Rencontres des Arles, 2018

14 August 2018

SIG: Documentary

The “Rencontres” is now in its 49th year and runs until September.  In parallel, Voies Off has a further 170 or more exhibitions. As last year, I visited during the Opening Week.   For me this still represents the best time to go.  It is busy, but there are also, many more events on and an opportunity to meet many fellow photographers from all over the world, and get your portfolio reviewed.  During opening week there were 18,500 visitors to the 36 official exhibitions in 25 venues, several of which were new. 


The highlights:

A big highlight, for me, was in the Espace Van Gogh, which hosted two exhibitions:  Robert Frank and Raymond Depardon.  Both exhibitions focused on America.  Frank’s began with his early work in Switzerland, France and UK before he moved to the US and began what was to become “The Americans”, published 60 years ago in 1958.  After Henri Cartier-Bresson, he is probably one of the most influential photographers of the 20th Century. The exhibition provided an opportunity to see his personal and photographic development through chronological images and collections of contact prints.  One of the amazing things about Frank’s work is you can see (in the contact prints) how he moved from image to image (and changed location) yet still got several ‘hits’ per roll of film.  He was also prepared to crop, sometimes quite severely, unlike HCB.   Depardon’s exhibition focused on US images taken between 1968 and 1999, with many candid street images, which would surpass much of today’s street imagery in terms of quality.  His work on the Correspondance new-yorkaise’, with its unusual shots and offbeat captions, marked a turning point in his career. He later toured the western United States, from New Mexico to California, passing through Colorado and Nevada. He returned to America in 1999, producing landscapes of Arizona, Montana and South Dakota, which are also exhibited.



Robert Frank, New York City, 1950


Jonas BendiksonThe Last Testament chronicles seven men who all claim to be the biblical Messiah returned. The in-depth project followed these ‘new messiahs’ and their followers. The work is Intense, as Bendikson immersed himself with the groups to provide absorbing portrayals. This is a must see, and a stunning example of in depth documentary work, mixing journalistic and artistic approaches. 


Cristina De Middel and Bruno Morais  - Midnight at the Crossroads – the couple working on this joint project explore African spirituality in Benin, Cuba, Haiti and Brazil.  Focussed on the universe of Èsù, the dynamic force that rules all movement in life, and acts as the sole messenger between gods and humans.  The images cover many of the rituals, rarely seen by outsiders.


Christina de Middel & Bruno Morais, Untitled form the series Midnight at the Crossroads, 2016


Michael Christopher Brown - Yo Soy Fidel – follows he funeral journey of Fidel Castro retracing the Freedom Way, from the revolution.   Martin Parr summed it up nicely – “right Time, Right Place”, Brown had been on holiday in Trinidad de Cuba, when the death of Fidel was announced.  He used local contacts and little guile to join the cortege and following its near 1000km and four-day journey.   


The Hobbyists – a quirky exhibition about people photographing their hobbies and photography as a hobby.  


On 8 June 1968, three days after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (RFK), his body was carried by a funeral train from New York City to Washington D.C. - The Train, RFK’s Last Journey  - combines the work of Paul Fusco, Rein Jelle Terpstra and Philippe Parreno to provide three perspectives on this multidisciplinary event.


René BurriThe Imaginary Pyramids – explores Burri’s fascination with pyramids and triangular shapes in his photography, his sketchbooks and collections.


Feng LiWhite Night – flash-based street photography from China.   Much lauded, humorous and providing some different street imagery, with an improbably cast, principally photographed in Chengdu, China. 


Laura Heno – Redemption - immersed herself at the lost Slab City in the Californian desert, a former military camp. , which is now an infamous camp of outsiders, here the pioneer life is lived out in dreams or nightmares. She stayed in a caravan with her camera for two months in 2017 to meet, observe, and exchange with people, aiming to discover the characters. In some respects it reminds me of Alex Soth’s ‘Broken Manual’, with Americans aiming to escape what it has become. 


Taysir BatanijiGaza to America, Home Away from Home – a large exhibition, covering several of his projects, depicting Gaza and family migration (based upon his own cousins who had emigrated to the US).  The range of projects and intimate storytelling were powerful.  Definitely worth a visit.



Taysir Batniji, Untitled, From Home Away from Home series, 2017

Gregor SailerPotemkin Village - can be traced back to Prince Potemkin, a Russian field marshal and favorite of Empress Catherine the Great. Anxious to spare her the grim reality of  recently annexed Crimea when she toured it in 1787. He allegedly created entire “villages” consisting of nothing more than painted façades all along her route. Gregor Sailer documents the curious architectural phenomena by photographing the modern Potemkin villages: military field centers in the USA and Europe, European city replicas in China, vehicle testing tracks in Sweden. 



Matthieu Gafsou H+ - looks at developments in transhumanism, a movement advocating the use of science and technology to enhance human beings’ capabilities. 


Ann Ray – The Unfinished Lee McQueenhaving met him in 1996, Ray formed a friendship and took over 35,000 analogue images of Alexander (Lee) McQueen  The exhibition immersed in the world of the long considered fashion’s enfant terrible, but who was a talented creator of imagery.


The Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation for Documentary Photography and Film aspires to encourage a new generation of photographers and filmmakers, armed with only a camera and a vision of a better world, to take to the streets every day and document humanity on the move.  

Hope, a collaborative perspective- at the Fondation Manual Rivera-Ortiz, presents photography as ‘an experience’. It presents the work of people who create images, sometimes in parallel with their professions, to influence their lives and the environment. They are not merely witnesses but become actors.  


Finally, Cosmos, the book festival, had a changed format, with publishers operating in ‘pop up’ spaces, that meant they had more flexibility in terms of attendance, but it was a bit hit and miss on who wat there each day.  Early attendance was limited, but then picked up during the week.  It was still interesting to visit, to meet a few people and make a few purchases and meet some great photographers.  


Todd Hido, experimenting with an Olympus camera, this work is different from Hido’s usual, and consisted mainly of portraits with chiaroscuro lighting.  Worth a look in if you are in the area, but probably not worth a detour. 


Paul Graham - The Whiteness of the Whale - brings together three bodies of work made in the United States between 1998 and 2011, American Nighta shimmer of possibility, and The Present.   Although much feted I found the repetitive (stuttering) images, often just seconds apart and almost identical irritating; they did not really add much to the narrative.


The Rencontres de la Photographie, in Arles, is on until 23 September.


Voies Off, also runs until the same date, although many events close in July.

The main exhibition in the Voies Off HQ, provides multiple perspectives on Slovenia, its frontline position in European immigration, and its people.  Near the Amphitheatre, MYOP, provided an excellent exhibition centre, with several projects, plus bookshop and bar.