A light goes on in Arles

The decision to go to Arles this year was made very late. I had felt for some time that I should go back, but wondered when it would be. Maybe the idea was prescient, as I have come to a place in my project where I can see clearly what work I need to do and the outcomes that I feel I need to achieve including aesthetic decisions. I have always felt that once I ‘knew’ which way to go it would be easy to comprehend it and therefore follow it through. light entrancec2

Some things don’t change

I’m aware that things may alter/change/become modified but the intent of the work is fairly well defined – I have a clear idea of what work I need to do – and I have sent an email describing those ideas to Sharon for her comments, though I suspect as it is holiday time her response may come in a couple of weeks or so, but I will continue. I will describe my ideas and plans after that response and commit them to the project. I am excited about the prospect. It may be that I would have come to this set of ideas about the work independently of the trip to Arles, but I can’t help feeling that being immersed in the city has helped to progress the situation that had become stuck fast.

Waiting room on platform 1, Arles railway station.

The Arles experience this year was mixed for me. The Ateliers have been reduced to a very much smaller event than when I was there two years ago, the organisers have improved the viewing experience and some of the ‘sheds’ now have air-conditioning, but what it gained in ‘ease’ it seemed to lack in gravity. The Atelier des Forges had a large work based on the album cover and after I ceased to try and see how many of my own record sleeves I recognised, I wondered about the contrivance of art and the commercial, a bit like ‘fashion photography’ in many ways. And saying this isn’t meant to denigrate it, but I feel a lack of depth as opposed to a great deal of depth of professionalism. Good to see editing decisions, but I felt that the size of the show might have been influenced by what appeared to be some sort of sponsor-shipping, maybe I am wrong.

Inside the “Grande Halle”

I quite enjoyed this series of works by Robert Zhao Renhui who must surely have been influenced by Joan Fontcuberta, asking the reader fundamental questions about the ‘real’, but so beautifully constructed – his miniature frogs were very difficult to see however.

Ambroise Tezenas’ work “I was here. Dark Tourism” was one that I enjoyed greatly. Asking serious questions about the nature of catastrophe and voyeurism and commercialisation of tragedy. There were other interesting works in the Atelier, but nothing that really jumped out at me, and a few lowlights as well. The Ateliers were perhaps a defining component of the festival, they have been irrevocably changed. light framec2

A view across the Atelier development

In the Grande Halle – seemingly a lot of space unfilled…

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Part of Majolli and Pellegrin’s work entitled “Congo” in the ‘Magasin Electrique’ (Atelier)

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Workers looking at an issue on the floor in the ‘Facades’ by Markus Brunetti in the Grande Halle which was supposed to question our perceptual relationship with reality – it appeared more to me to be about technical proficiency and the ‘unreal’. The ‘book’ seemed to be occupying more of the stage at Arles with new awards and a significant increase in the items on display. However I think that there needs to a radical retying about how these books are curated for the viewer. Long treacle table at just over knee height in the sweltering heat with no conception on genre or subject left me bewildered about where to look, or even to start to look. Volumes that I recognised, that I thought might lead to volumes of a similar or related subject was a misconception. One either waded through risking a back-ache and a slowly cooked body or flipped randomly through with a hope that something might turn up. Like going to a library and stumbling on a reference, and whilst serendipity can work, in this atmosphere one needed a great deal of stamina to stick at it.

And so what took me two full days the last time I came took me less than a day. There seemed to be a lot of space in the Ateliers, like this one above which had a show before. I wonder what this new development will bring, if anything to the future of Arles.

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I found the whole concept of Parr’s work confusing. The show was held in Eglise des Freres Precheurs where I had seen Alfredo Jaar’s work two years previous, one artist moved me the other didn’t. The fashioning of a concept which wasn’t clear to me didn’t help me to come closer to what Parr’s work is. I know I am missing a point, but the coupling of some quite surreal electronic music to each of the installations moved me away from the work instead of helping me to connect with it. It advertised over 500 images – I suppose eighty per cent were digitally projected. An absolute highlight was the work by Dutch artist Alice Wielinga whose work “North Korea, a life between propaganda and reality” was a delight. Beautiful imagery set in a film, structurally a documentary but offering many narrative motifs on truth and reality both contrived and ‘real’. I watched the film through a couple of times and would do so again, there was so much to discover. Wonderful. Wielinga’s work contrasted with a major exhibition in the Place de la Republique, that being “Another Language” in the Eglise Sainte-Anne, where last I saw a large retrospective of Sergio Lorrain.

Eikoh Hosoe’s work spoke to me of a crisis of identity, a theme which I felt echoed across a few of those eight Japanese photographers and one which I felt lacked a little in imagination. Two of the photographer’s had very similar imagery – dense over-processed, difficult to discern prints – and one which didn’t stand much comparison to the Japanese work at the ‘Together, Forever” show from ‘The Collection of the Maison Europeenene de la Photographie’ which had Moriyami, Shibata, Tomatsu, Sugimoto and others and one of the ‘laugh out loud moments for me when someone did this:

Couple HCB with Parr, not once but, I think, four times! This exhibition from the archives had some great prints and whilst the show was conceptually weak I don’t think that was the point – the prints were wonderful and diverse.

From Klein, Leiter, Callaghan, Close, Brassai and a lot of others. Another site which had a selection of ‘Greatest Hits’ was the Musee Reattu which had: “Daring Photography 50 years of avant-garde collection in Arles”. Though I’m not sure about Ansel Adams and Edward Weston in that list, but it was nice to see some Sarah Moon prints along with Kertesz, Klein, Plossu, HCB (again), Man Ray, Strand and others. Two heavyweights at the festival were undoubtably Evans and Shore. Walker Evans’ show focussed on his magazine work, and whilst it was interesting to see the images, some i had seen before in other places, this curation did nothing to dispel the obsessive nature of his documentary work and this influence was, I think, cleverly echoed in the exhibition of Stephen Shore’s work who has noted Evans as a big influence – but then so many have. Shore’s exhibition was of a size that would have similar in scale to some of the retrospectives two years ago, but in this years festival almost stood out for its size and scope. A good deal of Shore’s various phases were on show, from the early monochrome work through to colour, back to mono and a return to colour. My view of Shore is that he, along with the master Evans, personifies the notion of ‘do the work and find out what it is about later’. Though I can only say that my comprehension of his Montana sticks and stones work defies me, perhaps mostly because of their repressed aesthetic.. The walk along to the Evans’ show allowed the viewing of a curiosity of the festival which was the curation of a set of images, under the festival theme of ‘Odd Collections’ that depicted early photographic images of the Sphinx.

I suppose about fifty or so of them. A curiosity. I haven’t covered all that I saw, and haven’t covered Natasha Caruana’s work which had been awarded the BMW residency for this year very well which I thought was a highlight, so is the catalogue – much improved I think. I had a great time in Arles but I suspect it will be the last time I will go….


8 thoughts on “A light goes on in Arles

  1. You covered a lot in a day. I enjoyed reading your personal slant on the Festival. I found Alice Wielinga a few weeks ago.

    Great to know that you’ve found a direction. Shows the benefits of time away to contemplate and absorb.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, John; have been away so only just seen your post. Seems a ‘down-beat’ reaction, even with the occasional ‘highs’ – a shame & disappointing. Hoping I get more of a ‘buzz’ when I go in a few weeks! 🙂

    • By comparison to the year we were both there it is much smaller and, I consider, less ambitious. However there are some real gems. The North Korean film, the students work and another work in the Place de La republique – whose name I can’t remember on “big business” excellent critique. We really enjoyed our time there but four days was probably a day longer than we needed to spend at the festival.

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