Magazine article Artforum International

Rencontres d'Arles: Various Venues

Magazine article Artforum International

Rencontres d'Arles: Various Venues

Article excerpt

Notwithstanding the proverb, French photographer-filmmaker Raymond Depardon is a prophet in his own country. Among the awards he has accumulated are the Grand Prix National de la Photographie and two Cesars for his documentary films, not to mention the Order of Agricultural Merit. If one of the rare honors missing from his CV is an exhibition at the Rencontres d'Arles photo festival, this is not for any lack of opportunities but because, as he puts it, "I'm someone who's more passionate about books than exhibits." Or at least until this year, when Depardon received the offer he couldn't refuse: to serve as guest curator of the venerable festival's thirty-seventh edition. While this curatorial debut did not include his own work, the ambitious program he put together--thirty-seven exhibits, plus three evening events--turned out to be a remarkable self-portrait in the third-person plural. True to the show's tongue-in-cheek title, "So French," alluding to the American reaction to his "impressionistic" approach, Depardon offered the public what might be described as a rigorously subjective selection of twentieth- and twenty-first-century photographers based on the openly avowed criteria of friendship and filiations.

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At the heart of this venture was the section entitled "Traveling Companions," featuring the work of people with whom he has shared life, love, and photography in his multiple incarnations as photo-reporter, paparazzo, war correspondent, founding member of the Gamma agency and longtime member of Magnum Photos, filmmaker, and inveterate traveler and Africa buff. In all, eleven photographers, one graphic artist (the late Roman Cieslewicz, faithful designer of his film posters), and one unclassifiable figure on the French photography scene (Christian Caujolle, pioneering photo editor, critic, curator, and founding director of the Agence VU and its gallery). Three of the women in the group responded to Depardon's invitation in strikingly original ways. Dominique Issermann, the renowned fashion photographer and portraitist, created a hypnotic installation in the darkened interior of a fifteenth-century church, where her black-and-white photos, removed from their original contexts as ads or illustrations, were projected onto two boxlike sculptural screens rising up from the floor. Conversely, Susan Meiselas's Reframing History, 2004, placed her celebrated photos of the Nicaraguan insurrection of 1978-79 in their contemporary contexts in the form of semitransparent banners that were set up, billboard style, near the sites where they were taken. …

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