Les Rencontres d’Arles 2019

Top five festival highlights

Selected by Tim Clark

The fiftieth edition of the highly-esteemed Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival is now underway. It’s a vast, sprawling affair set across the evocative Roman town in the south of France with something for all tastes, despite a lingering fascination with the traditional. Yet there is always much to praise. Below is a rundown of five standout exhibitions from the memorable golden anniversary year – selected by Editor in Chief, Tim Clark.

In association with Spectrum.

1. The Saga Of Inventions
From The Gas Mask To The Washing Machine, CNRS Archives


One of a number of exhibitions from the festival section brought together under the title The Other Photography – “a tribune to hoarders and obsessive people” – The Saga Of Inventions exemplifies the guest-curated shows centred on archival photographic practices that Les Rencontres d’Arles does so well. Under the expert supervision of historian Luce Lebart, images from the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) have been assembled from a collection of thousands that were produced in France between 1915 and 1938 as part of the governmental initiative to foster scientific and industrial research. A cogent portrait of innovation, visitors can revel in the visual rigour of numerous brilliant inventions, moving from those born out of war and national defence efforts to others designed for the domestic and civil realm, a duality reflected in the exhibition’s two-fold structure. Administrative images of trench trumpets, flame protection masks and hoods, artificial clouds, myriaphones, washing machines and ‘life-saving’ taxis are but a few from the cornucopia in which the inanimate is awakened.

At the heart of The Saga Of Inventions a poster enlargement of the studio set-up offers a rare backstage image to actively insert self-reflexivity within the exhibition, providing a behind-the-scenes view into the photographic theatre where countless images from the archive were made. We are privy to both the object, in this case part of a machine gun, and the cameraman contextualising it, whose dramatic pose and extravagant costume add an air of what Lebart has imaginatively dubbed “a poetic-military-burlesque aesthetic.” It embodies the spirit of The Saga Of Inventions; a compelling and at times absurd exhibition that bristles with insight into the institution and archival gems, treated with great flourishes of offbeat humour.

2. Mohamed Bourouissa
Free Trade


Upstairs from the Monoprix supermarket near the train station is a vast space that aptly plays host to Free Trade, a survey showcasing fifteen years of creative output from Algerian-born artist Mohamed Bourouissa. His work examines the value and visibility of marginalised and economically bereft members of society, as well as productions of knowledge, exchange and structures of power. Video, painting, sculpture, installation and, of course, photography are all put to powerful use. So too is an impressive range of imagery that encompasses staged scenes, surveillance footage and even stolen smartphones. Though perhaps counter to this experimental vision Bourouissa is still best known for his breakthrough series Périphérique (2005-09), reflecting on the discrepancies through re-enactment and narrative tableaux between the lives of Parisian youth and their limited depiction by right-wing mainstream press and politicians.

Curated by festival director Sam Stourdzé, it’s a challenging and disparate exhibition, staged in an open-plan format to create a complex visual and aural environment. Ideas come into focus and vibrate against one another, laying bare some of the terrible realities and injustices of late capitalism, all the while questioning the means of an image and politics of representing the other. There’s also an exhibition within the exhibition involving a collaboration with Monoprix employees and photographer Jacques Windenberger, in what became democratic practices where subjects were actors in information-participation photographic projects – “a kind of community visual memory.” Bourouissa’s originality as a conceptually-driven documentary photographer consists not just in what he represents but how he represents it. As such Free Trade feels sharp, sobering, confounding, mysterious, critical and intelligible on its own political terms.

3. Libuše Jarcovjáková

L’église Saint-Étienne

In the My Body Is A Weapon constellation of exhibitions veteran Czech photographer Libuše Jarcovjáková turns it up a notch with Evokativ in collaboration with curator Lucie Černá. Raw, emotive and visceral, her photographs are far from picture-perfect but that’s not the point. Taken between 1970 and 1989 in communist Czechoslovakia they are vessels of pain and poetry from a dark period of totalitarian rule, a diaristic record of life, love, work, drink, sex and depression splayed out before the camera. Hers is an unflinching and brutally honest account of the immediate world around her, from the confines of the bedroom to the theatre of the street, resolving into a compelling portrait of the artist as a young woman. What emerges from these monochromatic worlds is a mood piece positing reckless abandon and hedonism as an act of resistance.

Evokativ flows freely around its impressive church setting, with a partially-enclosed area in the centre of the space. It functions almost as a confessional zone, perhaps delivering the exhibition’s most revealing and affecting moment: “Abortion. I arrived at the hospital in the middle of the night with a high fever. I was bleeding and longed for it to end. I had no desire for a baby whatsoever,” the artist recalls by way of an extended handwritten caption to images of luminous jugs full of liquid. “The doctors were of a different opinion and instructed me to lie quietly in bed. I crept silently to the toilet. Jugs full of the urine of pregnant women gleamed on the windowsill. They were wonderful. I took photos of them and did some squats. In the end I miscarried. All that remained were the jugs.”

4. Home Sweet Home
1970-2018: The British Home, A Political History
Maisone des Peintres

Within the intimate confines of Maisone des Peintres lies Home Sweet Home, 1970-2018: The British Home, A Political History. Meandering through the rooms and set across two floors, this exhibition explores what curator Isabelle Bonnet refers to as “the link between the well-being of soul and body and the domestic interior.” Taking its cues and logic from the English language invention of words such as ‘comfort’ and ‘comfortable’ the focus is on anatomising everyday life in Britain from the 1970s to the present day. Via a multi-generational artist axis it features key works by Anna Fox, David Moore, Martin Parr and Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen alongside artists such as Andy Sewell, Natasha Caruana and Juno Calypso. Collectively, their vignettes collectively reveal the dynamics and complexities of family life allied to the pleasures, comforts and even terrors of domesticity. Indeed, one curious variant on theme points to issues of seclusion and confinement courtesy of an installation by Edmund Clark’s Control Order House (2011) comprised of interior snapshots of a place where an individual under house arrest lived, having been suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. Clare Strand and Eva Stenram follow in the next room in The Poetics of Space section with strong contributions via their narrative constructions and staged photographs.

As is the case with any show with the level of ambition to survey constructions of national identity, omissions seem as striking as what’s included. Bodies of work from the canon by Richard Billingham, Nigel Shafran and Nick Waplington are notably absent. Still, Home Sweet Home is a well-articulated, buoyant show drawing out shared histories and dialogues, if slightly tethered to an overall vision of the British as eccentric and unable to break out of their old insularity. Nonetheless it remains a valid document along a timeline of how people look and behave in their places of refuge.

5. Eve Arnold, Abigail Heyman and Susan Meisalas
Unretouched Woman

Espace Van Gogh

There was in part a retroactive feminist turn to Les Rencontres d’Arles this year and nowhere does this come more to the fore than in Unretouched Woman. Shining a spotlight on Eve Arnold, Abigail Heyman and Susan Meiselas, three American photographers working and fighting to create certain degrees of freedom for themselves, and who all produced pioneering books to lend tangible form to their fundamental experiences of being embodied, the exhibition has been instigated by Clara Bouveresse through Les Rencontres d’Arles’ curatorial research fellowship.

Susan Meiselas’ masterpiece Carnival Strippers (1976) prevails for its frank portrayal of dancers both on and off-stage at small town carnivals in New England, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina though photographs and interviews. Still-to-be-better-appreciated is the utterly magical Abigail Heyman, the first woman to be invited into the Magnum collective, whose book Growing Up Female (1974) subverted traditional codes and assumptions about what it means – or can mean – to be female, distilled through a unique combination of photo-reportage and personal urgency. Privacy is continually turned inside out.

Evidently the festival organisers have taken heed of the feedback and pressure that was applied in protest of the gender imbalance from 2018 – as voiced in an open letter published in the Libération newspaper last year. As such, they have taken steps to redress this by bringing those traditionally underrepresented from the periphery to the centre, and, clearly, without compensating on quality or talent. For the famed Susan Meisalas alone, it’s yet another accolade to an already impressive year, in which she has won the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize, Kraszna-Krausz Fellowship and now the Women in Motion Award, a newly-established prize from Les Rencontres d’Arles granted to female photographers recognised for their contribution to the field. Hopefully it paves the way for the celebration and recognition of the many other hugely-deserving artists to follow, without the need to play catch-up through resurrectionist narratives.

Les Rencontres d’Arles 2019 runs until September 22nd.

Tim Clark is a curator, writer and lecturer. Since 2008, has been Editor in Chief and Director at 1000 Words. 


1-National Scientific and Industrial Research and Inventions Office, Georges Mabboux’s acoustic horns to locate aircraft, May 31, 1935. CNRS collection, A_3264. (The Saga of Inventions exhibition)

2-National Scientific and Industrial Research and Inventions Office, Louis Lapicque’s visual field shutter goggles, December 1926. CNRS collection, B_6127. (The Saga of Inventions exhibition)

3-Mohamed Bourouissa, L’impasse, from the Périphérique series, 2007. Courtesy of the artist and galerie kamel mennour, Paris/London and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. ADAGP (Paris) 2019.

4-Mohamed Bourouissa, Bracelet électronique, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and galerie kamel mennour, Paris/London and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. ADAGP (Paris) 2019.

5-Libuše Jarcovjáková, David, Prague, 1984. Courtesy of the artist.

6-Libuše Jarcovjáková, From the T-club series, Prague, 1980s. Courtesy of the artist.

7-Andy Sewell, Untitled, from the series Something like a Nest, 2014 (Home Sweet Home exhibition).

8-Ken Grant, Lisa and Tracy’s sister, Birkenhead, 1990 (Home Sweet Home exhibition).

9-Susan Meiselas, Debbie and Renee, Rockland, Maine, USA, 1972. Courtesy of Susan Meiselas / Magnum Photos.

10-Abigail Heyman, Supermarket, 1971.

Top 10

Photobooks of 2018

Selected by Tim Clark

An annual tribute to the most exceptional photo book releases from 2018 – selected by our Editor in Chief, Tim Clark.

In association with Spectrum.

1. Carmen Winant, My Birth
Self Publish, Be Happy Editions

My Birth by Carmen Winant is perhaps this year’s standout title from Bruno Ceschel’s famed Self Publish, Be Happy enterprise. Yet it is also utterly unlike any other. Deftly fusing image and text, the book – a facsimile of the artist’s own journal – combines photographs of Winant’s mother giving birth to her three children alongside found imagery of other, anonymous women undergoing the same experience. This visual strategy aims at “the flattening of cross-generational time and feeling”, while the title is a nod to Frida Kahlo’s 1932 painting of the same name. Immediate, precarious and utterly vulnerable, Winant’s project, which coincided with an on-site installation at MoMA’s Being: New Photography 2018, is also bold and fearless. Sensitive to the world, and to the world of images, My Birth asks probing questions that move beyond transgression to open up a space for considering childbirth and its representation as a political act.

2. Zanele Muholi, Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness
Aperture Foundation

What really matters now are the needs that art answers, and visual activist Zanele Muholi always delivers with great rigour. Having first emerged as a photographic spokesperson of members of the black queer community in South Africa and beyond, her long-awaited monograph sees Muholi turn the camera on herself to powerful effect. This arresting collection of more than 90 theatrical self-portraits first reclaim and then reimagine the black subject again in ways that resist, confront and challenge complacency to racism – both historic and contemporary. During these times when violence, misogyny and even white supremacy are rife, the photographs’ accumulative presence flies in the face of stereotypes and oppressive standards of beauty.

3. Raymond Meeks, Halfstory Halflife
Chose Commune

This is the kind of pleasurable photography that approaches something so eloquent yet understated but which we cannot altogether grasp. Master of the quiet photograph, Raymond Meeks is also a prolific photo book maker. Meeks’ current collaboration with Chose Commune bears all the hallmarks of his lyrical explorations; strong narrative and occasional riffs off poetry and short fiction, all the while concentrating on the symbiotic relationship between family, memory and a sense of place. Here, black and white photographs of young men, making their way through openings in hedgerow to access prime spots for river-jumping in the Catskill mountain region of New York, are both visceral and spontaneous. Their pale bodies fling themselves into the dark void, frozen as if mid-flight, pivoting from the point of view of an adult seemingly remembering a moment of fledgling sexuality and uncertain future.

4. Michael Schmelling, Your Blues
Skinnerboox and The Ice Plant

Taken between 2013 and 2014, and shot while on commission for the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Colombia College Chicago, Michael Schmelling’s photographs in Your Blues are our guide through the city’s vibrant and eclectic music scene, where “the dominant form is hybridity”. Musicians and revellers, parties and recording studios, lovers and strangers all collide, depicted through casual views and with feelings of familiarity. This then forms a ripe photographic account of the varying degrees of individualism within this community. Blues, punk, hip hop, psychedelic jazz, emo, hardcore and house music are all part of Chicago’s cultural inheritance and encompassed here via Schmelling’s vignettes and reflections on niche and local performers in unconventional venues. Akin to a novel of images, Your Blues provides a noteworthy contribution to this year’s offerings.

5. Max Pinckers, Margins of Excess

A response to the ‘post-truth’ era, Max Pinckers’ speculative documentary work revolves around the narratives of six protagonists who all momentarily achieved infamy in the US only to be ousted as fakes or frauds by the media. Such highly-idiosyncratic stories range from a self-invented love story set in a Nazi concentration camp to a man compulsively hijacking trains. With fever-dream urgency, Margins of Excess brings together fragments of these lives through staged photography, archival material, interviews and press clippings: the explicit folding of imagination into imaging “in which truths, half-truths, lies, fiction or entertainment are easily interchanged.” Pinckers’ take on embracing reality in all its complexity via this particular strand of storytelling offers an interesting reminder: that contemporary documentary practice might be more productively considered as small arguments, gestures or even critical methods.

6. Michelle Dizon and Việt Lê, White Gaze
Sming Sming Books

Readers of 1000 Words will recall the recent magazine feature on this gem of a photo book from collaborative duo Michelle Dizon and Việt Lê, which deserves much wider recognition in light of its poetry, playfulness, acuity and, most crucially, decolonising strategies. Intellectually energetic, White Gaze repurposes imagery from National Geographic to confront notions of white privilege and Western-centrism by reworking and negating image and text from the publication’s original pages. Countless uncomfortable truths hidden at the bottom of every lie, every act of denial or white complicity, come to bear through the interplay of the two languages, critiquing how meaning is constructed to administer imperialist narratives and racist histories.

7. Mimi Plumb, Landfall
TBW Books

As far as great discoveries go, the case of Mimi Plumb’s resurfaced archive has been a fairly recent but major breakthrough. Having taught photography throughout much of her career at San Jose State University and San Francisco Art Institute in the US, it has only been during the past five years that her work has really come to light following the 2014 exhibition of her Pictures from the Valley series. Now, a collection of images taken throughout the 1980s have been published by TBW Books under the title, Landfall, containing black and white photographs full of foreboding and unease, yet always delicate and beautiful in register. They appear to encapsulate a time when the world at large seemed out of kilter – with obvious parallels to our present moment. Stylistically, too, there’s a whiff of Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand and Henry Wessel to these images that certainly will not fade quickly.

8. Chloe Dewe Mathews, Caspian: The Elements
Aperture Foundation and Peabody Museum Press

It’s heartening to observe this renewed period for Aperture Foundation’s photo book publishing arm, albeit still very traditional in format. One of its many great, recent titles comes courtesy of British photographer and filmmaker Chloe Dewe Mathews who spent five years roaming the borderlands of the Caspian Sea, where Asia seamlessly merges into Europe, to come away with a compelling record of the region’s complex geopolitical trevails. Much of this of course is largely bound up in the singular importance of gas and oil reserves and the disparate economies of bordering countries – Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – but it’s Mathews’ receptiveness and examination of the ties between people and the landscape, as well as the religious, artistic and therapeutic aspects of daily life, that are so intriguing.

9. Thomas Demand, The Complete Papers

While there is obviously no equivalent experience to viewing a Thomas Demand artwork at its intended size and scale, this new volume on the oeuvre of the acclaimed German artist more than makes up for it in scope, depth and scholarship. Edited by Christy Lange, and with texts from voices as diverse as the novelist Jeff Euginedes to curator Francesco Bonami, The Complete Papers provides a hugely comprehensive view of Demand’s past three decades of artistic production. Known for using pre-existing images culled from the media, routinely with political undertones, which he then recreates from cardboard and paper at 1:1 scale before photographing the assembled scene, admirers of the work will no doubt appreciate hitherto unseen pieces from the early 1990s when he first started making paper constructions for this sole purpose of photographing them. With the customary bibliography and full exhibitions listing, this is a researcher’s dream. A catalogue raisonné of the highest order.

10. Sunil Gupta, Christopher Street, 1976

Sunil Gupta’s Christopher Street, 1976 performs an act of personal remembrance by bringing together photographs shot in in New York when the artist spent a year studying photography with Lisette Model in between cruising the city’s streets with his camera; part of a burgeoning, proud and public gay scene prior to ensuing AIDS epidemic that subsequently sent it underground. The photo book is minimally designed, presenting one black and white photograph on each right-hand page in a spiral-bound volume, marking the latest release in Stanley/Barker’s small but judicious selection of titles. It celebrates both a key moment in Gupta’s identity and the political value embedded in the struggle for LGBT liberation, the consequences of which were far-reaching.

Tim Clark is a curator, writer and since 2008, has been Editor in Chief and Director at 1000 Words.