In 2012, Christian Caujolle conducts this interview with Jean-Paul Capitani.
The Méjan Association and Actes Sud have a unique position vis-à-vis the programme of the Rencontres:
Yes, of course. It’s something that dates back a few years. I’m from Arles and extremely attached to my town and to what happens here. The Méjan and Actes Sud are now more active than ever throughout the year, what with the cinema, the bookshop, exhibitions and concerts. We have been producing the Rencontres catalogues for a very long time and this, above all, is a means for us to pledge our support for and loyalty to what is an important event and we provide the knowhow we have at our disposal. I don’t think of it in terms of business. Moreover, the Méjan Association serves as a patron, even if only at a modest level. It contributes some money and offers free access to the exhibitions it puts on to those with Rencontres acreditations. We have gradually developed the spaces, programming them in accord with the Rencontres programme. This partnership is important within the context of Arles and bears witness to our desire to participate in a global project.
This year is particularly impressive, both in terms of exhibitions and publications. How did you go about putting your programme together?
You’re right, we’ve got a lot on our plate (smiles). We’ve got Lee Ufan at the Capitole, which has finally become the exhibition space I dreamt it would be, and we’re publishing a major volume of his work. Penone at the Mejan is an ambitious exhibition – which I hope will be followed by a book of the photographic work – and it would not be a bad thing if the tree in bronze that has been placed in front of the entrance is allowed to remain there. At the Parc des Ateliers, there’s a work by Moriyama specially created for the site and a series of exhibitions linked to some of our titles, including the first Gordon Parks retrospective in France. François Hébel told me that he liked the fact that I exhibit major contemporary artists who haven’t always been included in the programme for the Rencontres. As always, I took up the challenge and redoubled my efforts. Of course, I love Penone. His relationship with nature strikes a chord with me. We have managed to put together a rare ensemble of his photographic work which, in the same way that Lee Ufan gives us that Asian colour, links us back to Arte Povera. Our choices were born out of a certain logic, not in opposition but along the lines of what is happening elsewhere in Arles. Without losing our own identity of course.
Can you describe some of what’s happening from a publishing point of view?
Everyone knows that things are difficult in the sector right now, that the whole industry is going through a crisis, that bookshops are struggling and that cultural consumption is not currently a priority. Photo Poche, which does not have a huge turnover, is a wonderful venture that has also been developed abroad with translated versions appearing. Robert Delpire is editor of the collection and Benoît Rivero has overall control. Of course it gets a lot of attention but so does the whole company. When it comes to our other books, we naturally would like to put out a lot more than we’re able to. Without the European Publishers Award which allows a real synergy to exist between publishers, certain books would never see the light of day. And then – often to the great displeasure of Benoît – certain opportunistic decisions are made, on the back of exhibitions, financial support or options being taken out. Many titles just aren’t viable without co-publishing deals and financial support. It’s regrettable but that’s how things are. We have to keep our feet on the ground and at the same time follow our dreams. And often we have to put projects together on a shoestring …
When Maja Hoffmann decided to go ahead with her plans for the Ateliers, Actes Sud announced its intention to move to the site. Where are you at with that?
It’s still happening. It’s going ahead. The Renovation of the Magasin Electrique, with 1000 m2 of permanent exhibition space, has been ready for a long time and will house our offices. Things should be moving pretty fast and I think that we can realistically expect to be in the Ateliers by 2017. You have to take into account the fact that, given the quality of the requirements, heavy renovation work such as large sections of roofing and building standards take time, the workshops are designed to house archives or international exhibitions. It can’t all be done just like that.
François Hébel is concerned about whether there will be sufficient premises for the Rencontres in years to come. There has been a lively debate between him and Maja Hoffmann.
It’s a real shame! Nobody can accuse Maja of not being generous or of not having been generous. All the same… there’s a lot to be done and ten years is a long time to have been waiting. There are many different reasons for the delay but it looks as if solutions are being found. I’m not convinced that now is the right time to be discussing things, especially as the discussions haven’t always been entirely lucid. The Rencontres owe Maja a lot and she of course became a partner of the Rencontres at the invitation of François Barré and François Hébel. The Rencontres also owe a lot to the political will of local government or individuals. You can’t take a whole community hostage on something like this, especially when it’s making a real effort to work together, constructively. Why throw the cat among the pigeons in this way – who wins? The plan for the workshops is clear and perfectly justifiable, with decisions made and stages mapped out. Yes, it’s going to take time and yes some spaces won’t be available during certain periods but that’s a necessary by-product of the situation and the alternative is no progress at all. Moreover, there are other potential spaces in Arles, other disused industrial ground. Of course, local government needs to get involved but there are also partnership and patronage options. I’m prepared to do my bit to help the process and I think that Maja, who is investing several tens of millions – and who has shown so much generosity in the past – is very much entitled to negotiate with an event that is by no means poor. Truth be told, I’m astonished by what’s going on. The only thing of any importance is to bring everyone’s efforts together in the service of the project.
Archives of the Eye of Photography – Christian Caujolle, 2012