Our pick of the key stories from the past week, including Q&As with image-makers like Mathilde Vaveau and Karol Palka, Paul Senn’s documentation of a mass migration from Spain in 1939, and the programme for the 50th Les Rencontres d’Arles.
50 years ago, photographer Lucien Clergue, writer Michel Tournier and historian Jean-Maurice Rouquette put together the first edition of Les Rencontres d’Arles in the city’s town hall. They had three exhibitions – a group show tracing the history of photography, and solo shows by Gjon Mili and Edward Weston. Now it’s the largest and most prestigious photography festival in the world, and this summer, they celebrate 50 years with 50 exhibitions, looking back on their history and heritage, as well as championing cutting-edge photography and emerging talent.
Running from 01 July till 22 September, the festival is lead by director Sam Stourdzé for the sixth year. Last year, Stourdzé was criticised by a group of eminent photography specialists in an open letter urging him to include more women in the main programme. A year on, it seems they’ve taken the criticism on board. Marina Gadonneix, Germaine Krull, Helen Levitt, Evangelia Kranioti, Libuse Jarcovjakova, Camille Fallet, and Pixy Liao, among many more, appear on the main programme with solo shows; the festival also includes a section titled Replay, which is dedicated to female-led narratives.
Replay includes a group show titled The Unretouched Woman, which combines the work of Eve Arnold, Abigail Heyman and Susan Meiselas, whose photobooks from the 1970s challenged gender bias and celebrated women from across the globe. In the same section is a group exhibition of around 200 vintage prints by Berenice Abbott, Florence Henry, Germaine Krull and more, as well as Tom Wood’s Mothers, Girls, Sisters, which was shot in the suburbs of Liverpool between the early 1970s and late 1990s.
From 07 November to 04 February, the Centre Pompidou in Paris is showing a striking exhibition on a little-known aspect of the roots of 20th century social documentary photography, Photographie, arme de classe [which roughly translates as ‘Photography as a weapon in the class struggle’]. Curated by Damarice Amao, Florian Ebner and Christian Joschke, the show deals with a comparatively unknown period in French photo history, from the end of the 1920s to the arrival of the Front populaire government of 1936 – when the socialist, communist and radical parties formed a short-lived coalition to govern France, with the tacit backing of the Soviet Union.
Photographer and activist Henri Tracol (1909-1997) was the first to formulate the idea that photography could be an “arme de classe”, in the tract he wrote for the photographer’s section of the Association des Écrivains et Artistes Revolutionnaires [‘Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists’ aka the AEAR], formed in 1932. Although this communist front, Moscow-sponsored organisation only lasted a few years, it attracted many of the leading figures of the day from art, theatre, literature, architecture, and particularly photography. Those who joined were either fellow travellers or politically attached to communism, seeing it as a bastion against the twin evils of the time – fascism and capitalism.
History confirms it – the first photobook was made by a woman, with British photographer Anna Atkins publishing Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in 1843, a year before Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature. Still, many historians, including Allan Porter in his introduction to The Photobook: A History, dismiss Atkins’ work as “photographic prints” rather than photography.
“Unfortunately, this is far too often emblematic of the uphill battle women photobook-makers still encounter when we talk about their history,” says Russet Lederman, co-founder of 10×10 Photobooks. “As we conducted research for the How We See project, we discovered that although women photographers produce relatively equal numbers of photobooks to men, their representation in the higher-profile sectors was, and still is, disappointing.”