Noémie Goudal in Monopol

Festival of Photography in Arles Revenge of the Photoshop brush

11 July 2022 The southern French city of Arles relies on visitors to the famous photo festival. That's why the 53rd Rencontres d'Arles are now opening up for digital and video art – a balancing act between tradition and revolution

During the largest photo festival in the world, the Rencontres d'Arles, not only passionate amateur photographers romp around on the streets, but they also have a wide variety of cameras with them. An elderly man wears a twin-lens Rolleiflex around his neck, the kind that Luxembourg photographer Romain Urhausen loved to use at the time (the festival is devoting a major retrospective to Urhausen). The man approaches a group of three women and asks them for a photo with his Rolleiflex. The women can be persuaded, but only to do him a favour. One of them turns out to be a French model. Thanks to her large Instagram reach, she no longer needs to be discovered on the streets of Arles, as could happen during the festival days in the past.

The 53rd edition of the annual photo festival, which is spread all over the city, moves between these two poles: on the one hand, the Rencontres are a bastion of traditional photography and want to stay true to their roots - on the other hand, they are looking for the right way to deal with new media and platforms. If Arles used to help the camera win its rightful place next to the brush in the first place, today it has become a gatekeeper itself. If there used to be reservations about photography, today the skepticism is directed towards a new generation and its technical aids.

Ironically, with the brush tool from Photoshop, the Iranian artist Arash Hanaei wants to expand our concept of documentary photography. For his "Suburban Hauntology" show, Hanaei collected snippets of images from the Internet and cataloged them in folders such as "Body", "Eyes" and "Text". From this, he collages virtual worlds level by level, in which the real world is sedimented, and finally paints them with Photoshop. The filters and light reflections used have a primitive appearance, because the utopia of living in a "metaverse" has not yet been decided. Mark Zuckerberg's bombastic presentation of the Metaverse has been poked fun at by many internet commentators.

Au revoir, tradition!

In Hanaei's video works, the metaverse meets the socialist architecture of French artist Jean Renaudie. In the 1970s, its geometric labyrinth houses seemed at least as strange in Paris as the Metaverse does today, but they still haunt the Paris cityscape as "past futures". In a virtual reality video, the two opposing utopias of Zuckerberg and Renaudie now compete against each other in a duel - with the difference that Zuckerberg's revolution could perhaps become "the last revolution of mankind" that put an end to all other utopias of coexistence and art prepared, as Arash Hanaei says.

In Arles, the French Noémie Goudal also settles accounts with traditional photography and its illusionary character. Somewhere deep in a tropical rain forest, Goudal had her ten-foot-tall photographs of palm trees hung on wires; in such a way that they cover the real palm trees behind them. This is not a palm tree, René Magritte would say. In Goudal's video work "Inhale Exhale" (2021), these photo walls descend from the ropes, revealing the reality behind them, plunging into a swamp and rising again clean and wet to lofty heights. It all happens very slowly, but is spectacular to watch.

In another video work, the jungle photographs burn down one after the other, the fire conquering the canvas again and again from a new direction. Finally, behind the last canvas, Goudal's studio emerges, and everything else was only an afterthought. The title "Phoenix", which the series and the entire show bears, promises that new artistic possibilities will always be born from the ashes of deconstruction. Goudal is also a performance artist; in her work, photos and videos are inextricably linked: for example, when a photo that is much too dark only becomes visible with the help of a moving cone of light from the video projected over it with millimeter precision.

Transformations and revolutions in and for Arles

In addition, Goudal stands in a long tradition of interdisciplinary artists who have always created their own niche. This is what the large exhibition "A Feminist Avant-Garde" tells with over 200 works from the Viennese Verbund collection, which was invited to the rooms of the LUMA Foundation in Arles. Among the 70 artists shown are some who preferred to sew the photographic paper with needle and thread, and others who tied off their own faces and captured them as self-portraits. The alter ego the artist gave birth to ORLAN and held between her bare legs comes to life only through the perfectly symmetrical photo evidence of artist and clone. The alter ego who married artist Tomaso Binga could, however, appear personally in a suit and tie to the wedding with himself. Photography and performance are always mutually dependent.

The LUMA Foundation sits in a park of industrial halls that used to house factories and workshops. There is a relatively high unemployment and poverty rate in Arles and the surrounding area. The festival, which is largely financed through ticket sales, brings important income to the city. This is one of the reasons why the new mayor, Patrick de Carolis, who has been in office since 2020, is striving for a public repositioning of the Rencontres. The festival must now be as broad as possible and yet as contemporary as possible. "In a post-industrial city like Arles, we inevitably have to make the transition to a cultural industry," says festival director Christoph Wiesner, who was also appointed two years ago in the midst of the corona pandemic.

In any case, this year's edition has managed to cover a wide range. A personal photo essay by Jansen van Staden about his father stands alongside staged photography by Wiame Haddad, which shows the eve of Algerian independence as an eternally open door to an eternally untidy room. Sometimes private research can be just as rigorous and insightful as scientific studies: Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza has worked through how her aunt Myriam disappeared into the political underground in Ecuador. Meanwhile, Jacqueline Salmon presents the largest investigation yet into Jesus Christ's loincloth, which has been subject to many trends over the centuries.

Photography has always been shaped by strong contrasts. This is shown by a retrospective of the American photographer Lee Miller, who is probably most famous for her picture in Hitler's bathtub. However, Miller worked simultaneously as a war and fashion reporter during World War II, often as both without seeing it as a contradiction. She revolutionized fashion journalism, which had been stiff until then, and wrote tabloids about the defeated Germans or the liberated French. And she mastered the balancing act of reconciling her fashion models with bombed-out streets, as a documentation and production at the same time. At the time, the British government commissioned women photographers in the country to

 

 

11 July 2022
of 395