François Hébel, Rencontres d’Arles, director.
The 2007 edition of the Rencontres d’Arles is benefiting from the expertise of many figures on the international photography scene.
New talents are revealed thanks to the festival awards, established with Fondation Luma in 2002. The 2007 nominators are of outstanding calibre: all five run internationally respected organisations. They bring to Arles their varied sensibilities through 15 exhibitions that give promising artists a helping hand. They will select two, and no longer one, of the year’s best books: the best thematic book or monograph on a photographer’s career, and the best book to emerge from an individual creative project.
Dashanzi Art District
China, a regular guest in Arles – 1986, 1988, 1989, 2001, 2003 – is experiencing a phenomenon that we felt compelled to present: the Dashanzi Art District.
This superb military and industrial complex in central Beijing, which several artists occupied in 2002, has over five years become a unique global venue bringing together artists, galleries and theatres.
The Dashanzi International Art Festival is bringing to Arles a selection of these artists to help us understand the incredible creative ferment at work in this laboratory complex. Photographers, visual artists, performers... all creative modes are mixing to describe China’s transformation. Playing host to Dashanzi in Arles is also a way to give outside support to this fascinating movement, which is now threatened with eviction by the site’s conversion into a luxury shopping centre.
India is growing fast, and a generation of Indian photographers is feeling the need to reflect this vast and highly code-governed society. They have the same need as the Chinese photographers, but there the parallel stops. Indian society has not undergone the shock of the cultural revolution – quite the contrary, for democracy and independence, whose 60th anniversary is being celebrated, have maintained the social fetters. This permanence is weighing on young Indians. Treating the themes of family, love and sexuality, the photographers presented in Arles seem torn between an attachment to tradition and the need for emancipation. Lastly, we present the retrospective of Raghu Rai, the exceptional chronicler of India.
The private realm gradually sheds photographic treasures that later turn up at flea markets and auctions and in family shoeboxes. Several outstanding sets of items will be exhibited at the 2007 Rencontres.
Photography in India is an old passion that dates back to the Maharajahs, with the very unusual Maharajah presentation albums and painted photos quite different from those found elsewhere in the world. The Alkazi Foundation, which for thirty years has been collecting and preserving them, is honouring us with the first-ever loan of a significant selection from its collection in both genres.
Also on show will be the photographs of a middle-class Indian, a wonderful enthusiast of the early 20th century whose main subject is himself and his daughters – one of whom, incidentally, has gone on to become the most famous modern painter in India.
This alternative pick of photographs also embraces the collection of Erik Kessels. A Dutch advertising art irector and exhibition curator, he is primarily a great collector of vernacular photography: family albums, technical images and incongruities found on the internet, which add up to an exceptional collection, at once very funny and truly tragic.
Lastly, true treasure will emerge from the Hermès albums of Pannonica de Knigswarter. This wealthy heiress, famous as a generous jazz patron from the 1950s to 1970s, proves to be a most liberated amateur photographer. For more than thirty years she frequented legendary musicians. This first-time presentation of some 300 Polaroid pictures sheds light on the carnal dimension of passion, and should stir feelings in jazz fans and in many more visitors besides.
The finest agency celebrates its anniversary. The only international agency that is still independent, Magnum derives its originality from its cooperative structure and its members total autonomy. It is home to a great diversity of perspectives which have only one thing in common: a curiosity for how the world works.
The festival holds up two examples of official photography for comparison. First, 81 years of official portraits of the Queen of England by prominent photographers from Camera Press – a series that spans half the history of photography. And then, the official photographs of the President of France, the most widely disseminated images in France and doubtless the most monotone series since photography was invented. For the Rencontres, more than 40 photographers have accepted the challenge to depart from this uniformity by imagining how a woman president might pose.
We celebrate the anniversary of some old Rencontres friends: the excellent PHotoEspaña festival, whose 10th anniversary we will mark with an exhibition and a live show about the photographer of the movida: Alberto García-Alix. Also turning ten this year is the Fondation HSBC pour la Photographie, which does remarkable promotional work through exhibitions and books.
The Museon Arlaten, meanwhile, will offer its vision of the Armenian exodus through studio photographs, albums and postcards.
The festival nights will be marked by the visual show of Lou Reed and Julian Schnabel.
Opening Week is the opportunity for a seminar on collecting photography, organised by the National Photography School, the City of Paris Workshop for Photographic Restoration and Preservation run by Anne Cartier-Bresson, and the Pompidou Centre, preceded by an evening revolving around collector Sam Wagstaff.
The festival continues to develop, and we strive to give it a very different complexion each year, adding new activities to the mix from one edition to the next. However, we remain vigilant, and convinced that a certain fragility and the constant review of our “winning formula” will sustain the public’s enduring interest.
If we are tempted to feel we have succeeded, every year we are brought back down to earth by the many uncertainties surrounding venues and budgets, coupled with the salutary anxieties of artists and collectors. Faced with that, the Rencontres team displays rare enthusiasm and professionalism, and our loyal partners provide us with very precious support.
I hope that the festival-goers – whose numbers, incidentally, are growing strongly – will find this programme, the fruit of many sensibilities, to be rich in surprises and emotions.