Edition 2023



Jean-Paul Anastay (1857-1935), André Barthélémy (1915-1991), Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969), Gaston Bouzanquet (1866-1937), Michèle Brabo (1916-2013), Lucien Clergue (1934-2014), Nigel Dickinson (1959), Jean Dieuzaide (1921-2003), Martine Franck (1938-2012), Georges Glasberg (1914-2009), François Kollar (1904-1979), Lore Krüger (1914-2009), Joseph Y. Pissarewsky (1914), Jean Ribière (1922-1989), Ferdinando Scianna (1943), Jeanne Taris (1959), Sabine Weiss (1924-2021) et Chiki Weisz (1911-2007).

This exhibition presents a photographic history of the annual pilgrimage to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, during which Gitans, Manouches, Romani, and travelers from France and Europe honor Saint Sara. Despite prevailing hostilities and antigypsyism, the pilgrimage is a proven occasion for reunions, and an important space for social, religious, and artistic expression.

Starting in the 19th century, photographers tried to portray manifestations of the sacred and the image of a population that both repels and fascinates. Reporters and ethnographers would then produce archetypal images that fed stereotypes and xenophobia. In the 1930s, avant-garde artists, political exiles and people seeking refuge from antisemitism celebrated, quite the opposite, an idea of freedom and a refusal to submit in the face of exclusion and intolerance. During World War II, photography testifies to an attempt to control the pilgrimage under Occupation, as repression increased, with the goal of confining and annihilating “the gypsy race.”

In the postwar period, the pilgrimage became a site of renewed solidarity, of cultural emancipation, and the affirmation of new art forms. The rise of mass tourism then transformed the event, and new media would replicate the same images ad nauseam. Behind this blinding light, photographers offered another perspective, inspired by the Humanism of the 1950s and 60s, and again in the counterculture of the 70s and 80s. Through long term, immersive experiences, these photographers sought the unique, intimate sides of their subjects and renewed rituals of spirituality, producing unprecedented photographic adventures as they met fellow travelers. Vernacular images taken by pilgrims tell a very different story: the event becomes a site for the public and personal, communication across generations, self-expression, and a site for shared emotion through photography.


Ilsen About

Curator: Ilsen About.

Publication: Lumières des Saintes. Le pèlerinage des gitans aux Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, une histoire photographique, Éditions Textuel, 2023.

  • Institutional partners

    • République Française
    • Région Provence Alpes Côté d'Azur
    • Département des Bouches du Rhône
    • Arles
    • Le Centre des monuments nationaux est heureux de soutenir les Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles en accueillant des expositions dans l’abbaye de Montmajour
  • Main partners

    • Fondation LUMA
    • BMW
    • SNCF
    • Kering
  • Media partners

    • Arte
    • Lci
    • Konbini
    • Le Point
    • Madame Figaro
    • France Culture