Rencontres d’Arles Photography Festival Celebrates 50 Years

“Immediately captivated by the warm, luminous light of southern France,” says Amy Touchette, “I made this picture within minutes of arriving.”

Without a doubt, the festival that’s always had the best reputation in the photo industry is Rencontres d’Arles. I attended in 2017 and it unequivocally lived up to its reputation. Located in Arles, France, this year the festival celebrates its 50th year running.

Every summer, the festival holds numerous exhibitions in incredibly beautiful, old-heritage sites, including some 12th-century chapels or 19th-century industrial buildings that are open only to the public during the festival. The exhibitions range from classic documentary photography to the contemporary, experimental and cutting-edge, from well-known canonical photographers to lesser known, up-and-coming photographers and artists.

Rencontres d’Arles celebrates its 50th anniversary

During opening week, there are evening screenings, exhibition tours, discussions, symposiums, readings, performances and book signings. Throughout the summer, the festival holds photography workshops (in the past by the likes of Martin Parr, René Burri and Joan Fontcuberta), as well as hands-on workshops combining writing, visual arts, photography and improvisation. The festival also offers portfolio reviews in early July, making it an especially great resource for non-European photographers looking to develop relationships with industry professionals abroad—my main reason for attending the festival.

Aside from Rencontres d’Arles’ programs, an equal draw is the beautiful, warm town of Arles itself. Residents welcome festival goers from all over the globe with open arms, rosé practically flows from the faucets, and you’re surrounded by the settings of Van Gogh’s legendary landscapes. In between programming, everyone hangs out in cafes and restaurants, making it really easy to meet people, to casually share work and ideas and to simply enjoy being surrounded by like-minded photo lovers.

“Debbie and Renee” by Susan Meiselas, Rockland, Maine, USA, 1972.

Founded by photographer Lucien Clergue, author Michel Tournier and historian Jean-Maurice Roquette, this summer, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the festival has gone all out to create an especially ambitious, eclectic program. Plus, there is something I am personally excited about: Susan Meiselas, one of my biggest inspirations, will be presented with the first Women In Motion Award in the town’s extraordinary Théâtre Antique, a Roman theatre built in the first century BC.

Check out this year’s Rencontres d’Arles program here. And if you can’t attend this summer (like most of us), dive into the festival’s media library, “a veritable extension of the festival,” comprising illustrated articles, as well as audio documents and videos about artists and people in the industry, often narrated in their own words.


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