Lucien Clergue left us in 2014. He was the photographer of Arles, a tireless photography booster and a link between France and America. In 1974, he asked Ansel Adams, a monument of California photography, to teach a master class in Arles. The festival was just four years old, living hand-to-mouth and struggling to survive from one year to the next. When Adams accepted the invitation, the festival’s future was ensured. Still-reluctant photographers were convinced that making the trip to Arles would be worthwhile. From then on, amateurs as well as the 20th-century’s biggest names, including Jacques Henri Lartigue, Henri Cartier- Bresson, Gisèle Freund, Manuel Álvarez Bravo and W. Eugene Smith, came to Arles, which gradually became the capital of photography.

Michel Tournier died in 2016. One of the three musketeers, he co-founded the Rencontres Photographiques d’Arles in 1970 with Lucien Clergue and Jean-Maurice Rouquette. Few people know that the author of Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique and Roi des Aulnes hosted an ORTF show entirely devoted to photography called La Chambre noire. In the heyday of television, for 52 minutes he and Albert Plécy, editor-inchief of Point de vue, image du monde and a photography connoisseur, would interview major photographers, from Man Ray to André Kertész, Brassaï and Lucien Clergue. Right from the start, Tournier gave the festival a Parisian touch.

Jean-Maurice Rouquette passed away in 2019, the same year as the 50th anniversary celebration. He was nearly 88. Another Arles native, he shaped the festival’s soul with Lucien Clergue. One embodied a contemporary art form—photography, which still had not received its due. The other defended the city’s historic landmarks and spearheaded the campaign for its inscription on Unesco’s World Heritage List on two counts: its Roman and Romanesque art and architecture. Deeply affected by the war’s destruction, these visionary builders helped, each in his own way, to reconstruct Arles, which drew people passionate about photography from around the world. Together they had the brilliant idea that festival-goers must be offered a comprehensive experience, that seeing amazing places would greatly contribute to making their visit worthwhile. In a few years, they forged a community, offering projections, workshops, debates and even a photo-safari alongside exhibitions. From the outset, they made institutional recognition of photography a militant act. The first festival featured three manifesto exhibitions, La Photographie est un art [Photography Is an Art], tracing the history of major exhibitions devoted to the medium; and two solo shows devoted to Gjon Mili and Edward Weston, historic figures of photography.

Today, in tribute to those auspicious beginnings, we are recreating the Weston show as it was presented in 1970 and having it dialogue with Lucien Clergue’s earliest works, whose striking minerality echoes the American master’s straightforward, bare-bones vision.

The anniversary is also an opportunity to start seriously working on the archives and photography collection the Rencontres has built up over the years. From the outset, exhibiting photographers who want to have left us works. In 50 years, we have built up a cherished collection of over 3,300 works preciously conserved at the Musée Réattu.

We have given Françoise Denoyelle, a historian passionate about photography, the opportunity to write our history. She has published two books: one lavishly illustrated by works in the collection, the other, more theoretical, narrating the great Rencontres d’Arles adventure in detail. Reading them, it is easy to understand that the project launched by three friends has outstripped their expectations. In a few decades, the Rencontres d’Arles became a major institution playing the role of trendsetter and contributing, as the founders wished, to the recognition of photography.

In the space of a few years, they left us.

Wanting to perpetuate their trailblazing spirit, we devised a busy program to celebrate the jubilee of an adventure that has lost none of its vibrancy and insightfulness in half a century. Carrying on the adventure answers a seemingly unsolvable question: how can a summery ambiance and a festive mood be conciliated with creating photography’s leading event? The original aims remain unchanged. Arles is still where careers are launched, discoveries made, manifestoes proclaimed and where bold exhibits as well as unexpected venues consistently challenge ways of showing photography.

Naturally, while telling this story and saluting the work of those whose commitment and talent have kept the festival’s spirit alive for 50 years, we wanted to set our sights on tomorrow. Celebrating the last 50 years while looking ahead to the next 50 is a way of continuing, with the same high standards, to achieve our goals of revealing trends and discovering the new generation. This year, complementing many historical shows—Helen Levitt, Variétés, Photo/Brut, Germaine Krull and so on—we are offering four new sequences corresponding to the program’s themes: My Body Is a Weapon, On the Edge, Inhabiting and Building the Image. They shed light on a world in upheaval where the image often plays a key role as witness or actor.

From communist Czechoslovakia and Germany to post-Franco Spain, photographers recorded a counter-culture where staging one’s everyday life was an act of resistance against the established order and an alternative to dominant models. Existing, resisting, photographing: the body is also a weapon.

Where is my home? Where is my country? The next two sequences revisit the theme of borders and home, endless sources of inspiration for artists in step with current events. As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Walls of Power show recalls that walls are still relevant in Europe. Then there is “the zone”, a 250-meter-wide strip of land ringing Paris that was off-limits to construction for military defense reasons but gradually filled up with all the capital’s homeless. The Zone tells the story of a huge shantytown around Paris in images.

Today many artists build the image. A new generation of photographers creates photo installations. Examples include Camille Fallet and Yann Pocreau, who take over space, play with light and give the history of photography a new twist.

Talking about yesterday, today and tomorrow, tirelessly exploring photography, entering its zones of friction, where artists reveal the unspeakable, the Rencontres d’Arles has gone all-out to offer an ambitious, eclectic, electric program. Thanks everybody! Thanks to the artists, our partners, our many supporters, the amazing Rencontres team and everybody who helped us organize this year’s outsized edition. With 50 shows for its 50 years, the festival approaches its midlife crisis with some emphasis, much pleasure and above all a strong desire to share the overflowing energy that drives photography.

Happy birthday to the Rencontres!
  • 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