Fotograf Magazine

Photographic Encounter in Arles

Francois Hébel, head of administration of the Magnum agency, once again took up the post of artistic director of the oldest photography festival in the world in Arles in the south of France. He returned to the post after a long interval, during which several more or less successful successors alternated in the position. He was able to prepare a superb programme, dominated by documentary and classical art photography, for the festival this July. The main attraction was the largest retrospective to date of the famous Czech photographer Josef Koudelka, assembled by his friend of many years, the legendary Parisian publisher Robert Delpir. Originally, it was supposed to have a premiere this past February in the National Gallery in Prague. This did not come about because of the unhelpful attitude of the generaldirector of the National Gallery, Milan Knížák, and it is still not clear if we will see the extensive presentation of Koudelka’s work in Prague at all. In the meantime, visitors to the festival in Arles could see this exposition presented as part of the Czech Season in France. The exhibition, like the Koudelka monograph recently published by TORST in Prague, included artistically stylised shots from the beginning of Koudelka’s career at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s, original, expressive theatre photographs, the famous Gypsy cycle, unforgettable, dramatic shots of the occupation of Prague in August 1968, pictures from the subjective documentary book Exily (Exiles) and panoramic photographs from the publications Černý trojúhelník (Black Triangle), Chaos and others. The meticulously installed exposition once again confirmed that Koudelka is one of the greatest figures of contemporary international photography.

The exhibition Here is New York also aroused considerable interest. The organisers, at the initiative of the press photographer Gilles Peress, assembled it from the works of famous press photographers and holiday amateur photographers who recorded the terrorist attack on the two towers of the World Trade Center last year on 11 September and the subsequent events. Each photograph was scanned, printed and offered for sale for the same price of twenty-five dollars. During the first two months of the exhibition’s premiere in New York, more than half a million dollars were thus raised for the children of the victims of the attacks. Most of the exhibitions documented the Arles festival’s move away from conceptual and multimedia work to classical photography. Gabriele Basilico presented inventive large-scale photographs of different famous buildings in the south of France. Alexej Titarenko, working with great skill with the long exposures and subtle tones of his enlargements, presented distinctive shots of Petersburg in different seasons and at different times of day. His fellow countryman Sergej Chilikov was represented by colour arranged scenes from a contemporary Russian village. Harry Gruyaert exhibited more recent colour documentary photographs. The Réattu Museum made public thirty-two photographs by the classic American photographer Edward Weston from its rich collections. The retrospective exhibition of Jules Antoin showed lively photographs of his children, made at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and in many respects resembling the work of Lartigue. Hébel wants to include one private collection of photographs in the festival programme each year. This time it was a collection of eighty works owned by the Spanish collector Ordonez Falcon. The collection spans a wide spectrum, from the romantic landscapes of Le Gray, to Nadar’s photograph of a hermaphrodite and the work of the contemporary star of German photography Andreas Gursky. Traditionally, the evening screenings in the enchanting setting of a classical arena are an important component of the Arles gatherings. Two of these seven evenings were devoted to the work of Josef Koudelka; another, for example, commemorated the fifty years of the journal Aperture. In addition to workshops for experienced photographers lasting several days, led by Martin Parr and Arnaud Claas among others, this year there was also a series of twelve threehour photography courses for the students of local schools.

Vladimír Birgus