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Letter from Arles

By    Monday July 8, 2013

I wanted to talk about the exhibits and my stay in Arles, but that is all very subjective and I'm not a critic anyway. I'm a photographer and I come to the Rencontres each year to get inspired, upset and sometimes even bored—it’s the stimulation and response that matters.

I also thought about writing a diary of my stay. But who else would be interested in a long list of events and people I meet, mostly friends who are scattered around the world? This year I arrived on Monday the 1st of July, but I had to leave that Friday night so I missed a couple of days and the nuit de l'année, which was held for the first time at Salin-de-Giraud by the sea. But I managed to cram in many exhibits and meetings in just a few days, along with some long walks, good chats and good food.

The Rencontres are pretty much the same from one edition to the next, but also, like a good friend we know very well and only see once a year, full of surprises and new stories to tell. This year wasn't that much different even though it was dedicated to Black and White Photography: Arles in Black!

Above, left: Erik Kessels; right:  Michel Vanden Eeckhoudt. Photos: Giovanni Del Brenna.

The 2013 edition includes a century’s worth of photography from contemporary black and white (Hiroshi Sugimoto) to humanistic photography (Pierre Jamet's youth hostel life in France during the 1930s), to the mind bending landscapes of John Davies; from the found family albums collected by Erik Kessels and presented in Album Beauty to the family albums of the great master Jacques Henry Lartigue, during the period when he was married to his first wife Madeleine Messager (Bibi), 1918 to1930.

Most of the artists presented in Arles this year are well known through their photo books but this is a great opportunity to see their work on the walls. Among the great masters of the past whose work is rarely shown in Europe are Sergio Larrain and Gordon Parks. Also on view in full retrospectives are the photomontages of Gilbert Garcin, a French photographer who took up the camera when he was in in his seventies, and Arno Rafael Minkkinen, whose work over the past 40 years fills seven rooms at Atelier de Mécanique.

The two biggest discoveries for me were the Belgian photographer Michel Vanden Eeckhoudt, with his very strange and dark view of ordinary surroundings, and John Stezaker, whose subtle and smart collages made from film stills and movie star portraits create a totally new meaning out of found images. I do not know if this is true for everyone but one of the things I love the most in photography is its ability to let us discover new worlds that we might not see on our own. The exhibit Mars does exactly that with amazing black-and-white prints from the NASA archive, selected by Xavier Barral and installed with a sound design by Dominique Besson.

Above, left: John Davies; right: Alfredo Jaar.

Last but not least, la cerise sur le gateau [the frosting on the cake], an amazing exhibit of Alfredo Jaar. Not a photography exhibition in the strictest sense but for sure an exhibition that offers a broader understanding of the usage of photography and of the photography world in which we live. Information on exhibits and their authors can be found on the Rencontres website.

Giovanni Del Brenna, a photographer based in Rome, is represented by Luz PhotoBorn in Genova in 1974, he grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he attended the French school. He later moved to Milan, Italy, and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from the Politecnico di Milano. He decided then to follow his first passion: photography. In 2002 he graduated from the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism Program of the International Center of Photography, in New York, joined Grazia Neri Agency the same year and assisted James Nachtwey for the next two years. His work has been exhibited in New York, Milan and Lisbon and Metz, and has been published in Le Monde, New York Times, Conde Nast Traveller Italia, Vanity Fair Italia, IL, Amica, Geo and Stern among other publications. In June 2006 Hermès Italy commissioned the book “L’aria di Firenze,” and in 2011 the EDF Group commissioned a book on power plants in Lorraine, France. He has been nominated New Photographer 2007 for advertisement by Getty Images and is currently editing his book on cities.



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