Thursday, 24 July 2014

Part 1: Arles it's a wonderful town, the amphitheatre's up & the Forum is down...

A early start, best view at Luton Airport which is otherwise quite
 awful to say the least. Quite liked this pic I took on my
 phone, but aeroplanes are always a good view to me...

Another year, another Rencontres d'Arles, phew & this year not a scorcher! (Much relief for yours truly, I am a Northerner after all!) 

Every year I come to this beautiful place in the knowledge that it will wow me all over again with an overloading of photography, great people & amazing surroundings. 

The beautiful amphitheatre at dusk

Up on the roof, lovely

Quite a hectic one this time around, reviewing only hours after landing, with lots of interesting work to look at. 

A grouping

I was disappointed with the gaping absence of female photographers work on display in the main festival. This is no surprise, I see it in the art press all the time, the imbalance is embarrassing. With the majority of students studying  photography at university being female I find this not only sad but a vast economic oversight on all fronts. I have daydreams where the 'democratic medium' is reflective of its participants. You cannot tell me that the female of the species doesn't take very good pictures, because I have seen with my own eyes the great work out there. I'm looking forward to imbalance being rectified by editors, curators & museums in the future….well I can dream can't I?

The beautiful & talented Sonia Hamza
 with her work, La cooler des sentiments (contrariés)

So with this in mind I will speak of the highlights of the festival starting with the work I loved & the fabulous people I met, saw again & caught up with over the fast-paced week.

Starting with the lovely people, too many to mention, but a few highlights…

The lovely Linda Joy brandishing a French stick!

Meeting the gorgeous artist Linda Joy - who also writes a wonderful blog - made my trip even better than I imagined. Her first Rencontres experience is a great read. 

Dan Dubowitz with his latest publication
  Citizen Manchester by Manchester University Press.  

Gorgeous Vee Speers at her vernissage 
with elated Elaine Harris & the lovely Linda Joy 

The display of Vee Speers amazing work Bulletproof 6 years after The Birthday Party, using the same children now burgeoning into adulthood. The venue Galerie Huit is one of my favourite places in Arles with a great hostess who always welcomes me with open arms. These fierce young subjects exude the strength of character that comes with their growing maturity, see the series for yourself! The book is published by Keher Verlag.  

Riveting conversation at L'Hôtel Particulier 

Lovely chap from L'Ascenseur Végétal who had a pop-up store with fabulous photo books, 
photographer Giacomo Brunelli & the lovely master printer Mark Foxwell from
Genesis Imaging, all sporting Giacomo's new t-shirt #iwantoneofthoseinblack 

Then there were the reviews. This year I was blessed with some great work to look at & saw some people again, which was fantastic. I wish now I had taken a pic of everyone, but 20 minutes goes super-fast & I'm always too keen to see the work to remember such things.

Then there were the shows. First, one I loved W. M. Hunt Collection Foule - or 'Bill's show' to his friends. The page on the festival website begins like this: "This passion for collecting is foolish. Collectors must be fools. Fou. Foule. Welcome to Hunt’s three-ring circus."

An American speaks

Tell it like it is Bill! He shares his love of collecting with a fantastic selection of group photographs - amazingly collected in only 15 years. These groups could be several people or several thousand people. His wry humour & love of humanity in all its forms comes through with a stunning selection of oddities, unimaginable arrangements of persons unknown forming shapes, words or just stood in front of their place of work. Occasionally they are more disturbing. In one image - incidentally on its own (I'm sure if pictures were alive, would want to) sit alongside - a gathering of KKK members in a hotel room. In this photograph some of the members forgot their hoods so used white napkins to cover their faces instead. This sort of sinister absurdity is an unsettling reminder of the cowardly yet brutal group gathering behind closed doors, faces covered, yet keen to have a photograph taken for posterity. 

A perfect introduction, the wonder & awe of the circus 

Absurdity reigns with a nod to this years motif, a moose in a frame on the 
mantlepiece (he couldn't get a real moose head - yes he tried). 

There is no mistake that an American was responsible for this exhibition 

Wonderful curation of groups, grouped!

Then there were the frames, ooh I had frame envy with the one above here. 

With 250 images to look at everyone had their favourites. I haven't been to a show with so much lively discussion in a long time. There was much & dashing back & forth from room to room as visitors mentioned specific pictures to friends who may have missed something. Amongst the cacophony of souls on display here are 2 of my favourites.  

What appears to be a massive gathering of people on sofas in a carpet-laden street upon closer inspection...

Some of the figures look a bit strange…ah they are painted in, marvellous - as are the sofas receding into the distance.

The carpet on the pavement is also painted on. A great effect pre-Photoshop & all the more interesting a photograph for it! The mystery as to the purpose of this picture as an ad for a sofa manufacturer or just a spectacle for the sake of it really doesn't matter, the photograph is a joy to look at. 

There were many images of massive formations of people arranged to make shapes, but this one was my absolute favourite. I did have a momentary flashback to a British Airways ad long after this was made in 1989 - perhaps a touch of nostalgia and the literal visual symbiosis the group portrays made me feel a touch sentimental for the old days….

New Discoveries
Katharina Gaenssler 

One of Quentin Bajac's choices for the award is Katharina Gaenssler. (See link for a great series of pics showing the ins all) Katharina Gaenssler fills rooms. By collaging massive assemblages of images she creates spaces within spaces on the walls with her complex work. Due to the labour intensive nature of these images all stuck individually on the walls they exist only in situ till the show comes down. Books of the objects are also displayed here. An interesting concept with a wow factor. It is hard to look at this work without trying to imagine the sheer amount of time they take to make. 

©Patrick Willocq

On of the selections, Patrick Willocq chosen by Azu Nwagbogu was far & away my absolute favourite. His series I Am Walé Respect Me depict the daily experience of Ekonda pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Weaving Ekonda beliefs, taboos, rituals into a series of images which show the experience of a Walé - a young nursing mother after the birth of her first child returns to her parents & remains secluded from 2-5 years. At the end of her seclusion dancing & singing rituals take place. 

©Patrick Willocq

Each image stages a visual representation of the subjects in the songs. The results are astounding. Working with the Walé for over a year their personal history is portrayed in colourful, exuberant & breathtaking imagery.  His respectful collaboration draws attention to the tribes traditions & way of life & in the process gives his audience a sense of wonder at the imaginative performative result. The sheer scale they have, with an ingenious use of materials to construct have such an impact in the flesh. I could barely tear myself away from this exhibit, a real highlight of the festival. It got my vote!

I shall end here, on a high. There's more Arles to come, but for now hope you like this...

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