Wild camping on France's last free beach, beautifully shot by Vasantha Yogananthan
Summertime and the living is, if not easy for the inhabitants of Piemanson then at least it’s free. France’s last wild beach, Piemanson, is a 10km stretch of sand in the heart of the Camargue Regional Nature Reserve, open to campers from 01 May; officially people can only stay for one night, but many stay for longer, and a few stay for the whole summer. On 01 September the police close it off for winter, and the inhabitants join together to mark the occasion with a huge bonfire, the makeshift elements of their temporary homes going up in smoke.
French photographer Vasantha Yogananthan stumbled across the beach by accident and, amazed by what he saw, documented it over the next five years. With no running water, life isn’t the idyll it might first appear, but the people who come relish the opportunity to live close to nature, and many have returned time and again. “It’s been going since the 1970s, so there are people who first came with their parents who now come with their own children,” says Yogananthan. “When they see people who are not used to the place they can tell, so when I arrived they invited me over [to their homes]. They were so welcoming.
“The beach evolves over summer,” he continues. “It starts in May with the first families and then swells to 5000 people in August. The first families set up in May; they work from Monday to Friday in May and June and stay for the weekend, then they take five weeks off in August and stay for the month. Many people come from abroad, and they all say it’s because there are no free beaches in their countries. The oldest couple there is 80 years old; they said, ‘Why should we live in our house? It’s so much better outside in summer.'”
Yogananthan stayed with a family while making the work, and the self-taught photographer shot with a medium format Mamiya. His project has already won recognition, been exhibited in the Bibliotheque nationale in Paris and awarded the Bourse du Talent Landscape Picto. It was one of 12 Mack First Book Awards finalists in March 2014, but Yogananthan has gathered together with three friends to publish it, setting up a company called Chose Commune, which will publish other books in future. Deliberately echoing the lo-fi elements of the beach camps, it’s beautifully printed and designed, and will be launched at Le Bal and Les Rencontres d’Arles this summer.
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