art-with-a-capital-A. Many rely on the fine old logical fallacy of the omitted middle: genuinely good, new work is often strange or shocking, so anything that is strange or shocking is automatically good and new. Alas, no. In fact, many rely on the strangeness and shock value of pictures that would hardly be novel or surprising to any Sunday-school teacher who had been to Arles in the last decade or so. It doesn’t take long to become inured to fuzzy Polaroids and sexually ‘shocking’ pictures. The latter, incidentally, are normally displayed without warning, and some people take their children to the exhibitions, so nobody else seems very worried about it either.

As for our assertion that the Rencontres are an assault upon the senses, the main thing, most years, is the heat. Reportedly it topped 38°C, 100°F, more than once during the opening week. Certainly, it was in the high 30s (C) or well into the 90s (F) much of the time. We have no problem with reasonable warmth, up to about 33°C or 90°F, but this is HOT. It's not always this hot, but if you start to wilt at temperatures much above 27°C, 80°F, Arles may not be for you.

Then you have to contend with the fierce light, so beloved of Vincent van Gogh; the vivid (though often faded) Provençal colours; the way in which a good deal of life is lived on the street; the fact that bullfights are still a common form of entertainment (held in the original Roman arena, 2000 years old); the aforementioned rosé wine; and, of course, the food. There is a lot more about this in the sister article to this one, The Best Hotel Room in the World.

Evening

After sunset, the streets cool slowly and more and more people emerge to take advantage of cooling breezes off the Rhône. If you have the knack of it, a siesta is a good idea, but equally, there's rarely too much point in getting up early to go to exhibitions: too many people are still sleeping off the previous night's rosé. We tend to get up late; stay up all day; and go to bed late.

x

By now, you should either have decided that you will get to Arles as soon as you can afford the time and the money - it is, after all, the biggest gathering of fine art photographers in the world - or you should have begun to suspect that it is not, perhaps, for you, in which case you may care to stop reading now. Assuming you are going to go on reading, what were the exhibitions like? Unsurprisingly, we're not going to give a blow-by-blow account: just the highlights and lowlights, and the names of a few photographers and galleries.

Probably the best pictures we saw were not even in a gallery, but in a portfolio belonging to Raphaël Schott. His black and white circus pictures were stunning, and his sequence of retirement-home beauty queens was very impressive too. We saw them sitting at a table outside another gallery, when we were introduced to him by Richard Petit (www.richardpetit.eu), a photographer we had met at a previous Rencontres when we admired his huge, magnificent landscape photographs. It is impossible to overemphasize the point that while it is perfectly easy to eschew rencontres, encounters with other photographers, such encounters can quite easily (if you let them) be as important as, or more important than, the exhibitions.

The great thing about Raphaël's work was that even though we must have seen three dozen or more of his circus pictures, we didn't feel we had seen too many. This is good. A surfeit of pictures is an all too common fault in Arles. Concepts and themes are mercilessly stretched. To borrow Bilbo Baggins's memorable phrase, they are "like butter that has been spread over too much bread."

x

Karl T. Meck, XX Boys

This was part of an improbable exhibition featuring homoeroticism, punk and all kinds of other 'shocking' subjects, housed in a very tall, thin building with a vertiginous spiral staircase.This was on the very top floor, where, improbably, there was also a bathroom, as seen here. Nowhere is safe from having pictures hung in it! We didn't care for all the pictures, but some were worth seeing, and somehow the juxtaposition of subject matter and setting seemed especially appropriate in this case. There is no point in giving addresses for 'unofficial' galleries like this, as they change from year to year and the only way to find many of the 'unofficial' exhibitions is to wander through the streets, keeping your eyes open.

Probably the worst exhibition for for sheer excess was of Jean Pigozzi's black and white 'celebrity' photographs at the Ateliers. Many were very good, but an awful lot were pretty tedious even if you knew (or cared) who the people were, and there were far too many of them. Eventually, you just stopped looking at the good stuff because there was too much dull, repetitive, ‘celebrity‘ rubbish. Everyone we spoke to about the exhibition agreed that you could probably have made an excellent magazine article if you threw out 90-95% of the pictures, or maybe a book (or even an exhibition) using 25% of what was on show.

For boredom value, on the other hand, it would have been impossible to beat Zhang Dali’s infinitely tedious exhibition of before-and-after shots of Chinese propaganda at the Espace van Gogh. Anyone familiar with the Politburo pictures of the 1930s would have been familiar with the (often crude) retouching and cut-and-paste used by the Chinese communist party; their dishonesty is hardly news.

To return to happier exhibitions, at the Théatre de la Calade there was some of the best theatre photography we have ever seen, taken in a tiny theatre in a town that has been provincial for 3000 years. In fact, the very name of the region, Provence, comes from the Latin Provincia, ‘The Province’.

Like many of the best exhibitions, the one at the Théatre de la Calade was 'unofficial', i.e. not on the Rencontres list. The Salle Henri-Comte, next to the Mairie/Hotel de Ville, is however an 'official' venue (i.e. you have to pay, or show your pass, in order to get in) and hosted Paolo Woods’s pictures of Iran: a superb reminder that like all humanity, Iranians desire happiness and the causes of happiness, and to avoid suffering and the causes of suffering, even though both ambitions are often constrained under the current regime.

 

x

Iran, by Paolo Woods

Paolo Woods photographed a wide range of (mostly young) Iranians, none of whom had horns on his or her head, and many of whom wanted no more (or less) than the rest of us: to live in peace, comfort and freedom. Unfortunately 'freedom' has different meanings to different people.

 

There were several absolutely superb 'official' exhibitions at Montmajour, the huge, ancient abbey complex some 5 km (3 miles) outside Arles (there's a bus, and the fare is only a euro). Franck Gérard's portraits of his grandfather were extremely moving: a celebration of the old man's life while he was still active in his 80s. Unlike the usual gritty, grainy, gloomy black-and-whites of a dying man, these were in colour, and can only be described as loving. They were fairly small prints, too, which added to their intimacy: quite unlike two of the other excellent exhibitions at Montmajour, in the same hall as Gérard‘s pictures .

One was a series of portraits of Laotian girls, slipping between tradition and modernity, the traditions of their parents' land and the modernity of the France where their families now live. The other was uncompromising, square-on shots of Parisian streets, showing how the commercial ground-floor premises have changed with the times (not always for the better), while the 19th century buildings above have retained their dignity. Unfortunately, because these were all under the France 14 umbrella created by Raymond Depardon, we didn’t note all the photographers’ names, relying instead on the catalogue - which did not relate names to subject matter…

Both the Laotian portraits and the Parisian architectural shots really benefited from being printed big, as did Ivan Mikhailov’s portraits of people who had more or less recently moved to Moscow, each accompanied by a brief description of how they had found the city since moving there: insightful little stories, and excellent portraits with an unusual unity. These were in the main church of the abbey, a mightily impressive space in its own right.

Ivan Mikhailov, Muscovites

x

If you wonder why so many religious buildings were in use as exhibition venues, it is because the French state owns almost all churches, and has a strong say in how they are used. Another exhibition in a church in the town centre consisted entirely of portraits of Mick Jagger, though it has to be said that if you strip out the 'celebrity' aspect, maybe half were of historical interest and at most a quarter were interesting portraits in their own right.

The Jagger exhibition, though, was at least worth seeing. We cannot say the same for the Leigh Ledare show at the Ateliers, a clear example of almost no butter on far too much bread. The premise was this: the photographer's ex-wife went away for a few days with her ex-husband (the photographer), then revisited the same place with her new husband a couple of months later. Both men took pictures, and these were presented in pairs: black frames for one, white for the other. It was hard to care which. A good exhibition (or portfolio, such as Raphaël's) leaves you wanting more. These left you wanting less, preferably a lot less. Much the same could be said of Lea Golda Holterman’s pictures at the Espace van Gogh which explored the erotic appeal of young male orthodox Jews. We are not sure they have any, unless, perhaps, you are a young female orthodox Jew. Even then, on the strength of these pictures, we would retain our doubts.

Back in Montmajour, black and white movie portraits by the late Raymond Voinquel (1912-1994) were hung unfortunately close to the Muscovite exhibition mentioned above. They did not benefit from the juxtaposition. You can see why Hollywood is regarded as not only the capital of movie-making, but also of movie portraiture. There were some great location shots, and a few good studio-style portraits of Big Names, but most were dull, shallow, indifferently-lit pictures of actors and actresses unknown outside France.

x

Overall, there was much less black and white at Arles than in previous years, though Mario Giacomelli's massive retrospective redressed the balance somewhat and at some of the commercial print-dealer galleries there were vintage, usually small, black and white prints by the great masters, which fairly jumped out and hit you in the eye. The little gallery on the corner of Montée Vauban and the Porte de Laure was one good example of such a place; the Arlatino Gallery, www.arlatino.com, always provides such pictures (this year we especially liked Frank Gonzalez Alonzo‘s Flou Shots); and so does the gallery that always takes space in the Hotel Forum. All but next door to the Hotel Forum, in the Place du Forum, was a small gallery showing pictures from the Archivio Fotografico Italiano. Again, this comes to mind because of its superb collection of vintage black and white prints.

 

Flou Shots, Arlatino Gallery

'Flou' means 'soft' or 'out of focus' in French. To create a series of successful portraits in this style is quite an achievement.

Then again, colour is far more widely used than it used to be, and for a wider range of subjects. Taryn Simon’s The Innocents was a series of big colour pictures of individuals who served time in prison for crimes they did not commit, an investigation into photography’s ability to blur identity, truth and fiction. One picture, of a man with his arm around his ‘victim’ (whom he had never assaulted) was especially moving. In a way, colour makes these documentary shots more real than they might be if shot in traditional black and white, with its capacity for distancing the onlooker and the subject matter - though of course, a great deal is down to the genius of the photographer. This was in the Ateliers again. Jumping about like this, from the Ateliers to Montmajour and back, via the centre of Arles, gives some idea of just how huge the Rencontres are, and of the area over which the pictures are spread.

Another very good exhibition, in the Couvent St-Césaire just inside the walls of the town, nearest the Ateliers, showed student work from photography schools all over the world: mostly good, some bad, and some brilliant. This is a newly renovated venue: every year, some new venues are introduced, while others fall out of use. The top floor of the convent was also the venue for this year's portfolio reviews, instead of the Ateliers.

A 'mixed' exhibition like this student show, in which each exhibitor has only a few pictures, is obviously unable to show an individual photographer's work in the same depth as would be possible in a major exhibition, but equally, it can show if they have any spark whatsoever. Some of the big exhibitors seemed singularly lacking in this, though if (for example) one had seen only the best half-dozen Voinquel shots, one might have formed a much higher opinion of his talents. For that matter, the (fairly extensive) Ernst Haas exhibition at the Archbishop’s Palace did no favours to a very great photographer: from the pictures on show, you would never guess the sort of photography through which he made his name.

 

x

Ce n’est pas mon corps

Dominique Roux's picture was not only brilliantly executed: it was also cleverly hung (between two pictures of real surgical operations by another superb photographer whose name we stupidly failed to note) and well lit, all at the Hôtel Reattu. Even the best photography can be (and often is) spoiled by poor lighting, with terrible reflections off the glass, and awkward hanging.

It is however a fair question how many pictures anyone should exhibit in one place. It is hard to see how Dominique Roux’s Ce n’est pas mon corps (This is not my body, seen above) could benefit from being surrounded by more of the same. This assumes, of course, that you can work out what 'more of the same' might be: a semi-recreation of da Vinci's The Last Supper in an operating theatre is not, by its very nature, much like anything else except the painting on which it is based.

Another fair question concerns the relationship between an idea and its execution. Rafael’s circus was a simple idea, hardly novel, that was superbly executed. This Is Not My Body was an original idea, again superbly executed. Michel Campeau’s Darkrooms (Ateliers again) was a clever idea, but it was at best indifferently executed. The premise was “the world’s last darkrooms” but it was nothing of the kind. It was mostly crumbling darkrooms in poor countries, photographed (almost completely without sympathy) in colour. There were some nice still lifes, but as a portrait of darkrooms, it was a non-starter. It was also ornamented with a more than usually nonsensical blurb on the wall: “an inveterate defender of the intrinsic truth of the image” and “the fantasy archaism of its tirelessly re-enacted primal scene”, for example. All right, this was a bad translation (most blurbs are in both English and French) but it was drivel in French as well.

In fact, it’s always as well to look at the pictures before you read the blurbs, the tendentious Artists‘ Statements or Critical Appraisals stuck to the wall. The pictures may or may not be any good. The blurbs are for the most part barely tolerable at best, unless you want to try to extract a little information from the welter of generic artspeak and wild hyperbole.

Mick Jagger exhibition

Even by Arles standards, this was quite a long blurb; but true to Arles standards, it was a good deal shorter on content than its physical size might lead you to believe.

x

For example of the disconnect between the pictures and the text, Thomas Jorion’s pictures of abandoned and crumbling interiors - a sports hall and a church stick especially in the mind - were probably the best of their kind we have ever seen (and it’s a genre we like - Claudio Argientero‘s ‘change and decay‘ pictures under the title ‘Traces et Silences’ were excellent too).But if we’d read about them first, we probably wouldn’t have bothered.

Jorion’s pictures (www.thomasjorion.com) were often as much as a metre wide, and this brings us back to the question of print size. A popular viewpoint at Arles (and, to be fair, at many other exhibitions) seems to be, "If you can't make it good, make it big." Plenty of pictures are both good and big - Adrian Turner's coastal seascapes and Thomas Jorion’s interiors are both excellent examples - but in one of the Ateliers there was a series of pictures, apparently of South African townships, that would have been dull, repetitive and predictable at any size, and were spectacularly awful at the kind of three-by-five metre (10 x 16 foot) size at which they were exhibited. We didn’t even bother to note the photographer’s name. All pictures have a size they 'want' to be - it sometimes seems to be almost independent of the photographer's wishes - and making them too big or too small is doing them a disservice.

 

x

Thomas Jorion exhibition

You may wonder why Frances appears in so many pictures, and the answer is simple: a human figure is often useful for creating a sense of scale, and as already noted, the galleries are not always what you might call crowded.

 

x

Denise Pegeot's black-and-white pictures of Afghan refugees were just the right size, big enough for lots of impact, but not so big as to appear foolish or pretentious; though they were, perhaps, a little too dark and lacking in contrast for the venue in which they were presented. Contact cp-initiative, Patrice Chevreux, rue de l’Aqueduc, la malate, 25660 Montfaucon for further information: contact@cp-initiative.fr.

Denise Pegeot

One of the great pleasures of the Rencontres is meeting the photographers who created the exhibitions. It can also be a somewhat humbling experience: you learn at first hand the amount of dedication, time and hard work that goes into a successful exhibition or publication.

Back inside the city walls, go down the rue de la Liberté, a side road from the Place du Forum - the same road with the Arlatino gallery in it- and at the bottom on the left you'll come to an unmarked gallery run by a South Korean, Kim Young tae, a brilliant photographer in his own right, who this year shared the space with some excellent pinhole pictures from Léonard de Selva (enlarged from 4x5 inch) and an extremely well executed set of pictures by Emmanuelle Godard of South Koreans who had been adopted by French couples. Now adults, they were portrayed holding the pictures taken of them as children, on the strength of which they had been adopted. The fourth photographer in the same gallery was Alexandre Pendrite, whose vivid pictures of voodoo were certainly spectacular, if not, perhaps, the sort of thing you’d want to live with every day. Go to www.selva.net for more about all of them.

Envolée, by Kim Young tae

There seemed to be more 'magical realism' at Arles this year than is usually the case, and Kim's pictures were among our favourites. What is 'real' - as simple as looking straight upwards - and what is not?

x

So far, we've specifically mentioned maybe three dozen exhibitions or photographers, a mere fraction of all that there was to see - and some of the exhibitions we have not yet mentioned, or have mentioned only briefly in passing, were very big indeed. For example, the exhibition of punk rock photography, I am a cliché, again at the Ateliers, mostly lived up to its title. Arguably the best pictures were of the Rolling Stones, not usually classified as a punk band.

It is hard not to suspect that the main appeal of this exhibition was to ageing punks, who had in their youth enjoyed jumping up and down to the music of the bands represented. There certainly wasn't much to appeal to a couple of ageing hippies. Nor, we suspect, would there be a great deal to appeal to anyone below about 40, who missed the punk movement from the other direction, though Billy Name’s pictures of Warhol‘s Factory had some historical interest, as did the Mapplethorpe pictures under the same umbrella, even if (once again) they could only with difficulty be classified as ‘punk‘.

Then again, not all of the pictures at Arles are hung on the walls, or part of what we regard as 'proper' exhibitions. Many are projected, whether indoors or (at night) at any one of numerous venues scattered through the city. We do not greatly care for these, simply because we prefer to view pictures at our own speed, lingering over the ones we like and skipping the ones we do not. Also, many pictures are unable to stand up to being projected onto a screen several metres square. The Nuit de L’Année, the Night of the Year, is characterized by numerous projections and lasts into the small hours; allegedly, until dawn, though we were in bed by three or so.

 

x

Le nuit de l'année (The night of the year)

There are well over a dozen projection sites scattered all through the city, each staffed by representatives of different organizations. They project pictures, and talk about what their organization does and what they need. This one is right next to the Place Voltaire; the screen is on the side of the Esquina restaurant. Another was in the Place Voltaire itself, projecting onto the side of the local Communist Party headquarters (where there was also an exhibition).

 

Among the proper exhibitions that were hung on the walls, the Marin Karmitz collection at the Eglise des Frères Précheurs was quite fascinating for its sheer diversity: everything from the most tedious of conceptual photography to a little black-and-white of Marilyn Monroe watching the rushes from one of her movies. This was a stunning picture on several levels. Obviously there was her star quality, but the concentration on her face made it a brilliant portrait, even if you didn't know who she was; it was compositionally brilliant; and it was something of a technical tour de force as well.

But walls aren’t everything. In a small private gallery - again, we neglected to get the name - we were intrigued by 'matchbox' pictures. These were strings of tiny images, concertina'd into a matchbox . The concept was pioneered by Richard Meier of Voix Editions (www.voixeditions.com) but it has also been taken up by others: see also www.matchboox.fr and www.cosyworks.com. This is another take on the size that a picture 'wants' to be, and on the different compositional requirements for different image sizes. The same gallery had an extremely funny series of photo-based postcards from Plonk & Replonk,.

 

x

Matchbox galleries

We are much tempted to try this format ourselves, perhaps with a series each of pictures of Arles. The obvious approach is to use a large-format roll printer and slice the images into strips. some contain graphics, some poems, some photos, some photo derivatives, some mixtures of different media...

x

Elsewhere there was a 'peep show' gallery, with a single image, visible through a barred window accessible only via a stepladder in the street. More conventional were Eric Jourdan’s excellent Despedida exhibition at the Maison de la Vie Associative, about bullfighting, and, back in the Ateliers, Hans-Peter Feldmann’s extraordinary 100 years, 101 pictures from an 8-week-old baby to a centenarian, each year being represented by a different member of his family (or where there was no-one at a suitable age, by one of his friends) at the appropriate age.

Stepladder gallery

"Lift up a stone and you'll find a gallery underneath" - or in this case, "Climb a stepladder and look through a barred, wire-meshed window and you'll find a gallery behind it."

For something completely different, at XX in the rue Porte de Laure there were stunning pictures of Roman statues taken by Jean-Luc Maby for the Musée Départmental Arles Antique, available for sale in limited editions.

Then there were at least two exhibitions relying on mirrors, most notably Kiko Lopez (www.kikolopez.com) at the Coupole, and we picked up several different ideas about sequencing and multiple images at different exhibitions. Of course, part of this was to do with the idea of multiplying images through mirrors...

 

Frances at the Kiko Lopez exhibition

Distorting mirrors, old mirrors, mirror-writing, holding up a mirror to reality... Was this a photo exhibition at all? Well, sort of, and tangentially: Kiko Lopez invites people who take pictures at his exhibitions to send their pictures to his website for inclusion in an on-line gallery.

Besides, it reinforces something we have tried to say again and again. As well as seeing work by other photographers - good, bad and indifferent - you can revitalize your own pictures. There are some pictures that are enervating, but others that are energizing.

x

Four of these sequencing ideas are worth elaborating upon. One (at the Hotel Reattu) was simply a set of four framed pictures, a disconnected panorama of a landscape, with the horizon at different levels in each picture. The pictures were then hung so that the horizon was always at the same level, with the frames stretching upwards or downwards to the extent necessary to achieve this. Not only was it a clever restatement of what ‘framing’ means: it was also an attractive picture, which is not always the case with intellectual exercises. The second interesting sequence was five images of the same poster, charting its disintegration and defacement; it was lent extra impact by the fact it was a poster paying its respects to the late Mao Tse-Tung.

x

A third was simply a set of small posters on plain paper, collaged onto a wall in the street, overlapping like a ‘joiner’. This wasn't even related to the Rencontres; it was a poster for an event the day before they started. 'Cinq fois rien' means 'five times nothing'.

 

'Joiner' peppers

The walls of Arles are plastered with posters, advertisements and graffiti.

A fourth was almost like a movie pan: a sequence of five pictures of three people, two women on the left, seated at a table, and a man on the right on a nearby chair. It began with just the first woman, then both women (two shots here), then all three together, and ended with the second woman and the man. It told a story which may have existed only in the photographer’s mind, but which was nevertheless elegantly recited.

x
x

Chairs, Hotel Reattu

Many pictures gain from being exhibited as part of a group, but as soon as you try to do it for yourself you run into all kinds of questions. How big? What order? How many? What background colour? How far apart? Switch these around, so the right hand picture is on the left, and the pair cease to work together and come into conflict.

 

It should by now be eminently clear why we have not even attempted a blow-by-blow account of every single exhibition. For a start, we don’t have the space, even if we had the inclination. For that matter, we apologize for not having remembered all the photographers’ names, even for the exhibitions we have mentioned. The point is, though, it doesn’t matter. The exhibitions we saw at the Rencontres in 2010 are not the same ones you (or we) will see in 2011, and besides, the exhibitions we liked and disliked may very well be completely different from the ones that you might like or dislike. What is important is the sheer staggering variety of what there is to see.

 

x

Shooting gallery

In the Ateliers, there was an actual shooting gallery, with air-rifles. This was in support of two exhibitions. One was Existential Photography: a sort of autoportrait taken at shooting galleries where, if you hit the bull, a camera automatically took your portrait. Perhaps needless to say, two of the celebrity shooters were Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. It was rather dull. The other exhibition, In Nearly Every Shot, was unexpectedly much better. It was a (very large) series of shooting-gallery pictures of a woman who first tried one of these galleries at as a schoolgirl at 16 and is still shooting at 90.

As we have tried to make clear, ’what there is to see’ is not restricted to the photographic exhibitions. If you are any sort of photographer, it is hard to resist taking pictures of Arles itself, including the vast majority of the exhibition spaces. The Rencontres are unparalleled for people watching, too. It is fascinating to see how people look at pictures, whether timidly, proprietorially, uncertainly, gravely, laughingly, alone or in groups. Then there are the astonishingly many people who seem permanently glued to their mobile phones. Others are staring at maps, posters and direction signs, trying to work out where they are going next, or perhaps where on earth they are right now.

The great thing is that you can photograph pretty much all of it - including, to the amazement of English visitors, children: their parents do not immediately assume you are some sort of paedophile. This can be a useful reminder of how hard it is to capture a fleeting gesture, a smile, a quizzical look. Only once, in all the times we have been there, have we ever had anyone get upset about our taking her picture, in 2008 or 2009: a woman of a certain age, probably a minor celebrity labouring under the delusion that we had the faintest idea who she was, or cared.

 

Road Train

One way to do a sightseeing tour of Arles is on a 'road train', a fake locomotive with carriages behind it that tours most of the main attractions, with a headphone commentary in several languages. The skill with which the driver navigates the narrow, crowded streets is astonishing. This young lady is lucky not to lose the skin from her fingertips, reaching out to brush the wall like this.

x

If you are travelling with a non-photographer, there is plenty for them too. All sorts of museums, and, of course, the van Gogh connection. The Rencontres also tend to overlap with the July sales, so for those who love to shop, it’s a good place to be. There are rather too many fashion shops for our taste, but equally, there are many others to choose from, whether your tastes run to Belgian chocolates or French foie gras (no sales on either, alas) or antique shops or Idris’s amazing shop selling North African jewellery, leather, pottery and more (and he now has a much more obvious frontage on the rue 4 Septembre). There's a picture of the interior of the old shop in the 2009 Arles report.

 

x

Souvenir shop

Even the souvenir shops are visually attractive (well, some of them) and the range of souvenirs is fascinating. As well as the usual T-shirts and tat, you can buy heads of Caesar, tablecloths, place-mats with reproductions of van Gogh paintings on them, olive oil soap, and (which can be very useful in the heat) ladies' fans.

 

As well as the bullfighting, from July 1 to August 31 there are (non-fatal) gladiatorial combats at the Arena, every Tuesday and Thursday. If you can travel with another photographer, there’s no contest - egg them on to come with you - and if you’re on your own, well, there are few if any places where you can meet more fellow photographers. Although it’s true that most are men, and middle-aged men at that, there are surprisingly many younger men as well as women and girls. In fact, though we’d never thought about it before, it is probably a good place for the romantically inclined to meet photographers of the opposite sex, or indeed of the same sex, if your tastes run that way.

 

x

To sum up, as you have probably guessed by now Arles is one of the fixed points of our year, and of the year of countless other photographers; and we suggest it should become a fixed point in your year too. Every serious photographer should go there at least once, and ideally, you should go there whenever possible. Maybe we'll see you there in 2011.

There are 19 more pictures (with captions) below, simply because we couldn't fit them into the report above. Scroll on down or:

Go to the list of modules

go to the home page

or support the site with a small donation.

x

Douches Municipales

Yes, they do have municipal showers. And lots of graffiti: Miss.Tic was actually exhibiting as an artist at the Arlatino gallery. The live model was hanging about nearby, ready for a laugh, and seemed the perfect complement to the graffiti model's pose.

 

x

The 'Village'

Various galleries, selling new and vintage prints, and bookshops, and Leica (you can see the red dot in the background) were in a large, inflated dome or tent on the grounds of the Ateliers de SNCF. People kept leaving the door open, threatening deflation.

 

x

Thirsty rhino

He really did seem to develop a personality as the Rencontres progressed. One wonders where he is now. In a fibreglass zoo, perhaps?

 

x

Ateliers, exterior

This gives some idea of the size of the Ateliers; of their varying state or ruination; and of the blasting heat of the sun.

 

x

 

For your safety, it is forbidden to climb on the rhinoceros. Thank you.

 

x

Coupola

This former cinema often houses some of the best exhibitions alongside some of the worst. It is always one of our first ports of call.

x

Stop 10 on the Roquette trail

The 'nuit de la roquette' features projections at numerous locations in the Roquette district. This stop is 'Bruno, Tiphaine, Lika, Jorge, Emili, Jeremy & Stanley'. We had a most agreeable conversation with the owners of the house.

x

Wired graffiti

Every now and then, we think of moving to Arles. Everything is handy, and the cultural life is unparalleled. Even the graffiti is (usually) clever. But then we wonder about whether we could stand that sort of graffiti on our own house.

x

Staircase

Something we haven't mentioned elsewhere is the question of disabled access. Mostly, there isn't any, except in a few of the 'official' venues.Precipitous staircases, spiral or straight, are very common indeed.

 

x

Rhino in fountain

One night, he just climbed into the fountain, and stayed there for the rest of the show. Presumably he found the Provençal sun too hot otherwise.

x

Door, knocker, graphics

All over Arles you run into the most unexpected juxtapositions of antiquity and graphics.

x

Place Voltaire

In March 2010, much of the Place Voltaire was pedestrianized. The small stage is for music.

x

Roof

The Ateliers are is a semi-ruined but safe and stable state, and are constantly being renovated. Floors can still be very uneven, though: Frances normally carries a walking stick, just to be safe.

x

Rhino window

Someone put some graffiti on the rhino, suggesting it was a waste of money and that this was a photo festival, not a toy shop. But it was soon removed. Most people liked the rhino.

x

Rhino horn

The rhino was understandably popular with children, though many were less law-abiding than this little girl and climbed up on his back in defiance of the warning reproduced above.

x

Cooling down

Plenty of chilled rosé wine, preferably with ice-cubes (which was what came in the Clan Campbell jug) helps keep the energy up and the temperature down - though Frances also finds that a fan helps. This one was 4€, hardly extravagant for a (very useful) souvenir.

x

Roger with wine

People kept borrowing Roger's M9 to try it; he lost count of the number of people who commented on it or asked about it. He half wonders if as many people handled the camera on the Leica stand in the village!

x

Rhino with hangover

Translation: 9th of July, 10 pm to 5 am, Hauture area: Promenade with rifles, accompanied by the greatest hunters and poachers. . . Still heavy but no longer sharp.

x

White bench

There comes a time when somewhere to sit down has more appeal than all the exhibitions in Arles...

 

Go to the list of modules

or go to the home page

or support the site with a small donation.

 

© 2010 Roger W. Hicks