The Rencontres d'Arles (formerly known as the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie d'Arles) is a summer photography festival founded in 1970 by Arles photographer Lucien Clergue, author Michel Tournier and historian Jean-Maurice Rouquette.
The Rencontres d'Arles’ policy of programming, almost exclusively consisting of new work, has earned a world-wide reputation. In 2016, the festival welcomed more than 100,000 visitors.
The exhibitions, often co-produced with both French and foreign museums and institutions, are given on various heritage sites, suitably stage-designed for the purpose. Some sites (for example, 12th century chapels or 19th century industrial buildings) are open to the public only for the duration of the festival.
Many photographers have been discovered as a result of the Rencontres; a sure sign of the festival’s importance as a springboard for photographic and contemporary creative talent.
For its depth and reach the programme draws on the points of view of numerous specialists – around twenty each year – from different fields. Sometimes part of the programming is entrusted to an artist, examples including Martin Parr in 2004, Raymond Depardon in 2006, Arles-born couturier Christian Lacroix in 2008 and Nan Goldin in 2009.
Every summer since 1970, over the course of more than sixty exhibitions at various of the city’s exceptional heritage sites, the Rencontres d’Arles has been a major influence in disseminating the best of world photography. It sees itself as the melting pot of contemporary creation.
Thanks to a programming policy that almost entirely favours unpublished works, the Rencontres has become the benchmark international photography festival.
The exhibitions are often produced in partnership with French or foreign museums and institutions.
The roll-call of photographers ‘discovered’ at the Rencontres is impressive. Its role as a springboard for artists is strengthened by the presence of many foreign professionals during opening week.
The way exhibitions are set up at Arles involves elaborate stage design. Some historical buildings (12th century chapels and 19th century industrial spaces) are open to the public only during the festival period.
The Rencontres d’Arles:
- at the cutting edge of developments in the photographic image, up with new processes and with new approaches to the photographed subject and to plastic form.
- aware of new techniques; able to offer to every kind of public a different concept of what a photography exhibition can be and to connect people meaningfully with the image.
Opening week at the Rencontres d’Arles involves photography events (e.g. evening screenings, exhibition visits, discussions, symposiums, readings, performances and book signings) in historic parts of the city, some of which are open especially for the occasion.
Among the more memorable events of recent Rencontres have been: ‘European Night’ (‘Nuit de l’Europe’) in 2008, which presented a wide panorama of European photographic identities; Christian Lacroix’s fashion show created for the closing night of the festival in 2008; and the Patti Smith concert to celebrate the 20th birthday of the Vu Agency in 2006.
EVENING SCREENINGS IN THE THÉÂTRE ANTIQUE
The open-air evening screenings at the Théâtre Antique in Arles present the work of a photographer or photography specialist accompanied by concerts or performances. Each screening is a one-off creation.
Many artists, such as Andres Serrano, Don McCullin, Valérie Belin, Seamus Murphy & PJ Harvey (2016), Mathieu Chedid & Martin Parr (2015), Hiroshi Sugimoto (2013), Vincent Courtois & Michael Ackermann (2014), or Nan Goldin and The Tiger Lilies (2009), have participated to these special evenings in the Théâtre Antique.
NIGHT OF THE YEAR
The format of opening week’s unmissable festive event has changed. Visitors can now take a walk to see the festival’s favourite works by artists and photographers as well as carte blanche exhibitions by institutions.
SYMPOSIUMS AND DISCUSSIONS
Discussions and symposiums are held during the opening week of the Rencontres d’Arles. Participating photographers and other professionals talk about their work or about questions raised by the images on display.
In recent years the themes included whether a black-and-white aesthetic is still conceivable in photography (2013); the impact of social networks on creativity and information (2011); in 2009, ‘Change, a central concept in today’s photography’; in 2008, ‘The Photography Commission – Freedom or Constraint’; in 2007, ‘Challenges and Changes in Photography’.
RENCONTRES D’ARLES AWARDS
Since they were created in 2002, the Rencontres d’Arles awards have been a means of discovering new talents at the festival. The nature of the prizes was changed in 2007 and there are now four annual awards. They are presented during the closing ceremony of professional week at the festival and the winners’ work is displayed throughout the summer at Arles. The awards are: the Prix Découverte (‘Discovery Award’), worth €25000, the Prix du Livre d’Auteur (‘Contemporary Book Award’), worth €8000, the Prix du Livre Historique (‘Historical Book Award’), worth €8000, and the Prix Photo-Texte (‘Photo-Text Award’)
Since 2010, an award established with the backing of the LUMA Foundation has also been awarded.