Last year, the Rencontres d’Arles held its breath… but for a memorable football game: a legendary Germany-France, played not far from here, in Marseille. Extremely rare during the festival’s opening week: the whole town completely forgot photography for an evening. This year, no international competition on the horizon, but there’s no point in recalling that this event is, in a way, the world championship of the image, and certainly the photography world’s premier festival.This huge festival brings together more and more people. More than one hundred thousand visitors in 2016, an all-time record. There are those passionate about photography, the professionals, the semi-professionals, but also the simply curious. Hervé Schiavetti, mayor of Arles, calls it “work of collective art”. In fact, the Rencontres also has a more fundamental impact for the people of Arles – our hosts, let’s not forget – with four hundred jobs per year and twenty-two million euros injected into the city’s economy. A festival popular locally and, at the same time, open to the world.
This year, this international dimension takes on Colombian colours, with many splendid exhibitions devoted to one of photography’s great countries; a focus on Spain’s new generation, notably seen at the Bal in Paris; another on Iranian photography; and a constellation of works by artists from many different backgrounds. Sam Stourdzé, the festival’s director talks about “a taste of elsewhere”. “The more we think about closed countries, plunged into political and economic crises, the more the photographers are there”, he says. “They reveal, recount, bear witness, make up, put right, rebuild, with their own language, that of the image. They are the decoders of the warning signs of societies in turmoil.”
In the main stream of this forty-eighth edition’s programme, there are also many exhibitions from prestigious institutions such as the Pompidou Centre, the French National Library, and the Inter-ministerial Delegation of Land Planning and Regional Attractiveness (DATAR). And the stars, as usual: Joel Meyerovitz, Roger Ballen, who offer an immersive experience of the intriguing places they visit, Audrey Tautou and a series of self-portraits, and of course in an associate programme, at the Fondation LUMA’s premises, this year’s stand-out exhibition: Annie Leibovitz, The Early Years.
By way of accompaniment, we’ve prepared for you a programme just as special, with each day – during this opening week – interviews, critiques, portraits of photographers and their exhibitions, associated events, books, sales and everything we notice off the beaten track. For those who only have the time for a short stay in Arles, we’ve also thought up five themed walks, published in our pages from Monday to Friday, that you can consult according to your taste and follow for a day. And for those who can’t get to Arles at all, we hope that with this great coverage you will be able to live the event by proxy. We wish you all a great photography feast!