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Arles 2019 : Francoise de Noyelle . Arles Les Rencontres de la photographie A French Story


In parallel to her book, Arles Les Rencontres de la photographie 50 ans d’histoire published by de La Martiniere, Francoise de Noyelle publishes a second one: Arles Les Rencontres de la photographie Une Histoire française, published by Art Book Magazine-Arles Les Rencontres de la photographie. This one is more thematic and historical. She presents it as follows:


The Rencontres d’Arles

50 years of photography

50 years of passion

In the 1960s, French photography is at half mast. Humanist photographers have been shooting their last cartridges for a long time. At least we like to believe it here and there. At Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson, after threatening to leave the agency, sticks to a status of contributor (1966). George Rodger, another founder of the agency, denounces the commercial drifts. The press is plagued by the competition of television increasingly present in homes. The state that had offered photography to the world in the nineteenth century has a Ministry of Culture in 1959. But neither Andre Malraux, nor his successors Edmond Michelet, or Andre Bettencourt include any budget line in favor of photography .

Photographers and people of the profession meet, gather to break the isolation and the gloom. The elitist club of 30 x 40, the confidential Groupe Libre expression and the XIII Circle, gather in Paris and Toulouse amateur and professional photographers. People of images and Companions of Lure settle in the South during the holidays to exchange, to confront ideas and reflection about their trade. Marginal attempts in a landscape shared between illustration reporters and photo clubs with the most often indigent speech, but supported by a prosperous photographic industry, a major distributor of medals and prizes.

An Arlesian photographer, Lucien Clergue, is on another wave. In 1961, at age 27, he exhibited at MoMA. In the margins of circles, Parisian coteries, criticis ready to break him, Clergue develops a personal work, supported by Picasso and Cocteau. In 1969, he crossed swords with the curator of the city’s museums, Jean-Maurice Rouquette, to revive the festival of Arles whose program of theater, concert, folk dance … hardly made money. The two Arlésiens first drafted a project for a collection of photographs in the museum Réattu with the blessing of the mayor, but without a penny (1964). A friendship was forged, resourcefulness skills perfected competent skills, a militant will to promote photography. Michel Tournier, host of the television show Chambre noire joined them. They listed the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie on the poster of the Arles Festival (1970). The rencontres are born. “It was the friendly time” will write Jean-Claude Gautrand to celebrate the thirty years of the Rencontres. Friendship, friendliness respect. Withdrawn from the current affairs of the festival, Clergue and Rouquette will animate the spirit until their last breath.

Maryse Cordesse, lawyer, first president of the Rencontres, woman of convictions and networks, who drafted the statutes of the association of the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie (1977), actively followed the evolution of the festival for more than 40 years. Agnès de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, a young volunteer recruited by Clergue, got promoted, and made  a career at the Ministry of Culture, used her power to save in extremis the festival of a certain death, ensured in a few months the programming of the (1990). season . Jean-Claude Lemagny, a great servant of the State, curator at the National Library, officiated at the hotel Arlatan, looked at the portfolios every day, and sparingly made remarks and gave advices. A new generation of journalists, sometimes acerbic, often enthusiastic, tried to be critics, and reported on the opening week, which took the festival beyond the borders. The photographic industry, the various sponsors, the patrons providing their technical assistance and their financial contribution, allowed the festival to take off. The mayors of Arles, regardless of their political color (PCF, PS, RPR), have supported the Rencontres from their origin ensuring them a financial and technical assistance, never questioned.

The complex distributions of exhibiting premises, was, initially, one of the reasons for the departure of François Hébel and of the president Jean-Noël Jeanneney (2015). The City Council offered the courtyard of the archbishop’s palace, the stage of the ancient theater. Churches, chapels, salt lofts, cloisters, palaces, commanderies … the architectural heritage seems inexhaustible. SNCF workshops, Etienne paper mills, former Cruise site garage, Ground Control (former SERNAM) other partners, with the City Council, offered industrial sites. The directors of the Rencontres transformed them into exhibition places. New Trinquetaille bridge, Monoprix storage room. Arles is generous. François Hébel, Sam Stourdzé, inventive took on the challenge, and installed photography closer to the Arlesians. The Night of the Year, with its projections of reportages of the year, propelled the festival in the heart of the popular neighborhoods.

After Clergue (1970-1976, 1983-1985, 1994), others take up the torch of the artistic direction. Will follow 50 years of photographic adventure punctuated by discoveries, black holes, revelations of young talents, broncas, failed exhibitions, exceptional retrospectives, parties going on until the end of the night, controversies emerging under the hackberry, swelling in the courtyard of the Arlatan, to go out on the terraces of the cafes. A seismograph of photography, Arles recorded, preceded, followed the evolution of photography, from slides projected to digital images, from reportage to vernacular photography.

Several artistic directors have marked with their seal a festival sometimes in great difficulty. Bernard Perrine was in charge of the first direction after the creation of the Association des Rencontres (1977), Alain Desvergnes institutionalized the Clergue workshops (1979-1982) before taking charge of the direction of the National School of Photography. François Hébel impeled a new youth (1986-1987) then ensured the durability of the festival for twelve years (2002-2014). Others, such as Claude Hudelot (1988-1989), Louis Mesplé (1991-1993), Michel Nuridsany (1995), John Fontcuberta (1996), Christian Caujolle (1997), Gilles Mora (1999-2001), Martin Paar ( 2004), Raymond Depardon (2006), Nan Golding (2009) designed programs rich in discoveries fed by their network, their centers of interest.

Since 2014, Sam Stourdzé has taken over, opening up more programming for women, developing the festival in foreign capitals and in China. Praised, disputed, often both at the same time, the directors led the boat from port to port with enthusiasm, intelligence and sometimes with panache. All fine connoisseurs of photography, very little armed with cultural entrepreneurial training. Shipwrecks were narrowly avoided.

Their proposals, their eyes, their speech on photography nourished evenings of great emotion, heated debates, in a climate of communicative passion. The most famous photographers (Ansel Adams, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Don McCullin, Gisèle Freund, André Kertész, Josef Koudelka, Sergio Larrain, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Willy Ronis …), at least known then (Gao Bo, Sophie Calle, Thibaut Cuisset, Alain Fleischer, Gilbert Garcin, Nan Goldin, Françoise Huguier, Annette Messager, Martin Parr, Sophie Ristelhueber, Valerie Jouve …) would then join them on the walls of the museums, the Rencontres de la photographie accompanied many courses, (Vasco Ascolini, Antoine D’Agata, Mathieu Asselin, Roger Ballen, Alberto Garcia-Alix, Erik Kessels, Guy Querrec, Joel Meyrowitz, Paolo Rovesi …), and opened their program to other continents, spread their exhibitions and their know-how beyond the borders.

To find the thread of fifty years of history through a multitude of exhibitions, screenings, symposiums, awards, workshops … I consulted the archives of the Meetings, those of founders and witnesses, surveyed the catalogs of the festival, explored the press kits and the published articles, looked at the works of the collection of the Meetings, listened to the story of about thirty actors. 2,311 photographers exhibited in Arles (excluding collective exhibitions whose names are not registered in the program), 398 personalities came to share their knowledge, their skills, 36 different prizes were awarded, 24 directors and invited curators took the the reins of the festival, 6 mayors of Arles have given their support particularly to the most difficult hours. 14 Ministers of Culture first simple visitors, with the arrival of Jack Lang, understood the importance of the Meetings to announce their projects, their achievements before the professionals, the national and international press. Three Presidents of the Republic visited the exhibitions.

The founders had chosen the festival to promote photography, a surprising choice, but validated by the years. Generalist, the festival remains essential, drains new generations, that of the digital, the printer then the smartphone. The conviviality, the party, the meetings around an exhibition to be mounted, a book to edit, a curator to convince, are always at the rendezvous of the opening week. Come summer with holidaymakers. For many, this will be the only photography exhibition of the year. Privileged, Arles schoolchildren, but also nearly 10,000 young people, will return in September.


Two books, co-edited by the Rencontres, complement each other, return to a history of the Rencontres linked to the history of photography, to cultural history. They retrace the emergence of new approaches, new looks, new practices, new relationships to the production of images. One [1] features 300 photographs from the Rencontres collection, with 3,300 works by Sam Stourdzé. Five long interviews with Jean-Claude Gautrand, Maryse Cordesse, Jean Claude Lemagny, François Hébel, Sam Stourdzé, are accompanied by historical photographs, presentation texts, chronologies. The other book [2] puts into perspective the birth of the Rencontres, proposes a thematic presentation, followed by a chronological history. Five focuses allow Jean Maurice Rouquette, Christian Caujolle, Jane Evelyn Atwood, Clément Chéroux and Sam Stourdzé to return to a particular aspect: a memory, a price, an exhibition, an evolution … A tender and teasing look on the Arlesians, thirteen never published photographs of Bernard Plossu greet the Camargue city. Supplied annexes complete the package.

Françoise Denoyelle


[1] Arles Les Rencontres de la photographie 50 ans d’histoire, Françoise Denoyelle, body of works established by Sam Stourdzé, éditions La Martinière-Arles Les Rencontres de la photographie, 285 pages, 35 euros.

[2] Arles Les Rencontres de la photographie Une Histoire française, Françoise Denoyelle, photographies by Bernard Plossu, éditions  Art Book Magazine-Arles Les Rencontres de la photographie, 255 pages, 11 euros.




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