Les Rencontres Arles Photographie: Edition 45
Les Rencontres d’Arles is holding its 45th festival this year, the fifth I have the pleasure of presenting. These occa- sions, unparalleled events in world photography, are our pride and that of the city where every year tens of thousands of professionals and amateurs come together to celebrate images, discoveries, and exchanges of all kinds.
The 2013 festival, on the theme of black and white, produced record figures: 96,000 visitors -- 11,000 more than in 2012. An unprecedented total, bearing witness to ever-growing interest, generously echoed by French and interna- tional media saluting a rich, ambitious, and unifying programme. This gives us –why should I deny it?– the liveliest satisfaction.
Not only have we attracted a great number of annual regulars, for whom the festival is the highlight of the summer, but each year 30% of our visitors are newcomers who may in turn, enchanted by their experience in Arles, become repeat visitors.
The 2014 festival is the last to be directed by Franc?ois He?bel. He has chosen, with my complete agreement, to dedi- cate it to friendship and fidelity. He himself has formed powerful connections with many artists and has made them a part of this final celebration, highlighting and memorialising his career as a conservator.
Therefore, we meet again several contributors with a long festival history. First is Raymond Depardon, guest curator in 2006 for a fondly remembered festival. I am delighted that he stood godfather to the great exhibition we devote to the 40,000 war memorials erected in France after the First World War, that cataclysm whose centenary we solemnise in 2014. I need hardly tell you how precious to me -- personally, as a historian, and as a citizen -- is this commemora- tion; nor the emotion I feel to know that we are contributing to it, associating in this ceremony of memory, according to a protocol of picture-taking established by Raymond Depardon himself, the inhabitants of many communes of France – thanks to the generous support of the Mission du Centenaire and the Fondation Carac.
Among those we have the joy of meeting again are Lucien Clergue, who together with Jean-Maurice Rouquette and Michel Tournier, later joined by Maryse Cordesse, founded the Rencontres. We will celebrate his 80th birthday. He will mark the occasion by recalling, through a series of interviews, videos, and photographs, the men and women who shaped his life and career.
Christian Lacroix, 2008's guest curator, is also among us, with an unprecedented homage to the Arle?sienne, in a set- ting never before exploited by the Rencontres: the chapel of the Ho?tel Jules Ce?sar.
Another returning friend is one of the great names in contemporary photography, our guest curator in 2004: Martin Parr presents his collection of Chinese photography books, evoking the history of that country, also revealed in the collection of group photographs assembled by Claude Hudelot.
I am gladdened, furthermore, that the National Portrait Gallery has associated us with a retrospective of the work of David Bailey, which we are happy to present. I would like to thank and salute here the many collectors who have entrusted Arles with the cream of their collections.
Finally, Erik Kessels is one of our guest curators and offers us a selection of contemporary viewpoints from the Netherlands – among many other exhibitions, whose strength and diversity I leave the honour of presenting to Francois Hebel.
Faithful to our commitment to favouring access to photographic practice and contributing to sharpening vision in a world where the image is omnipresent, we pursue a policy that has been crowned with success over the years: portfolio reviews, workshops organised from spring through autumn, thematic colloquia, exhibition visits with their photographers and curators, free lectures and debates every day of opening week, and activities and workshops for schools.
The year 2013 marked the tenth anniversary of an activity dear to us and symbolic of the inventive teaching policy of the Rencontres: Back to School in Images. This activity has been so successful (10,750 students in 2013) that we have not had enough room to welcome all the classes who wanted to participate. This time we have the pleasure of offering, at the same time, a two-day teaching seminar for 300 teachers and culture professionals on a fascinating topic: ‘Image, Text, and Narrative: How Are Stories Told Today?’. I like to recall that in 2004, its first edition, Back to School in Images involved only one school and a hundred students. What a long way we’ve come since then!
Buoyed up by this success, a few years ago our educational department developed a tool to introduce and facilitate image-reading. We had the pleasure of introducing this educational tool, the Pause-Photo-Prose game, in 2012. It has already been used successfully and garnered enthusiastic reactions in many schools, vocational institutes, social centres, and media libraries. This dissemination will continue over the coming two years among cultural mediators, educators, and instructors throughout France, thanks to the combined support of the Fondation Total, the French Ministry of Culture, and the French Ministry of National Education. This operation is expected to involve over 260 communes and train 800 instructors and mediators.
Nor can I forget a cherished project: a digital media library of Les Rencontres d’Arles, accessible from our website since 2013, with the support of the French Ministry of Culture. The INA, a valued collaborator, collaborated with us in this mission, and I wish to thank the institution for digitising and indexing the totality of the Rencontres’ sound and audio-visual archives.
These achievements should not distract us from the future. While the Rencontres have reached an unprecedented number of visitors and their worldwide renown is established, they are approaching a moment of crisis. With the departure of Franc?ois He?bel, their valiant director, an era is ending. During his twelve-year tenure, not only did he save the festival from a death foretold, but he vastly expanded its public.
We are saddened to lose a personality with whom the festival teams have worked in trust and fellow-feeling for so many years, whose unparalleled talent we have always gratefully appreciated, with whom I personally have developed over the years – why deny it? – bonds of deep friendship. He knows that I understand the motives behind his decision, in perfect solidarity with him.
Let me wish him the very best for the future and the new challenges he will take up, I know, for he is not a man to rest long on his laurels. I have no doubt he will plunge into new adventures and give us new achievements to admire.
Much as we regret this farewell, we must look to the future. As you expect and my duty demands, I have done my best to ensure that future by selecting, together with public institutions and members of the administrative board, our new director: Sam Stourdze?, who since 2010 has headed Lausanne’s Muse?e de l’Elyse?e. His outstanding career and dedication to photography augur the best for the future of Les Rencontres.
Sam Stourdze? must confront new challenges and invent new formulations. An adventure such as this can never settle into a fixed pattern. A stable future must be built, while at the same time confronting the increasingly urgent ques- tion of future exhibition spaces and, if possible -- dare we dream? -- putting an end to the association's budgetary precariousness.