A pioneering eye

A comme Afrique. Impressions d’Afrique Avec un peu d’imagination, avec quelques accessoires aussi, avec une allée et des palmes, la Sicile, c’est aussi l’Afrique. Il ne s’agit pas d’arpenter la ville. Ailleurs est ce qui arrive.

A as in Africa: Impressions of Africa With a bit of imagination and a few accessories, such as a path and some palms, Sicily can also be Africa. You don’t have to amble all over the city. Afar is what appears.

A comme Afrique. Impressions d’Afrique Avec un peu d’imagination, avec quelques accessoires aussi, avec une allée et des palmes, la Sicile, c’est aussi l’Afrique. Il ne s’agit pas d’arpenter la ville. Ailleurs est ce qui arrive.

A as in Africa: Impressions of Africa With a bit of imagination and a few accessories, such as a path and some palms, Sicily can also be Africa. You don’t have to amble all over the city. Afar is what appears.

A comme Afrique. Impressions d’Afrique Avec un peu d’imagination, avec quelques accessoires aussi, avec une allée et des palmes, la Sicile, c’est aussi l’Afrique. Il ne s’agit pas d’arpenter la ville. Ailleurs est ce qui arrive.

A as in Africa: Impressions of Africa With a bit of imagination and a few accessories, such as a path and some palms, Sicily can also be Africa. You don’t have to amble all over the city. Afar is what appears.

The banks of the Rhône, in the Roquette district of Arles.

The banks of the Rhône, in the Roquette district of Arles.

Près de Noordhoek, sur la côte ouest de la péninsule du Cap.

Near Noordhoek, on the west coast of the Cape Peninsula.

Wary of the well-trodden path, Sam Stourdzé, head of the Rencontres d’Arles since 2014, promotes incisive, exuberant photography.

The Rencontres d’Arles may be the most important photography festival in the world, yet it still retains a certain festive, meandering feel to it, thanks largely to the various exhibitions scattered throughout the city’s cloisters, churches and unused industrial sites. It explores every possible avenue, is never tied down to any pre­ordained style or school and covers all possible arenas of photography today, from everyday images to the latest art installation. Stourdzé is the mastermind of this event, which is celebrating its 48th year.

Arles is not actually called a festival but a “Rencontres” (encounters). How important is this nuance?

We’re really into the idea of encounters, on all levels: encounters with photography, with photographers, with the city as well, because the festival is as much about programming as it is a relation to space and to urban heritage, providing visitors the opportunity to discover exhibition venues not normally accessible to them the rest of the year.

Arles is a general arts festival covering all forms of photography. Will this always be the case?

Absolutely. We draw a very broad audience; for some, this is the only photo exhibition they’ll see in the year. We’re careful to publicize just how eclectic our programming is, with some 40 shows ranging from Japanese avant-garde photography featuring Masahisa Fukase’s iconic photos to American street photography with vintage Joel Meyerowitz, auteur photos with Kate Barry’s intimate landscapes, self-portraits with offbeat compositions by actress Audrey Tautou and huge panoramas spotlighting Iranian and Latin American photography.

We live in a world saturated with images. The festival adds to this glut. Does a festival like Arles aim to help people decode and decipher them?

Our role is to constantly be creating hierarchies. We try to “freeze”an image and provide an observatory for visitors. Visitors today tend to spend three to four days here, on average, which allows them to see a fair share of what’s on display. There is a marathon aspect, like an endurance test or a crash course, but it’s also a kind of learning experience and the development of a critical approach.

Is there a specific theme or tone for this year’s festival?

Over the past few years, more and more artists have been wanting to display their images as installation pieces. Michael Wolf, in the Église des Frères-Prêcheurs, opted to suspend his photos of skyscrapers throughout the nave. Part of his work deals with toy production in China through portraits of female workers. He inserted these images into a wall on which 20,000 toys are attached by means of tiny magnets. Likewise, the exhibition on Colombian vernacular photography is set in a tienda, a kind of shop where the photos are displayed from floor to ceiling.

One part of the program explores social, economic and political themes. Do photos convey something important about the state of the world?

Of course. It’s all about grasping what’s at stake in contemporary society through images. Photography is interesting when it transcends the frame, when it expresses a point of view about the world. But this is not a photojournalism festivalwhat we’re presenting are visions and artistic practices.

Most people take photos with a smartphone; Instagram,Twitter and such have spawned a revolution in terms of disseminating images. Do you factor in this new relationship of immediacy?

We’ve been mulling this over. People are always wanting to install devices, like image walls that emit live streams from networks. But we’re trying to resist doing so; our role is to make choices and to remain faithful to our editorial approach.

For years, you chose to steer clear of institutions, but then decided to take on Arles in 2014. Did it all catch up to you in the end?

It is true that one often ends up going “institutional” over time. At the same time, I’d like to believe that the Rencontres is a bit of a firebrand among the great institutions devoted to photography and that the founders’ sassy, offbeat spirit is still alive in the streets of Arles.

Agenda

Arles 2017 – Les rencontres de la photographie

Du 3.07.2017 au 24.09.2017

Parc des Expositions Forello Expo. Tél. +261 20 22 212 40.

www.rencontres-arles.com

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