Friday, 30 July 2010

Les Voies Off

As with any good festival, there is also a Fringe Festival in Arles. This is entitled Voies Off, and holds many smaller exhibitions and events in the old town which are free. Many of the shows which are curated in “dead” spaces (disused shops, garages, etc) form part of the Fringe, as do the shows in caf├ęs and bars. The Thursday night of the first week is Nuit de la Roquette; a night of projections, talks, private views and events surrounding Rue de la Roquette, and all part of the Fringe festival.

I think the best thing about this part of the festival for me was the projections. Often curated to a theme (such as work, or desire) each projection shows the work of perhaps 10 photographers, accompanied to music (which is often live). It is a chance for emerging photographers to be involved and seen, and there was some very good work. (I had written down some names but they were in my notebook which was in my bag which got stolen last weekend – bummer)

The other inspiring thing about this festival was the use of space (and I know I keep banging on about this!) Check this out – a woman put a ladder outside her window with a sign inviting us to go up and peer in. Inside, there she was doing her washing up, with a great big photo over her sink. (I’m sure the washing up wasn’t part of any so called “performance” – she was just going about her daily business!)

So that’s it for Arles until next year. I will definitely be going again. For anyone fascinated about photography, it’s not to be missed.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The Analogue Trail

With my passion for photobooths and Polaroid cameras, this was surely the theme I was most interested in. And it didn’t disappoint. Following the recent bankruptcy ofthe Polaroid Coporation in 2008, and the recent sale of the Polaroid Collection at Sotheby's, there seemed quite a nostalgia for the instant film and it was honoured in a timely fashion. The Espace Van Gogh had a selection from the Polaroid collection which is held by the Musee de l’Elysee in Lausanne, featuring polaroids by Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol and other big names. As part of the fringe festival, there was a small show in a bar, of polaroids taken using the new film produced by The Impossible Project, an organisation trying to recreate instant film in a more ecological manner. It was interesting to see the results of their film; very subdued, pastel colours, and still that wonderful eerie feel.(The film is onsale at the Photographer’s Gallery in London; it’s expensive, but I think it’s worth supporting their enterprise).

The Analogue trail also included a retrospective of the work of Italian photographer Mario Giacomelli, his wonderfully high contrast black and white images still full of life after all these years. Also included was the collection of Marin Karvitz, the tycoon behind the French cinema chain MK2. Typically very cinematic in feel, the photographers in his collection ranged from film directors such as Abbas Kiriiostami and Chris Marker, to installationists such as Annette Messager and Christian Boltanski, to classic black ad white photographs by Doisneau, Sugimoto, and Kertesz.

But THE highlight of the festival was an exhibition entitled Shoot! This was based on an old fairground game, in which the punter shoots at a target, and if he gets the bullseye, his photograph gets taken. A German woman, Ria Van Dyke, has played this game each year since 1936 (with a break between 1939 – 1945, for obvious reasons). She would give herself 10 shots, and every year she got her picture. The result is a record through time – of trends, fashions, and photographic technology, as polaroids come in in the early 60’s. And throughout all this time she doesn’t change (apart from the signs of age)… her posture remains exactly the same. A wonderful series of portraits which was collected by Erik Kessels and made into a book, perhaps a little prematurely as the woman is still alive and could have another go (although sadly in 2009 she missed her target in her allotted 10 shots).

Ria van Dyke in later years. Interestingly, with the advance in technology there is the demise in quality of the print.

The rest of the exhibition showed a collection of artists who were inspired by this idea of shooting yourself (which is essentially what is happening here). Swiss artist Rudlof Steiner set up a row of pinhole cameras (without the hole), only to fire at them in order to make the hole and expose the negative. The final video installation by Christian Marclay was also amazing; a screen on each of 4 walls, each showing snippets from films of gangsters loading their guns. The build up is slow, the sounds very loud, you hear (before you see because it’s hard to tell which screen is going to show something next) the bullets going into the guns, the cocking of the safety catch… this builds up and builds up until BANG! You are caught in the crossfire as the villains shoot to the opposite screen. Hard to explain, and I hope you get a sort of sense of it… one of the only video art pieces I’ve seen which I've been really engaged with.

To the left, is a model of what the set up in the fairground would have looked like. A 5x4 camera! The mind boggles... there must have been a little man in the back quickly developing the print and printing it. To the right, an example of Rudolf Steiner's pinhole work.

And then, to culminate this wonderful exhibition, there was a chance at playing the Shooting game yourself. I had 4 tries… and managed it on the final one. Not sure how, as there is no hole in the bullseye of my target – a fluke ricochet no doubt. But I’m happy – I never knew I could look so concentrated.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Rock Trail

I am not a big fan of music photography, although I am a big fan of music. I think maybe I don’t know enough about it (the photography, I mean)… and to be honest there wasn't much that sparked my interest.

Although it did include one of the highlights of the festival for me; an exhibition of the portraits taken of Mick Jagger, apparently the most photographed artist, from his first shoot at the age of 19 to the present day. Seeing a series of maybe 50 portraits depicting the same face over time was quite incredible. It becomes a record of fashions through the ages – not only clothes and hair but also the styles of the photographs and what visual imagery was considered on trend. The show was a collection of the most famous names in the business; Anton Corbijn, Terry O’Neill, Cecil Beaton, to name but a few. Interestingly, David Bailey didn’t want to include his famous portrait of Mick in a fur hoodie, surely one of the most iconic images of the singer. Also, there were supposed to be quite few portraits by Annie Liebowitz, which were not there; I couldn’t help wondering if this was a reflection of her current financial situation.

But the best thing about this show was the way it was curated. In an enormous church on the main street, you had to go through a dark corridor before the cburch opened up before you, images adorning the walls in a somewhat haphazard fashion, lit from below. It was truly awe-inspiring, and perhaps, on reflection, it helped to idolise ol’ Mick.

The rest of the Rock trail was in the Ateliers, in an exhibition I sort of whizzed through as I had to get somewhere else. Accompanied by snippets of sounds from the punk era, including radio shows as well as the music itself, it managed to bring together both photographs of bands (concert pics as well as posed portraits for album covers or other commercial means) as well as work which was inspired by the punk era. Things I noted was a lovely display of artwork for one of David Bowie’s albums (love the picture resting on pink buckets), a wapping great typo under a portrait of the wonderful Susan Sontag, and some interesting collages by fellow Mancunian Linder Sterling.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Argentinian Trail

Guest of Honour at this year’s festival was Argentinian artist Leon Ferrari. The exhibition was situated in a church on the main central square in Arles, a perfect location for his work, which is often a scornful comment on religion or politics. In pride of place at the altar of the church was hung a crucifix unlike any other; a figure of Christ as if crucified onto an American warplane. Other works continued in much the same vein, much of the time with use of press photographs or postcards to make up a satirical photograph. Mice and cats featured heavily too…
Unfortunately pictures in the church were forbidden - this crucifix is taken from the web, and doesn't do it justice. It's position at the alter was quite amazing.

Just across the square from this show was an exhibition of photographs taken by Leon’s father, Augusto Ferrari. A photographer in the turn of the 20th century, his work was mainly large format photographs of theatre sets and actors and actresses. Although interesting from a historical context, it was more the environment of this exhibition which was fascinating… a beautiful cloister with ancient tapastries hung on the walls.

More Argentinian photographers were featured in one of the warehouses in the Parc des Ateliers, a cluster of warehouses a short walk from the city centre where trains used to be built (and stored). These buildings are ideal spaces for exhibitions – large and spacious, floating walls can be erected in any manner of ways to create ideal spaces for the work.

Out of this selection of young Argentinian photographers, my favourite by far was a project entitled Mothers of the Disappeared by Marcos Adandia. This project is a series of black and white portraits of elderly women who lost their children during the dictatorship the late 1970’s. As a signal of solidarity and protest, they cover their heads with white linen; a tradition which still occurs to this day. The simplicity and poignancy of this protest is reflected in these portraits, which also portray the sadness and loss. There is a quest here for social justice and human rights, while also honouring the bond of a mother’s love.

Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of this project either, which was wonderfully displayed on a curved wall at the entrance to the exhibition. Instead, here is a pic of the Parc des Ateliers... seemingly desolate, but full of treasures:

Monday, 19 July 2010

Les Rencontres d'Arles

A week ago I got back from Les Rencontres d’Arles, one of the biggest and oldest Photography Festivals in the world. And I was bowled over – it truly is amazing.

Arles is a beautiful town in Provence, its Roman history still apparent in the old town, which is complete with Arena and Roman Amphitheatre. For 2 months during the Summer, the town is dedicated to Photography – exhibitions crop up everywhere; disused warehouses, churches, bars and restaurants, empty shops… not to mention the projections which go on at night, at the Amphitheatre, in squares and in the streets.

The first week is that of the Rencontres (or “Meetings”); that is, a week for professional photographers or enthusiasts to meet one another and network. Seminars and conferences are held outside in a leafy square, portfolio reviews take place for those who can afford them, and every time you go for a beer you bump into a famous face from the industry.

It is apt that the first Rencontres I go to has the logo of a Rhino. Ever since playing a bit part in Ionesco's Absurdist play Rhinoceros while studying French at uni, I have been somewhat obsessed with these animals. Needless to say I bought the t-shirt.

It was for the Rencontres that I was there – in a rather budget fashion, camping just up the road. But this was also a great opportunity to meet other photographers from around the world – Eva Schwimmer and Holger R Weimann from Austria, whose project about Cosplay re-enactors takes them all over the word, fellow Londoner Andy Sewell, whose book The Heath is about to be published, as well as many photography enthusiasts from Germany and other parts of France.

Camping also meant that we got to pass this every night. A huge projection (or was it screening?) on the roof of an old warehouse, of waves tumbling against the shore.

The website says there are 60 exhibitions; in the week I was there I didn’t get to see every one. But the ones I did see were very inspirational – if not because of the work then because of the way the show was curated. The use of space (both dedicated exhibition space and “dead” space) was wonderful, a revelation to me. In the following few blog posts, I will break down my account of the festival into the way that it itself was broken down; exhibitions were curated under three themes: the Argentinian trail, the Rock trail, and the Analogue trail.
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