The more we think a country closed, stuck in political and economic crises, the more we find photographers there. They reveal, describe, demonstrate, invent, repair and build—in their own language—that of the image. They decipher the preliminary signs of societies in upheaval.
—Sam Stourdzé, Director of Les Rencontres D’Arles
Gearing up for its 48th edition, Les Rencontres d’Arles continues to provide a world-class showcase for the vitality and range of contemporary photography as it is being practiced today. This year’s festival, as has consistently been the case since Sam Stourdzé took over in 2015, makes great effort to touch upon the immense variety of ways in which photographers are utilizing the medium to explore their surroundings. The program features over 40 exhibitions (not to mention the accompanying events, talks, signings, and performances) that transport us to Colombia, Iran, the shores of the Bosphorus and the trailers of Arles; turn a corner and you might find yourself snorkeling in flooded lands, traveling by train across Russia, reflecting on the legacy of Monsanto, exploring a new generation of Spanish photography and much more.
A global outlook seems to be the name of the game this year. Various sections come with titles like “The Experience of Territory,” “World Disorders,” and “I Am Writing to You From a Far-Off Country.” 2017 has been dubbed the year of France-Colombia, and thus the Latin American country takes center stage, with four separate shows shining a spotlight on different aspects of Colombian photography, from “Urban Impulses” to “A Poetics of the Human.” Another important national focus falls on Iran, which will have 62 of its photographers highlighted in a massive survey exhibition titled “Iran, année 38.” Curated jointly by one of Iran’s top gallerists, Anahita Ghabaian, and one of the country’s preeminent contemporary photographers, Newsha Tavakolian, the show promises plenty of inspiring discoveries.
Of course, the camera is also an intensely local and personal tool, so within these sweeping vistas lie the importance of the individual’s perspective. For example, the Arles-educated photographer Matthieu Pernot showcases his decades-long relationship with a local Roma family in his exhibition “The Gorgons.” Niels Ackermann and Sébastien Gobert tell the story of Lenin’s place in modern-day Russia through specific (and often amusing) visual anecdotes in their series “Looking for Lenin.” And Roger Ballen takes us into the most localized place of all—the depths of his own mind—in his immersive show “The House of Ballenesque.”
The festival this year has done an impressive job of engaging other institutions in France and thereby incorporating diverse curatorial perspectives. Paris’ Centre Pompidou brings an exhibition titled “The Spectre of Surrealism,” that surveys the importance and vitality of this French art movement. DATAR, a national organization dedicated to land planning, will display a huge, archival project it commissioned three decades ago with the simple mission, “record France’s 1980s landscape.” The project began with a one-year brief—and instead lasted until the end of the 80s. It involved 29 photographers in total. This exhibition, produced with the help of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, will highlight 15 of the best projects.
In terms of other changes and new developments, the city continues to embrace its identity as a regional hub of contemporary art. Although the Frank Gehry-designed center for art, LUMA Arles, won’t officially be completed until 2018, the surrounding spaces will play host to a range of large-scale exhibitions, headlined by a massive retrospective on the work of Annie Leibovitz. The festival itself has also opened two new exhibition spaces, which add to the already impressive array of spaces there are to explore.
But as Stourdzé reminds us, the festival is about much more than physical spaces—rather, it is the “creative spaces, political spaces, spaces of protest and rebellion, spaces for reflection, and most of all, spaces consecrated to the critical eye and free thinking” that are the heart of this unique gathering. With well over 100,000 visitors expected for the run of the festival (and 10,000 for the opening week), the greatest joy of Arles remains its “rencontres” or meetings. Whether at an exhibition, the book fair, a nighttime projection or late at night over a refreshing glass, we hope meet some of you there.
Editors’ Note: The opening week of this year’s festival will run from July 3 to July 9. Exhibitions will continue until September 24, 2017.
Also, if you are coming to Arles, don’t miss the Voies Off Festival, which for over 20 years has offered an inspiring alternative program focused on a new generation of artists and photographers.