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Phot’Aubrac 2021 : The Festival


Our collaborator Thierry Maindrault has just experienced love at first sight and a 96-hour orgasm at the Aubrac photography festival, Phot’Aubrac 2021, which has just taken place! And indeed, all the participants affirm they had the same joy, the same enthusiasm! It is wonderful this affirmed pleasure and this nostalgic return to the emotion of the first photographic festivals. It is also true that this region is magnificent!

Jean-Jacques Naudet


Text by Thierry Maindrault.

Extraordinary! Fabulous ! Exceptional! Superb! so many exclamations pronounced unanimously by both exhibitors and visitors to this Festival like no other. In our World of Make-believe you will think of it as an excitement of the moment after four really different days. Don’t believe it, the “I’ll be there next year made the excitement”, “it was my fourth time and I never get tired of it”, “you won’t find it anywhere else”. I am not quoting you exhibitors, including tenors, who promise to be present in 2022. Should we mention all these photographers who had exhibited who were on site as visitors to participate, to discuss, to commune with this? natural site, with the hosts, with the colleagues whose works were displayed to the public eye. A festival, as its name suggests, is a celebration for everyone and not a tangled web of normative, temporal and too often financial constraints which dilutes the pleasure when it does not simply abolish it. All our festivals have become places where the important thing has become the career plan of organizers and exhibitors as well as the place where it is good to be seen for visitors. All this little world forgets that there can be works presented and exchanges other than pontificating and disproportionate litanies that are hung before they can even discover the creativity and the capacities of the authors.

It is impossible to tell you everything that can happen during these famous four days, especially since I will come back more broadly to many photographs on display (photography remains the essential basis of the activities). I offer you some touches of my stay which I hope will lead you into this purifying whirlwind.

Nasbinals is the central rallying point in the center of the Aubrac plateau, a medium mountain in the south of the Massif Central. It seems lost because there is no TGV, airports, monumental towers, peripherals; and yet the roads are pleasant and very well maintained, papers, plastics and other cans do not lie in the ditches, optical fiber is coming, trade is dynamic. In short, it is not because the “Metropolises” are far away that you would be in the Third World. The only concern is accommodation, because these places are stages on the “Camino de Santiago” which means a lot of rooms but not enough available. No worries, many photographers are great nomads which attracts a swarm of motorhomes of all sizes, from simple furnished cars to apartment trucks with their trailers for bikes, barbecue and other gadgets.

Even before arriving at headquarters, the right direction is indicated by these large photographs on tarp installed in the pastures, on the walls of houses, on the gates of public buildings, when they do not form a guard of honor on the square of the churches. It should be noted that within a radius of 25 kilometers it is the festival.

The Wednesday evening preceding the opening is reserved exclusively to photographers, exhibition venue operators and volunteers. For the newbies, including myself, you have to learn the rhythm and the atmosphere. Nothing special, a long conference by Arnaud Guérin to warm up with his vulcano-photographer anecdotes, followed by a very beautiful and breathtaking slide show prepared by Alain Ernoult with all the class and skill that surrounds him. Impeccable, the undisputed master of aerial photography has kept his feet on the ground (I wonder how!) To show himself just as efficient as a creator in the enhancement of our Nature. Sympathetic buffet dinner offered by the organization, I find myself sitting next to Maurice Subervie, the communication control tower and brilliant Hellenist, in front of Kyriakos Kaziras with whom we have toured the Peloponnese from the 60s to this day. At eleven thirty, everyone disperses, the room is already “nickel”, no doubt the back office work provided by a team of volunteers is impeccable and organized to the millimeter.

Thursday breakfast is scheduled from 8 am, at Nathalie and Philippe, the fairy (ubiquitous and hyper competent operational manager of the festival). An extended table covered with pains au chocolat, fouaces, jams, fruit and the coffee is already hot. The volunteers of yesterday’s closing are already active, we must prepare the picnic lunch planned on a farm about fifteen kilometers away. My tour begins, accompanied by Thierry Sribny who will do most of the background photographs. On the way the motorhomes snort (well rather their occupants) and then begins the tour of specially prepared stables, converted churches and other town halls. There are photographs all over the area, both indoors and outdoors. Good tip: many photographs are on tarpaulins outdoors and authentic originals are indoors. The tarpaulins from previous years are also reinstalled in the meadows, on the edges of paths and roads, in the entrances to farms. Beautiful symbiosis that leads us directly to the famous picnic on an exhibition spot. A “triffle”  catering for a hundred people, to which are invited passing visitors and a few pilgrims who regain a little strength and communication with society. The afternoon of sightseeing ends with conferences and a buffet in a new tent set up in the gardens of the town hall. This dinner aperitif is offered by the municipality and by the town’s traders. We would like to thank them for the quality and the taste of the local products and for the opportunity to remake the World of Photography under this marquee, quietly without any shouting . He is not exhibiting this year but Hans Silvester has just arrived, one of The Godfather has arrived. Fatigue wins, there are only three days left to see all the photographs, it is time to close our eyes.

Friday eight o’clock breakfast, repetition of the day before, then departure for Aubrac and its famous Annexe with a beautiful exhibition in its cocoon on the first floor before meeting in the church to celebrate the images of the soil. My tour goes through Laguiole invested by Alain Ernoult, the return is through Saint Urcize and its four exhibitions including works awarded by Image sans Frontière hung in the forge of the city. After the day’s conferences, dinner and a return to a stable in Montgros for the traditional Aubrac sausage and its Aligot, shared by more than two hundred guests freely distributed for friendly exchanges. The atmosphere goes up a notch, our Festival Fairy confirms her multiple talents as a festival leader and manages to make people dance between the stabling pillars and the rows of tables. Nathalie has just earned her Zebulon stripes , this character mounted on a spring and an outstanding managerial organizer. This time the midnight curfew will not be held.

Waking up on Saturday a little foggy, normal in Aubrac, but breakfast is at 8 o’clock. A beautiful presentation of the delicious Robin H. Davies on his very atypical photographic journey which ends in the world of classical music, a treat! That’s not all Bernard Bastide, the mayor and his speech, are waiting for me, this city councilor was present permanently since Wednesday evening, but, do not panic, the speeches could wait for this Saturday, the climax. No fuss, it’s sober and authentic in the courtyard of the town hall, in the tent next door and in the garden there is a signing session. I see Hans Silvester behind a table, he is not exhibiting, just has a few annotated books for the faithful admirers of this essential figure of this festival. Unbelievable, after the speeches no pompous reception, just a real snack installed by the volunteers on the low wall of the entrance to the Town Hall. Everyone comes at their own pace, no jostling, no panic, we toast with a Phot’Aubrac goblet full of the neighboring Marcillac AOC. In the afternoon, a tour of the hidden exhibitions and the weather turns bad, the rain sprinkles us abundantly while we arrive at the huge conference tent. Master Kyriakos Kaziras rages and heats up the atmosphere as the deluge hammers the tent. He ends his conference by talking about photography, photography, learning and know-how (golden words); but, no one (or almost) listens, he ends with a standing ovation. It is time to slip into the gala dinner, two hundred people seated around a large dance floor, the dinner of regional products is very correct for a price accessible to all, drinks at will. The unimaginable atmosphere starts around 9:30 p.m., with Louigi on the microphone and on the guitar. This very good singer is inexhaustible on all the repertoires of Claude François to Dire Straits and from Pink Floyd to James Brown, passing by all the Latin songs, he will not mark any pose until 3 o’clock in the morning, when he stopped for lack of dancer . I was a little disappointed I had been promised 5 AM like last year. After a flawless show, a plebiscite of his conference, by popular demand Kyriakos Kaziras had to show off his dancing skills on an opening Sirtaki. Despite the assistance of three of his renowned colleagues, it is clear that we will be there next year to measure the progress of the brilliant team. Far from being in retreat, President Jean Pierre Montiel gave a lot of his person to maintain the pace with our tireless Fée Zébulon, his two feet on the track (well, so to speak they were most often in the air), one finger in the air for the tempo, the other to point out in the room the emerging problems to be solved and an eye on each table to make sure that everything was in order. Many thanks to this great team of volunteers and the animators who show us that it is possible to do much better and much cheaper than elsewhere. I’m rambling, it’s time to go to bed.

Sunday is already the closing day; not possible … already! The stall signal is certain at 5 p.m. and everyone will go home. No rush, at noon an aperitif on the place of the church-town hall of Marchastel, with a local rock group, not old-fashioned for two cents. The icy rain breaks a very cheerful atmosphere a bit. The few photographers who have deserted their exhibition for this aperitif are already intriguing to know if we will want them next year, the most diplomats cleverly try their luck for once every two years, by confirming their presence as simple visitors for the next edition. It’s time to run to review my last doubts, to go to the nerve center for the departure of Kyriakos Kaziras – a little dazed – who still wonders if this really exists, this dream of 04 days that he absolutely wants to start again next year (with in the meantime an assiduous training in Sirtaki I imagine). Everyone left, Jean Pierre and Maurice have planned a small dinner between us of 6 to 8 people at Bastide to take stock and decompress. It appears that a small group of photographers have also reserved a table. At 11 pm, we are more than thirty to finish dinner in a room for twenty, where the waitress could not even circulate.

Monday morning at 7 am, the last are seated at the bar for a breakfast, this time it is well finished the road awaits us.

You find me a bit long and yet, I tell you only the tenth about this event which one has to savor to understand its meaning and appreciate it over time. I grant you that it is a lot of text for four days whereas ten lines are more than enough for many demonstrations of more than two weeks. Generous farmers of Aubrac and your friends, ardent defenders of creation and photographic work, above all, do not change anything on the substance and be careful of the modernization of the form (why not?) Which must be careful and considered. Many of your predecessors have stupidly lost their soul and their specificity (which is characteristic of all human adventures).

Can’t wait for Phot’Aubrac 2022.


Thierry Maindrault

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