Notes: Two days spent in Arles with OCA students, Principal Gareth Dent and Tutor Jesse Alexander. A variety of the many exhibits available were seen in the time available. I have shown these chronologically and given weight to those that I thought more relevant to my current studies and those that particularly interested me. I will continue to research and read about these photographers after this post.
Day 1 – 4 September
Stephen Shore: This massive exhibition covered Shore’s lifetime body of work. Apart from owning and reading his book “The Nature of Photographs”, until now I knew very little about his work and have had to do some research into the work we have seen. I thought it best to look at his website to research the relevant work. http://www.stephenshore.net/info.php
Stephen Shore on Uncommon Places https://vimeo.com/32562146
On American Surfaces https://vimeo.com/32521780
On New York City https://vimeo.com/131859555
I can only really sum up briefly what I thought of this work. It seems that although I had not consciously seen Shore’s work it seemed familiar and similar to other work by photographers working at the same time. Shore talked about “un-mediated” images “with no pretensions to art” which seems ironic as he is one of the photographers credited with the acceptance of colour photography as art during this period. His large format images are stunning, not only in their composition but their use of colour. I cannot understand the establishment viewpoint of the time that art photography could only be in black and white. When I started in photography in the 1960’s I was desperate to to work in colour but the scant availability of media and cost of processing was prohibitive. He claims that he works by setting himself challenges which require him to solve problems. Once the problem is overcome, he moves onto the next challenge. I found his 2001 New York City images made an impression on me where he has totally inverted the idea of the street photograph as something spontaneous and set up a field of view, pre-focussed, inserted the film and waited for the players to assemble. The spontaneity comes from the moment when the shutter is caused to open by the photographer. The images were presented in a darkened gallery at very close to life size which I thought was very effective.
Toon Michaels: American Neon Signs by Day and Night
This typological study, made in the 1970’s in Reno, Las Vegas and other US cities, was unusual for its time in that colour photography was still outside the “art” world.
The pairs of images of the same scene made by day and night contrast the banality of the daylight scene against the saturated and garish night time view. I very quickly got bored with this exhibit and started looking for differences. I did find at least one pair in which the some of the illuminated letters had failed to show in the night time scene. I have to say that I am not a big fan of typologies. They say more about the lack of imagination of the photographer, relying as he does on obsessively recording similar scenes. (I’m thinking what my tutor would say if I presented this as an assignment) Ten pairs would have been enough to make the point. It was a good venue and the work was well presented but the space was wasted on this exhibit.
Jean Marie Donat: Vernacular
This exhibit showed three collections from publisher Jean Marie Donat with the titles Predator, Teddy Bar and Blackface. Each collection was made from found archives and each was disturbing, either by the content of the photographs or by what could be imagined when looking at them. Dressing up in a Bear costume and posing with holiday makers at resorts, would I suppose seem acceptable in places where bears have a strong historical presence or association, (USA and Germany) and provide employment for commercial photographers in an era when owning and using a camera was unusual and seen as difficult. What seems odd about these particular images is sometimes how fierce and unfriendly the bear seems. They seem to have been taken in the period before and during WW2. The whole idea seems very odd and I was wondering why until I read about the picture of a Hitler Youth girl posing with the swastika clearly shown on her clothing. I could see that the collection had a duality, carefree day trippers and the presence of the Nazi threat effectively juxtaposed.
Predator is presented with a similar but un-named “threat”. Donat has sought out dozens of photographs in which the hatted shadow of the “photographer” appears in the foreground. Immediately I started to question this collection. Was the photographer deliberately including himself in this way? Why are there no pictures where the photographer is not wearing a hat? If they are from different photographers, is this some forgotten game played by photographers of the period? Why are there so many photographers so careless about lighting and composition? Finally, is the inclusion of a shadow merely a manipulation for effect? Perhaps this is a “trademark” of a particular group of photographers. I think the point Donat is making is that this un-named, mysterious presence could be a threat……
Blackface presents a look at the strange phenomenon of white people wearing black make-up in the pretence of being Negroes. In retrospect the idea seems almost unbelievably insensitive but at the time, it indicated just how little attention was paid to the feelings of minorities in the pursuit of entertainment. Photographic artist Anna Fox has recently done a piece on “Zwarte Piet, the blacked up assistant to St Nicholas found as part of the Dutch Christmas Festivities, who, like Othello has Moroccan origins. http://www.annafox.co.uk/work/zwarte-piet/
Alice Wielinga: North Korea, A Life between Propaganda and Reality. This multimedia work was presented as an audio visual sequence with spoken commentary, music and constructed images which contrast the propagandized presentation of North Korea and the reality of the situation as witnessed by the photographer. Many of the images were constructed using the the official government photographs/paintings and Wielinga’s own photographs.
At the next venue, the work of several photographers was shown in two collections An Unusual Attention and An Exchange of Views. Both were avant garde but at this distance in time and at the end of a long day, my recollections are a bit unclear. The first collection was by four students Cloe Vignaud, Lois Matton, Swen Renault, and Pablo Mendez. The second sees three students looking at the work of established photographers, reworking and re-inventing it. I’ll do a search on the names to see if I can remind myself of the details.
The final exhibition of the day was this one:
Of the exhibitions we saw today, this was the one I liked the most. It did not have the scale of the Shore exhibit but it was certainly large and ambitious in its intentions. The accompanying website shows interviews with Paulo Woods and other information on the company that is ‘The Heavens’.
The project questions the morality of tax havens even though they may be legal, the deficit of avoided tax on local economies can be significant. The exhibition is set up in the “offices” of the “The Heavens”, a real company incorporated in Delaware USA, complete with reception and board room. To convey the impact of tax avoidance by global companies, the first part of the exhibition shows the logos or products of familiar brands, backlit in a darkened room. The following rooms are normally lit and show large prints with comprehensive explanatory captions. As Paulo Woods explains, the concept of a tax haven is something difficult to grasp and even more difficult to convey in photographs. He and Galimberti succeed by taking us to the locations and giving an insight into what goes on, not only at the top of the social scale but the stark contrast of a woman working as a maid to a wealthy family, forced into prostitution to make ends meet.
After looking at the exhibition I started to consider whether I should reorganise my finances to avoid companies that encourage and condone tax avoidance. After some thought I decided such action was pointless. The changes required need to come from within the financial sector. Money is power but unfortunately, transparency in global financial dealings still has a long road ahead of it.
Day 2 – 5 September
It has been some time since I wrote up day 1 (work on assignments has taken priority) so my recollections may be a little hazy but I’ll do my best to recall where we were and what we saw.
First stop was the Grande Halle, Parc des Ateliers where there were a number of photographers work on show. For me, one of the most original was Thierry Bouet’s “Personal Affairs”. Talking about his work here: http://rencontres-arles-photo.tv/en/thme/arles-2015/#thierry-bouet he explains that he was amazed at the objects people sell on-line and wanted to tell a story about these objects in one picture. He says that his images are all staged in order to make a picture that is, in his opinion, suitable for an exhibition. However he stresses that all of the pictures tell the truth in that the location, people and objects are all real.
In the same hall was Ambroise Tezenas “I Was Here – Dark Tourism” a disturbing look at the trend for tour companies to take tourists to the scene’s of war, atrocities and natural disasters. http://rencontres-arles-photo.tv/en/thme/arles-2015/#20778 Five years in the making, Tezenas signed up for tours to disaster sites and went, as a tourist, for the same short period of time and photographed from the same locations. He remarks on the graffiti scrawled on a wall in Cambodia; “I Was Here” and questions the right that some feel they have to record their presence with little or no respect for the sensitivities of those effected directly by the disaster.
Marcus Brunetti “Facades” was a massive collection of European Churches, photographed architecturally in very flat light and printed very large. As a typology it has to be admired but I couldn’t get excited about such a large collection. A niche interest I think. http://rencontres-arles-photo.tv/en/thme/arles-2015/#markus-brunetti
Gareth set us a challenge before lunch, take a look at the exhibits for the “Discovery Awards” 2014 and select our choice for the winner and explain why. With only 30 minutes and 10 exhibits to look at, surprisingly not everyone finished. From the 6 that I managed to look at in the time, my favourite was Delphine Chanet’s constructed reality of the exploration of the world by a group of adolescent girls which told a story of young lives embarking on the journey to adulthood. Asked why I like this, I had to admit that it was probably because I didn’t have daughters, but I immediately recognised aspects of the attitudes and behaviour of my teenage grand-daughters. It took me back to the time when I was not a child nor adult when everything was confusing, sometimes scary but always and adventure. http://delphinechanet.com/projects/prix-decouverte/
The first exhibit in the afternoon was called Congo by Alex Majoli and Paulo Pellegrin. http://rencontres-arles-photo.tv/en/?s=Congo&lang=en#alex-majoli-paolo-pellegrin A large exhibition designed to be shown without captions and curated using the work of two photographers who wanted to show Africa free from the preconceptions and structures of photojournalism. It was skilfully presented and had a light mood, showing what I thought of as perhaps Africa as the people see it, life as they live it.
After this we moved to the Total Records exhibit to see the exhibit devoted to the art of the album cover and almost as an afterthought, to view three images submitted and displayed by myself, Gareth and Mirjam in the Sleeve faces exhibition:
Gareth and Julia’s
This was the icing on the cake for me Although my image didn’t make the book, it was gratifying to be recognised at such a prestigious festival.
A very enjoyable two days in a beautiful city with convivial company, a comfortable hotel and good food. I shall be back!