Ground-breaking image-maker Chris Marker has a solo show at this year's Les Rencontres d'Arles photography festival. Image from the series Passengers, 2008-2010 © Chris Marker.
Revolution is in the air at this year's Les Rencontres d'Arles, with exhibitions on the Mexican revolution and the Spanish civil war, shows by pioneering artists Chris Marker and JR, Discovery Awards picked out by a new generation of curators and editors, and a manifesto on photography in the age of the internet. But according to festival director Francois Hebel, that's business as usual for the world's biggest and best-respected photography festival.
"Every year the festival is different, so that people can enjoy it year after year," he says. "What I see done more and more in institutions and [other] festivals is not promoting the new guys, because they need the publicity [of big names and well-established photographers]. At Arles, we surprise people with new directions.
"I fought over the years to have a budget to produce our own programme; others don't have that. 80% of what you see in Arles is self-generated [by the festival], so we are very free from constraints. In a big city you can have interesting exhbitions, but you also have to do what the galleries have to do. We don't. We can produce what we want, and do not necessarily have to go to glory names."
The exhibitions are open from 04 July - 18 September, but the opening week is 04 - 10 July and that's when photographers, curators and picture editors from around the world will descend on the small, South France town. From Here On, a huge group exhibition curated by Martin Parr, Joan Fontcuberta, Erik Kessels, Joachim Schmidt and Clement Cheroux, explores new possibilities the internet has opened up for photography, and is kicked off with a manifesto stating: "Now, we're a species of editors. We all recycle, clip and cut, remix and upload. We can make images do anything. All we need is an eye, a brain, a camera, a phone, a laptop, a scanner, a point of view. And when we're not editing, we're making. We're making more than ever, because our resources are limitless and the possiblities endless."
Including work by Doug Rickard, Mishka Henner, Thomas Mailaender, Hans Aarsman and Andreas Schmidt, the exhibition will be on show at the Atelier de Mecanique - a large space allowing the curators to show several pieces by each photographer or artist. "Curators are more expert now, there is much more expertise we can benefit from, but I would never do a curator's festival," says Hebel. "It's an artists' festival - everything is designed with the artist and we work closely with every artist on the shape of the show. We do mainly solo shows and if it's a group show, it's spread over 17 or 18 galleries [so that each artist gets a large space]. We never have one or two images per photographer."
Chris Marker's eponymous retrospective includes more than 300 works, made between 1957 and 2010, and including his innovative work on Second Life and the project Quelle heure est-elle?, shot on the Paris metro. Arles will also screen his 1962 film, La Jetee, which uses still images to narrate a science fiction time travel story. "Photography is young, it is still evolving," says Hebel. "And people are more trusting of photography now. When I was a young photographer, institutions were still staging their first photography shows, and the people in charge of photography focussed on a certain kind of image. Now photography doesn't have to be a print on the wall, it can be a projection, a book, a family photograph or something from eBay. Arles is not a market, we don't have to sell and we don't have to convince anyone about photography, so we can create an occasion to talk about it and break exciting new ground."
Eight exhibitions gathered together under the title Republic will show work about Mexico and shot by Mexican photographers, including English photographer Jimmy Hare's photogarphs of the 1911 Mexican revolution and a solo show by Graciela Iturbide. The Mexican Suitcase, meanwhile, actually gives an insight into the Spanish Civil War, as shot by Robert Capa, Chim and Gerda Taro. The suitcase was in fact three small boxes, containing nearly 4500 negatives by the three photographers, and several rolls of film by Fred Stein showing mainly portraits of Taro. Between 1936 and 1940, the negatives were passed from hand to hand for safekeeping then saved by Mexican diplomats during the Vichy period in France and ended up in Mexico City. They were rediscovered in 2007.
"We are honoured to be the first to show The Mexican Suitcase in Europe, and we will also premiere Trisha Ziff's film, The Mexican Suitcase [which tells the story of the suitcase]," says Hebel. The Documents section of the festival will also include a retrospective of work published in New York Times Magazine, called 30 years of the New York Times Magazine.
Points of View gathers together six more exhibitions, including solo shows by Gabriel Figueroa, Wang Qingsong and Michel Bouvet. It also includes the Discovery Award 2011, which this year includes photographers such as Indre Serpytyte, Rut Blees Luxemburg, Yann Gross and Mikhael Subotzky, picked out by four selectors - Simon Baker (curator of photography and international art at Tate), Chris Boot (executive of Aperture), French publisher Le Point du Jour, curator and editor Sam Stourdze and collector Artur Walther. "I thought it was interesting that there's a new generation coming into position in the institutions, such as Chris Boot, Simon Baker and the rest," says Hebel. "It's very exciting that there's this new generation to tell us about their vision."
The opening week will also include evening screenings, including work by VII, Mitch Epstein and JR, as well as The Mexican Suitcase, and a 'Village of the Rencontres d'Arles', a space for bookshops, galleries and magazine editors to meet. Workshops and portfolio reviews will run throughout July and August. The Festival Voies Off, a fringe festival featuring contemporary work by young photographers, runs from 02 - 09 July at the Cour de l'Archeveche, Place de la Republique. www.rencontres-arles.com
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