The photography festival Les Rencontres d'Arles has been going on since the late1960s and was started by Lucien Clergue who also organized the Ecole Nationale Photographie located in the town's center. This was my first experience going and I think it will be a must each year as the whole week was a great experience. Basically this small town in the south of France is taken over for a couple months with photo exhibitions spread out through the city and the festival draws thousands during the main week. It has even spawned a shadow festival and if you tire of so much photography, the theater festival in Avignon can be a interesting day trip.
For photobook lovers it is known for its juried book prize for both artist and historical categories and it has helped to launch the careers of many photographers. This year they received around 400 submissions of books to compete and from what I understand two copies of each book is required to be sent, one is displayed and the second copy goes to the Ecole Nationale Photographie library for the students. While I was there Olivier Cablat organized a visit and not only is it a fine collection but it is housed in an amazing space that used to be a convent.
Unlike Paris where my experience to get a drink after 1am in is task, Arles is much more accommodating. Parties are a large part of the week which didn't allow much in the way of time for writing as I expected. 18 hour days are the norm and since the town is quite small you keep running into people you know, there isn't a shortage of alternate nightly plans. I did manage to see a few of the exhibitions in the 6 days but not many.
Much of the exhibition aspect of the festival now takes place in a former railway yard which is being redesigned by Frank Gehry. In its transition it is a bit of a no-man's land of warehouse sized buildings about a ten minute walk to the edge of town. This year's main guest curator was Nan Goldin who invited people for a 'Friends of Nan Goldin' exhibition including Jim Goldberg, David Armstrong, Anders Petersen, JH Engstrom, Annelies Strba, Leigh Ledare, Boris Mikhailov, Antoine D'Agata, and others. Nan herself held a slideshow on the last day with live music accompaniment by the Tiger Lillies and a separate installation which I will spend more time on later. Roni Horn had several projects from her To Place work on display as well as a show of new talent chosen by a group of well known photographers. Brian Griffin and Martin Parr also had major exhibitions. Most of the new talent didn't make much of an impression but I enjoyed the Horn exhibition and Brian Griffin, who was mostly off my radar, deserves your attention. For me his work and books were the real discovery.
The book prize exhibition which displays most of the 400 submissions revealed very few surprises but it was interesting to see some of the past winners dating back to 1971. Nakta by Miguel Rio Branco, Interiours by Sophie Ristelhueber, East 100th Street by Bruce Davidson (the first book prize given). This year's artist book prize went to Anders Petersen and JH Engstrom's From Back Home and the historical prize went to Susan Meiselas's In History. My choice would have been Sarah Greenough's Robert Frank: Looking In.
I had many great conversations with people about the Errata Books on Books series and it was interesting to hear the divide between people who liked what we are doing and those that don't at all. It was pretty much an even split between old and young. The old said the same things like: "I have the originals" or "We have those books at the library of the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie." While the younger, perhaps less fortunate and less privileged, were excited by them. Some people in the former category expressed surprise that all of the artists we approach want to be a part of our series and that is the biggest confirmation of what we are trying to do. I have some killer books lined up (about a dozen if we can sustain what we are doing) so one of these years we'll win over the French and take home the prize. I'll be announcing the next round of books in the coming weeks.
Many Thanks to Markus, Sebastian Hau, Sebastien Girard, Remy, Richard, Nina, Verena, Olivier Cablat, Carli, Gregiore, Frederico, Nicholas, Adam, Thomas Manneke, Kalev, Morten, Bertrand, Oliver, the Irish crew, and all that made this a great time...