Arles Rencontres

I don’t know why I’ve never been to Arles.

But as I type that sentence I realise it’s false. First because I have been there, back in the spring of 1973, visiting the city because of its associations with Van Gogh and to visit the Roman remains – and not when the Rencontres were taking place. They had started just a few years earlier and I don’t know if I had heard of them at the time. I suspect had I started going to them at that point I would still be going now.

Then, for many years there was a small matter of work. At the start of July – this year the first and important week of the Rencontres is July 8-13 – these came at an impossible time for someone working in secondary education, as I did for many years, in the last week or two of term. (Some exhibitions continue in Arles until September, so if you happen to be in the area any time in Summer it’s worth checking the program.)

Then there are other reasons. I dislike travelling and staying in new places, I’ve forgotten most of the French I once learnt and really the only important reason, I’ve always found such social events very hard to cope with at a personal level, and unless I can persuade a few friends to come with me I doubt that I would survive. Perhaps I’ll start working on some seriously with next year in mind. This year’s programme on clothes and fashion didn’t greatly attract me in any case.

You can read about the program in English at the festival web site if you want to see what you are missing, although if it is like previous years it may be better to try the French version.

But for a rather better idea of the photographic content, I suggest you take a look at Lens Culture where Jim Casper describes the festival as “a vast summer camp for adults, where you can eat and drink well, enjoy boundless art, and catch up with your like-minded friends from all over the world” and has an excellent fairly high resolution gallery of images.

Looking through these, although there is plenty of good work as you would expect, there seems little really novel and worth seeing this year. For me the outstanding pictures were by Vanessa Winship, whose work has deservedly done well in several competitions in recent years (and her ‘Albanian Landscapes‘ was screened at Arles in 2003) , and by Debbie Fleming Caffery, whose work I’ve long admired and wrote about when she had a one-person show in London in 2004. I think she first showed work at Arles in 1989.

So it probably won’t be the photography I’ll be missing in a couple of weeks time, but the “drinking cold beer in the shade with some pals“.

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