While it’s Arles’ dinky cafés and starry nights that have been immortalised by Van Gogh’s paintbrush, the city in the South of France is perhaps best known for its photographic output. Each summer, as the Rhône-side city plays host to the Rencontres d’Arles and Voies Off festivals, Arles is transformed into a photographic playground.
This year’s Rencontres d’Arles takes “Back to the Future” as its thematic springboard. Until 23 September, the festival is open across 30 venues, exhibiting a multitude of international talent. Through the photographic lens, the festival takes an off-centre look at current issues in light of the past — looking back at the turbulent global uprisings of 1968, fast-forwarding fifty years to Trump’s nationalist “Make America Great Again” rhetoric, and imagining a transhumanist future. Running alongside the fair, with an equally impressive programme of emerging photographers, Voies Off 2018 will pop-up in unexpected venues across the city. Here, we round-up the key talent to have on your radar.
Surreality and synchronicity characterise the work of Chinese photographer, Feng Li. A native of Chengdu, Sichuan Province, Li works both in the provincial Department of Communication in the local government, and as an independent photographer, alternating between producing images inline with the country’s propaganda and personal photographs that offer a radically different take on China.
Until last year, the artist was relatively unknown outside of China, where he had already collected a series of awards. But after being nominated for the 2017 Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards, he jettisoned into the photographic limelight. The nominated publication, White Night, captures the near-deserted streets of Chengdu between dusk and twilight, lit by the flashing lights of karaoke bars, LEDs and permanent construction sites of the country’s hypertrophied modernity. His photographs expose a catalogue of characters drawn from the “theatre of everyday life”, from confused canines and colourful geriatrics in a daze, all caught in the midst of absurdist acts by Li’s flashbulb like insects drawn to light. The project is currently being exhibited at Maison des Lices, and it will incorporate soundscapes collected from Li’s nighttime wanderings, ensuring visitors are plunged immersively into the realm of White Night.
Christto and Andrew
Doha-based photographer duo Christto and Andrew continue to push their slick, hyperreal aesthetic and idiosyncratic humour to new futuristic heights in Encrypted Purgatory. The SLEEK-approved artists’ latest project shown at Ground Control with Rencontres d’Arles, tackles transhumanism, questioning the place of the imperfect human in augmented reality. Ever playful and absurd, the duo’s photographs toy with ideas of the digital world, where frictionless screens display cyber representations of ourselves.
In a world increasingly shaped and sustained by images, photography often becomes a work of fiction. It’s the product of storytelling — one that sustains the illusion of the image, and the world of appearances. In their series, in which primitive technologies and new technologies jarringly are placed together, the maverick image-makers invite us to scratch beneath the artificial veneer and pull out a multitude of encrypted meanings — discussing ideas of future, singularity, and new technologies.
British photographer Paul Graham has been a well-known presence on the photography circuit since his early works on the British social landscape in the 1980s. In keeping with his predilection for producing trilogies of work, Graham’s exhibition at Rencontres d’Arles, The Whiteness of the Whale, brings together three series produced in the United States between 1998 and 2011.
The first, American Night (1998-2002), pictures Graham’s initial impressions of the US. Switching between images of a bleached seolate whiteness, to vibrant shots of perfective American suburbia, then plunging into dark shots of street corners, showcasing social inequality and class divisions in stark relief. In a shimmer of possibility (2004-06), Graham cited Chekhov’s short stories as inspiration. The series presents sequences of images, that tell macro stories of daily-life in America, where Graham’s camera quietly explores without seeking finite conclusions. The last series, The Present (2009-11) accomplishes what photography tries to resist, the freezing of time. By presenting groupings of photographs, each taken seconds apart, Graham creates continuums of moments in the “unfolding” of life. United by subject, but also issues such as racial and social inequality, the texture of everyday life is put under the microscope.
Returning to Arles for the second year, interdisciplinary artist Anna Ehrenstein’s photographs will be showcased at the Arles Cosmos 2018 project, The Family of No Man. The curatorial project aims to revise Edward Steichen’s original “Family of Man” exhibition (1955), through inviting a selection of female and non-binary photographers to make work.
Hailing from Germany but of Albanian heritage, Ehrenstein’s project Tales of Lipstick and Virtue is chiefly concerned with constructions of Albanian womanhood. Riffing on the glossiness of fashion and advertising photography, Ehrenstein examines the politics of textiles, material culture and systems of valorisation. Ultimately, asking how the image is utilised in these areas. Speaking to SLEEK, she said of her work, “Tales of Lipstick and Virtue is a multidisciplinary work that deals with contemporary concepts on authenticity. Especially for the textile industry, the line between an original, a fake or a bootleg is extremely thin and I like to use methodologies of popular culture and mass media to think about why intellectual property is so important.”
Billed as one to watch, Berlin-based photographer Johanna-Marie Fritz’s exhibition Circus Folk in the Middle East, is being shown at the Anne Clergue Galerie as part of Voies Off 2018. An alternative festival that puts gives emerging photographers a platform, on the sidelines of Rencontres d’Arles.
A recipient of the Inge Morath Prize in 2017, Fritz has always professed an interest in the itinerant lifestyle of the circus community, faithfully documenting its theatrics with her Hasselblad from Germany to Iceland, and Iran and Palestine. Her documentation in the latter countries makes for thought-provoking and compelling viewing. Shooting outside of the single narrative the media eagerly disseminates, Fritz captures clowns juggling in front of the Gaza Strip wall finding humour in living on the frontline between Hamas and the IDF, a young woman with a painted face and round red-nose, and young children enrolled in circus school. All images that capture the resilience of the human spirit, and how the big-top can offer a brief moment of escapism. Speaking from Arles, she said, “For me, the circus doesn’t care about your nationality, skin colour and religion. It’s about different people from all over the world working together.”