Francois Hébel is a transforming figure. For more than a dozen years, he has provided the platform in Arles for artists, publishers, collectors to shine and to find new audiences. He made the Rencontres de la Photographie into the premier photography event in the world. And he changed my life. In 2004 I visited the Rencontres for the first time. It was the Martin Parr year. It was glorious – so many shows, so many photographers, in this very special and magical town of Arles.
I don’t think I actually had any sort of credentials but I behaved like I belonged because that is the sort of atmosphere M. Hebel creates here. We were introduced a half dozen times but it wasn’t until that fall when he walked into my gallery in New York, and he reintroduced himself to me that I felt he took notice. This time he had an agenda. He wanted to see my collection of photographs. Susan Meiselas suggested the meeting. Ironically she had never seen the collection; she only knew of it. We made a date, Francois came and looked around for a couple of minutes, turned to me and asked if I would like to have a show in Arles.
I did have the sense to ask for two plane tickets and a room at the Hotel Particulier, and that was the deal. We did an edit a couple of months later with Francois flat on his back moaning in pain while I passed the pictures over to him and we would agree or not. Usually we agreed but after over 100 or so, I said that I couldn’t possibly afford to frame that many photographs. “”Not to worry … the Rencontres will handle it”. Merveilleux. 350 pictures went into the show with Arles framing about half of them.
Then there were the French interviews. Cendrillon.
I can remember Francois terrifying me by telling me that I had to be completely ready for the installers because they would only go through once, that I had better be ready for them. But installing an exhibition of your own collection is the most fun anyone can have with their clothes on.
This has been a marvelous collaboration: Hebel and Hunt. The initial exhibition that resulted was “Sans Regard”, (Francois’ brilliant title), and it was a succes d’estime. Thames & Hudson (with Aperture and Actes Sud) commissioned and published a book, “The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the Unconscious” (“L’Oeil Invisible” in France), and I still enjoy a disconcerting level of recognition in Arles.
We did a show in Bologna for “Foto Industria” last October, and this summer he invited me back with “Foule – American Groups Before 1950” upstairs at the Palais de l’ Archevêché.
The point of all this is that I am so humbled by trying to make an appropriate or even adequate homage to this wonderful, genius, handsome fellow that I have fallen back on talking about myself. But that is what he
alway does for you; he makes you, the exhibitor, look your best. He gives you the frame; he puts you center stage. He is a few feet away, smiling and encouraging you, pulling the strings, the master impresario.
I am so pleased and proud to be part of the 2014 Parade with veterans of past Rencontres, Raymond Depardon, Christian Lacroix, Martin Parr, Lucien Clergue, Erik Kessels, Joan Fontcuberta, and Luce Lebart, along with the new ones.
The music from this parade will linger for many, many years.
Merci mon ami.
W.M. Hunt © 2014