Visiting “Les Rencontres de la photographie” Arles, 2016
Arles with Florence Briat Soulié, Agnès Bitton and Myriam Trefi.
Myriam Trefi’s visit…
Arles, where Romans and minerals awaken from a stony slumber, opening their arms to us, welcoming an international public just as diverse as the works being displayed at the Rencontres d’Arles. Although the old SNCF workshops have become exhibition venues thanks to the cymatium molding in these magnificent and vast hangars, the Luma Foundation’s tower, designed by Frank Gehry, seems to promise through its concrete structure an entirely different whirlwind of architectural innovation.
My walk through the Parc des Ateliers was in search of the various representations of gender: feminine, masculine, ambiguous or misnamed, or even mutilated due to their capacity to procreate. The photographers, and in particular those whose work is displayed in the Parc des Ateliers, have an illuminating effect, in the chemical sense, which allows one to clearly see the issues surrounding sexual, racial, and social identities in our societies explored through their opposing placement of what constitutes “masculine” and “feminine,” an equally troubling and moving placement.
The series of autoportraits done by Zanele Muholi’s (a representative of the LGBT community in South Africa) is striking in this regard, for in these daily auto portraits she expresses her sexual, racial, and historical identity through her choice of dress and through her use of pigments reflecting the color of her own skin which are all the more accentuated in the black and white negatives of her prints. Muholi’s disguises are her method of finding herself, affirming who she is, existing, and finally showing this magnificent and lascivious identity to the world along the length of a wall, such as in Olympia de Manet, where she is draped in a white sheet and where the black woman pictured (Muholi) has the primary role instead of the role of the domestic servant.
Good taste or bad? Value judgment or an original mistake? The hundreds of amateur unsigned shots from the end of the 19th century up until the mid-1960s trace this same question of identity misperception from Europe, to the United States, and even to Asia…Cross-dressing men, among themselves in the personal and intimate search for “normalcy” in the image of an American housewife, or in glamorous outfits made for partying and frequenting cabarets: that was the history of repression that we were given. Repression of these individuals’ own sexual desire because it was said to be against nature for being directed at members of the same sex, but also legal repression because the law criminalized homosexuality in some American states.
However, other images showed lighter subjects, such as young American girls who, as part of their studies at all-female universities, dressed up as men and mimed the very marriage scenes that they themselves were destined to play after having received their diplomas. Relatedly, the Japanese Kabuki has elevated cross-dressing to an art-form and has become an integral part of the culture […]
And finally, I came across the violence of being a woman that Laia Abril showed us through her extensive installation, mixing objects, texts, murals, and portraits of women in order to portray the obstacles meant to impede abortion. Among these obstacles is the difficulty of having the procedure in countries where it is illegal, the difficulty of living with the memory of the act, and also for some in regard to the procedure’s condemnation by their religion. Laia Abril collected some of these items in the United States and South America (Brazil, Argentina) to express women’s loss of control over their own bodies, when the state, the law, religion, and healthcare take possession. In this, we’re reminded of facism, Nazism, of dictatorship and we feel the weakness of those acquired and the fierceness in their fights toward liberty.
A similar violence emerges in Dan McCullin’s photos at the Sainte-Anne church, taken in black and white of the impoverished neighborhoods in England, specifically in London where one gets the impression that the photos could have been taken during Charles Dickens’s time. But no, it was the 1970s. Had Europe truly gone through that? Overwhelming pictures of weak and alone men and women that will continue to haunt us, like so many societal symptoms, and that art allows us to see when reality blinds us.
The images’ clarity contrasts with the confusion of feelings: when facing the beauty of the Bel Temple (Palmyra) photos, also from McCullin, we’re seized with vertigo upon realizing the brutality it suffered.
Marseille, July 22nd 2016
Florence Briat Soulié ‘s visit
Les rencontres d’Arles: two magical words, a unique place dedicated to photography where artists, professionals, and amateurs meet, discover, and visit this magnificent city with its arenas and ancient theater. During the Recontres, Arles becomes what it once was at the end of the Roman empire, capitol of the Gauls (Arelate). Those who find themselves at the event all share the same desire: searching for a beautiful picture.
I could not miss this summer rendezvous!
This year, the director Sam Stourdzé lead us on a tour full of solemnity, where the subjects broached were war, intolerance, abortion, ecology, and racism…Current events were at the heart of Les Rencontres d’Arles’s programming.
This adventurous marathon started off in a space called “Le Nonante Neuf,” initially invested in by Switzerland, with Yann Gross’s visiting exhibition “Jungle Show.” Gross’s images depicted his travels along the Amazon River. Next came Augustin Rebetez’s little universe (Rebetez received the Grand Prix Images Vevey 2013/2014), presenting his “Musée Carton” (Cardboard Museum) which embodies a history of art reviewed and readjusted. I, myself, am participating in the event’s audience award and am happily voting for Félix Volothon!
The Swiss presence at the Rencontres d’Arles was, for me, an opportunity to learn about the Images Vevey Festival, which will take place on the edge of Lake Léman from September 10th to October 2nd, 2016 and is free of charge to visitors. The festival occurs every two years and offers the Grand Prix Images Vevey endowed with 40,000 CHF (Swiss Francs)
After visiting the Grande Halle, I laughed while looking at Hara Kiri’s parodic photos: “Georges Marchais returned from Moscow, with a rug of true Afghan skin in his baggage (…) Mrs. Marchais was ecstatic…” just a sample of some texts which could not be of better taste today and which resonate strangely, and sadly, with concern to the recent grave events. In this way, the exhibition’s curator reminded us (perhaps involuntarily?) that Afghanistan is the country of the “Grand Jeu” (The Great Game), the heart of colonial and imperialistic rivalry between Russia and Great Britain, the matrix of religious fundamentalism in the Middle East.
Among the photos, I found the photographer Garry Winogrand’s (1928-1984) contact prints and remembered the exhibition which had so enchanted me at the Jeu de Paume (See the article on Garry Winogrand published October 19th, 2014). During his long trip to the United States, from 1950 to 1980, while passing through New York, Texas, Miami, and Southern California, the artist left thousands of images. These contact sheets portrayed the artist’s raw material, who unfortunately died before he could develop the prints—the negatives are currently at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona, which was the original, and only, institution invested in conserving photographic history. Garry Winogrand did not systematically take the selected images we see now on the contact prints: at the time of his death in 1984, at 56, the artist left behind more than 6,500 rolls of film from the last years of his life—of all the pictures ever taken, and perhaps never developed.
“What do things look like when they are photographed…” Garry Winogrand
Ethan Levitas simply proposed a reflection, with the image vanished, boycotted by the photographer: “Photograph of the officer who I will not permit to know, because of this photograph. Incident Report no. 94.”
A strong passage in front of a giant photo depicting a beautiful, voluptuously stretched out odalisque in black and white by the artist Zanele Muholi, who is known for her strong advocacy for and stance in the black LGBT community in South Africa. Every day of the year, the photographer incarnates a different character and creates an auto portrait, called “Faces and Phases.” She emphasizes contrasts using dark skin colors, because through her interpretation she seeks to break the stereotypes of “blackness.”
Mauvais Genre, new at the Atelier des Forges, is an interesting collection by Sébastien Lifshitz including bespeckled images of cross-dressers who leave behind an ambiguous aftertaste, between beauty and darkness. I discovered the history of the beautiful Bambi, Marie-Pierre Pruvot’s stage name. Bambi was a very well-known transwoman from the 1950s and ‘60s and is depicted through Lifshitz’s work as he retraces her story, in photos, from the young boy who would eventually become the sublime Bambi and who was also the subject of a short film nominated at the César Ceremony in 2014.
We took a break for lunch at “L’ouvre-boîte,” an on-the-go bar opened by Alexandre Arnal, Armand Arnal’s younger brother (opened “La Chassagnette” in Arles)—I wonder who discovered this great way of eating lunch on the go between two exhibitions? We continued onward toward Arles’s city center to go on a tour, and to cool off, around the Saint-Trophime cloister. From there we went towards the Archbishopric Museum where Paul Bogaers’s composition caught my eye, as he had successfully joined the image of a waterfall with a newly-wed bride and the result was spectacular!
At the Sainte-Anne church, I dreamt in front of the pictured remains of the Baalbek/Palmyra temples, photographed by Don McCullin during a time of peace before the senseless destruction by Daesh (Word Press Photo Prize 1964 for his reports on the civil war in Cyprus).
A strange feeling of coincidence overcame me in seeing the alignment of this church (which had been decommissioned since 1826 and turned into a lapidary museum dedicated to the pagan world) and the religious remains of ancient paganism. This juxtaposition spurred a sort of resonance between ancient and present times and spoke to me under the coolness of this structure’s walls. People often forget what memories these stones hold.
I will end this piece with the beauty I discovered at the Réattu Museum during Katerina Jebb’s portrait exhibit, called “Deus ex Machina.” Since 1996, the artist has liked to scan faces, faces which appear to be seen straight through, x-rayed even. She has created still-life images according to the scans she had gotten from Balthus’s and Picabia’s studios, including a letter from Napoléon. Her work is simultaneously beautiful, and morbid.
I could not refrain from glancing at the portraits of Picasso before I left, so apparent in the South Mediterranean-like atmosphere of Arles’s arenas, and admiring, on my way out, the beautiful wooden statue of Zadkine. Lastly, I simply had to stop into the Actes Sud bookstore, which is also the publishing house in the South of France established by Hubert Nyssen (1925-2011).
And so at the end of our day, comfortably seated on the patio, we decided to dine facing the arenas at a charming little restaurant called the “Cador.”
Florence Briat Soulié
Impressions of Les Rencontres, by Agnès Bitton
Moved by Laia Abril’s violent homage to the 47,000 women who die each year due to illegal abortions (“The History of Misogyny. Chapter One: About abortion”), I entered the space pictured below through its exit:
APRES LA GUERRE (After the war)
From these large prints were laid-out for one to admire while walking, and from them flows an invasive yet sovereign wilderness: a tall, dry oak tree devoured by honey-suckle, dead leaves, a pattern from the setting sun, a mossy mass of reflective light in the coolness of the woods, a hayfield of what appears to be land art.
These images appease and intrigue the eye, while also questioning the unexpected title, “Maginot Line!”
To retrace his steps…
…rereading the history of this benign vegetation which hides blockhouses, bunkers, the armory at the Défense, withered concrete over which ivy slithers and grows, immortal.
Alexandre Guirkinguer, a war correspondent? Perhaps in a war where nature fights with unmatched land art.
His « Maginot Line» parallels Yann Morvan’s “battle fields” where war is absence, where the picture is silence. “Maginot Line” also reflects the exhibit dedicated to Don McCullin, a man who fought until the end, face to face with despair all the way to the Somerset landscapes. A ferocious genius.
Translated by Brianna Reed, Vassar College ‘16
4 july – 25 september 2016