Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Rencontres Arles 2011 / Part 1

So Arles, where do I begin?

The shows I guess.

I saw most of the shows later as I was reviewing on the first day, so it was a sporadic trail around the exhibitions in no particular order (the best way to be surprised I find). There were less shows this year than last year, with the Ateliers showing fewer displays. The town was still full of shows though in wonderful old spaces, churches, hotels, empty shops & the like.

Before going to Arles I had a conversation with a friend about why the festival is represented by an illustration & not a photograph, as it is a photography festival after all. I think that the illustration has become a good brand which sets it apart from other festival logos as an instantly recognisable style. Also, it is difficult to find one photograph to represent an entire festival, so why not go with an illustration?

To my surprise there was an exhibit displaying the history of the illustrations by André François. It was wonderful to see the tiny drawings & ink drawings before they were neatened up, really displaying the hand of the artist. Very few people seemed interested in the show, but I suppose without photographs it was overlooked by most, shame I found it really interesting & beautifully curated.

Now onto photography:

Wang Qingsong's 42 foot long 'The History of Monuments' looks amazing in the space it is in. The dilapidated walls of the empty church compliment the theme beautifully. The print had suffered in the heat & was puckered quite badly at one end, but despite this it works. There is a great video showing the extraordinary task he undertook to photograph the numerous models, covered in clay & placing themselves into the recesses carefully cut out of the backdrop. The resulting photograph is full of details. The mammoth scale of the work lent itself to accentuate the monumental theme, yet in muted brown tones that belie the aesthetic temperament of the east - whose appreciation for the patina of wear & tear is greatly valued above the Western pallet for all that sparkles & shines. His use of understated tones gives a slow considered rendering reflecting time not value which amplifies the power of the work.

Then there is the 'Discovery Award 2011' which I was asked to vote for my preferred nominee as a 'guest' (reviewer) & I was thrilled when my choice won! The work is hard to see in my photo but I urge you to look closely at the project as it was also a massive undertaking & the results speak for themselves. The series, 'Ponte City', the photographer, Mikhael Subotzky collaborated with Patrick Waterhouse taking photographs of every door, window & television in the huge apartment block (54 storey) that towers over Johannesburg. This building houses many & has a notorious reputation after many suicides, crack & prostitution rings & an open core which houses 4 storeys of rubbish. Built for the upwardly mobile aspiring middle classes its history is a tragedy of errors with bankruptcy & promised refurbishment. Since 2008 Subotzky & Waterhouse have been recording this extraordinary place. The lightboxes make for extended viewing & the link shows the project in full, well worth the look.

Then there is the Mexican contingent at the festival. By far the 3 shows worth seeing are Graciela Iturbide, which are a great example of fine printing, exquisite concepts & traditional attention to detail which move & inspire in equal measure & the Enrique Metinides work which if you have never seen are fascinating. There is a wonderful photo of his emergency vehicle toy collection, showing his fascination beyond the lens of things disastrous! His first newspaper cover was taken when he was only 11 years old. I still found that when I saw one image of a woman - (as it turned a famous Mexican author if my memory serves me right) crushed by a car lies against a railing with her made up face, eyes open looking upwards horrifyingly beautiful & strange - still instantly made the hairs on my arms stand up on end. Very powerful stuff, but not for the squeamish. He's not nicknamed 'the Mexican Weegee' for nothing.

Then lastly the wonderful project, shown in Arles as a slideshow set to music, I was deeply moved by Dulce Pinzon's work, 'Superheroes' which depict Mexican immigrants as superheroes. The term was used more & more post 911 & in the media frenzy Pinzon felt that the unsung heroes who labour daily should be acknowledged. Although at first glance these could appear comical, they soon become inspiring testaments to the individuals he photographed. Each is titled by the subjects name, their job & salary per week or per month. Here is a short section of the text he uses on his site:

"The Mexican immigrant worker in New York is a perfect example of the hero who has gone unnoticed. It is common for a Mexican worker in New York to work extraordinary hours in extreme conditions for very low wages which are saved at great cost and sacrifice and sent to families and communities in Mexico who rely on them to survive."

Lastly by way of sidestepping, 'The Mexican Suitcase' exhibition is a large show dedicated to the suitcase found housing Robert Capa's lost negatives. I won't say more on this as it deserves a blog all by itself, but needless to say I also saw the film about it in the Amphitheatre during the festival & was dying to see it after watching the story unfold, albeit a big long. Lots of info, lots to see & well worth the shlep in the hot sun to get to the museum to see it.

Then finally, the most surprising exhibition for me, which as I entered seemed a bit chaotic & almost turned me off instantly, but soon drew me in & kept my attention was the installation by Augustin Rebetez. His amazing stop-motion animations were wonderful & his photography as I said in the comments book are, 'William Christenberry meets Boris Mikhailov' ( I meant the mythic meets real life, hope he wasn't offended in any way) have a look & see what I mean.

Well enough for now, here are the picture credits:

©André François (installation view) by me
©Wang Qingsong & an installation of The History of Monuments
©Mikhael Subotzky Ponte City
© Graciela Iturbide Mujer Ángel, Sonora Desert, Mexico (1979)
©Enrque Metinides Untitled Metinides' toys
©Dulce Pinzón José Rosendo de Jesús from the State of Guerrero works as a union organizer in New York He sends 700 a month
©Augustin Rebetez

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