Les Rencontres d’Arles. Warm and Sunny with Possibility of Showers! — Bruno Chalifour

[Winter 2019]

[The Geopolitics of French Institutional Photographic Culture as of Summer 2018]

Par Bruno Chalifour

A year from its fiftieth anniversary, Les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie (the festival’s original name), now simply Rencontres de la Photographie, hosted its usual huge program, composed of more than fifty exhibitions in thirty-six sites, from July 2 to September 23. As usual, the climax of the festival, the opening week – this year from July 2 to July 7 – also offered a plethora of events (encounters and interviews, guided visits, exhibitions, and gatherings related to almost a dozen photographic awards, including several for photobooks, as well as photographic internships).

Maja Hoffman and the LUMA Foundation
Since the beginning of the millennium, the Arles festival would not have been what it is without the support of the LUMA Foundation and its president, Maja Hoffman (a long article was published on this subject “Maja’s Masterpiece,” Wall Street Journal Magazine, no. 96 [September 2018]: 194–99). While continuing her support for and tireless contribution to the festival, Hoffman now has personal momentum and is setting out to dominate cultural life in Arles. Her foundation purchased an enormous block of workshops from the French state-owned railway company, SNCF, while the public authorities were dragging their feet about signing on to a project that would have made the site a European centre for the image, bringing together the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie (maintained), the publisher Actes Sud (unresolved), the Institut Universitaire Technologique sur les métiers de l’image (existing), a new site for Les Rencontres de la Photographie (removed), and, above all, a planned centre for conservation of the French photographic patrimony, which has been housed in recent years, for better or worse (really, for worse rather than better), in limestone grottos in the Paris region since the creation of Jeu de Paume (previously the Centre National de la Photographie, of which Robert Delpire was the first director) and the eviction of the Patrimoine Photographique from its quarters in the private Parisian hotel on Rue de Rivoli near the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. Given the political inertia – no doubt also politically motivated since 2015, when the left-wing socio-communist majority was ousted wholesale from the Provence-Côte d’Azur regional council in favour of the Républicains (81 seats) and the Front National (42 seats) and the mayor of Arles since 2001 (and now in office until 2020), Hervé Schiavetti, was elected under the communist banner – Hoffman asked architect Frank Gehry to design a contemporary art centre. The building is topped by a sixty-metre-high tower, visible from five kilometres from the old town in the middle of which it is supposed to be integrated. At the same time, Hoffman took on the renovation of three of the SNCF workshop buildings, which she brought up to museum standards; presented there this year, among others, is an enormous retrospective by Gilbert & George (English photographers), whose anuses can be admired as a mural in an air-conditioned, humidity-controlled gallery…
Translated by Käthe Roth

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