Arles Disaster?

You are almost sure to be aware that there is a photo festival every year at Arles. I’ve never been to it, though I’ve occasionally commented on what happened there, and have written about why I’ve not gone on several occasions. But rather than do so this year, I just want to refer you to a post on l’Oeil de la photographie Arles 2014: An Off Year? Worse—A Disaster!.

I should have gone to Arles perhaps 20 or more years ago, but then I was always busy with my students’ photography examinations at the time it took place, early in July. Since then the nature of this festival – and many others – have changed, as the article puts it “it’s becoming a buyer’s festival, that galleries and collectors and agents are crowding in, that deals are being made, that guys and girls from all over are bringing an astounding creativity to the “off” and “off-off” sections of the festival.”

That this is happening to the fringe is good in some ways – and particularly good for those photographers taking part. If you look at my reports on the several Paris Mois de la Photo I’ve attended I’ve written for this site you will have hear my thoughts that the activities on the fringe are generally much more interesting than the relatively few shows of the actual Mois, and certainly from the delear’s festival few days at Paris Photo.

In his editorial, Jean-Jacques Naudet writes:

we’ve had enough of these veterans: enough Martin Parr, enough Raymond Depardon, enough Christian Lacroix, enough Erik Kessels. They’re all great, but their ubiquity has become unbearable. At this rate, if Hébel and the festival weren’t parting ways, then next year’s edition would have featured Martin Parr’s cookbook, Raymond Depardon’s garden gnomes and Christian Lacroix’s children’s toys.

and he talks about the wild passions and outsized egos of recent years.

I’m not sure I agree when he says that one day we will want to revisit these – perhaps we will want only to revisit some aspects of some of them, and there are other parts we will want to bury our memories of. Well there are some of Depardon’s images I’ll be glad to see again, the garden gnomes are perhaps not among them, and although I admire some of Parr’s work, too often he appears to be trading on his reputation rather than than producing anything of great import. I’ve yet to see anything by Lacroix I’d want to revisit, but hopefully he will in time prove me wrong.

But somehow I hope that festivals like Arles which have such an important place in photography would become in some way more democratic and more varied – perhaps with the official festival becoming more like the fringe.

As well as the editorial there are of course other reports on Arles, both on the l’Oeil de la photographie and elsewhere, so you can read these and make up your own mind. The Guardian has a video review which seems to me to underline the vacuity of the event, and a set of the ‘finest shots on display in Provence’ which suggest that the best work was from the 1950s in Chile or perhaps a little later in with John Davies’s Elf Services, Autoroute A26, Nord-Pas-de-Calais (1988). It’s hard to believe there has been so little of worth produced in black and white (the theme of this year) since then. Actually we know this isn’t true.

Though perhaps it is worth asking why anyone should work in black and white now, when so many of the reasons we chose to do so in the past have gone. It’s perhaps relevant in this to point out that Peter Hugo’s slightly odd heads and shoulders images were actually taken in colour, then converted to bring out the melanin to black and white in Photoshop. And most of today’s black and white images were actually taken in colour, their conversion to monochrome more a stylistic fad than anything else.

I spent over 30 years working in black and white, thinking in black and white, as my primary medium. I worked in colour too, often only doing so for images where colour seemed particularly significant or indeed the subject of the image – I was certainly a colourist at heart in my colour work. Few if any photographers now seem to think in black and white. My own approach to colour has changed too, and I’m not sure I could satisfy myself with monochrome except for the very occasional image.


2 Responses to “Arles Disaster?”

  1. ChrisL says:

    The link to the “set of the finest shots” is to the 2013 set, which are more interesting than the correct 2014 set :-)

  2. You are quite right.

    Yes the 2013 set were a little better – at least a couple of decent pictures.

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