Sign of passion for a certain kind of music – jazz – and way of life; the pleasure of offering guests a token of one’s breeding and opulence (the gift albums of the Maharajahs); the narcissistic joys of the family photograph (Umrao Sing Sher-Gill); a declaration of love (Loving Your Pictures); photography as a sales ploy (eBay) or a tool for technical demonstrations (the German police): the many spheres of the private have become inexhaustible sources of photographic evidence.
The collections being shown in Arles this year – most of them for the first time ever – also show of private commitments.
Ebrahim Alkazi is passionately devoted to the art and history of India, the country his family chose to live in. His support for artists goes back a long way, as does his interest in the photography of the early 20th century and its Indian particularities; long before other enthusiasts he focused on studio photography and has built up a remarkable collection for his foundation.
Erik Kessels has chosen to go down the vernacular photography road, bringing intuition, creativity and humour to an idiosyncratic approach. Oscillating between tenderness and tragedy, his collection speaks to us, between the lines, of another view of contemporary society.
Pannonica de Knigswarter’s Hermès notebooks and her boxes upon boxes of polaroids are an absolute treasure. The hidden treasure, long protected by her family’s certainty that the familiar could be an incredibly rich resource.
Polaroids are known for their playful side, a proof of a shared immediacy, and no medium could have been better suited to the generosity of this patron of jazz and her understanding of its artists. A private collection of private moments when a universal music was taking shape.
Umrao Singh Sher-Gill was a modern collector who seems to have spent his entire life producing a single, straightforward photo album. But his innovative, continuing emphasis on the self-portrait and the non-academic character of many pictures that seem to have a lightness of spirit lacking in his time, make him a different kind of family photographer. The urge to idealise his family and the enduring intention of producing an uvre found their culmination in the fame achieved by his daughter, an artist whose paintings are the pride of India’s national collections.
In the India part of the Rencontres programme we find another example of intergenerational exchange in family albums, in the dialogue between Dayanita Singh and her mother Nony.
When the private sphere and private ardour make their appearance in public, we learn a great deal about the way societies work, their hierarchies and their values and obviously a lot of pleasure.