Thursday 10 July 2008

Here we go:
7:46 am.
On the train (Paris/Arles),That’s what we can call a good start. Stephane (aka Mister White, Peeping Tom Galerie’s Art Director and photographer for my reports to Foto8) nicely sprained his ankle four days ago. What a joy it is to have the prospect of running around the street of Arles carrying this injured body and his depressing crutches!

Well at least, we finally found a hotel room yesterday, thanks to my friend, photographer Amira Fritz , who is by the way, the winner of the Hyères Photography and Fashion International Festival last spring (a little bit of free publicity).

Hyères and Arles have became our yearly routine for the last 6 years. Usually completely opposed in spirit – Hyères is small, artistically selective and trendy while Arles in comparison is huge, main stream and casual. This year these two festivals seem to have converged around the theme of “Fashion” since Arles’s guest curator is the French Designer, Christian Lacroix. I don’t really know what to expect…

3 pm.
A Train, some stairs, the crutches , a train again, some extra stairs, no taxis, hot sticky weather, another taxi, a quick (and too
light in my opinion) lunch, a dozen handshakes (the opening week of the festival brings together hundreds of colleagues to this tiny mainly pedestrian town) AND we are finally ready to dive into the exhibitions!

We start with the closest exhibition to us, Photographing Clothes curated by Olivier Saillard, head of exhibition programming at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. I have to admit that i was a bit reluctant to visit this exhibition. Not really encouraged by the title. To my surprise though, it is superb. The first part shows a series of copyright registration photographs from the large Haute Couture maisons like Hermes, Rochas, Rodier, Lanvin and Vionnet but also from unidentified designers.

Registration Photographs of Clothing from 1920s

Many couturiers from the 1920s and 30s would have had every garment of their collection photographed to protect them.
The exhibited photographs are mostly from anonymous photographers but some photographers’ names do jump out like… Man Ray.

The images are of course interesting as documents of the past. Notice for exapmle the study of the poses changing from theatrical in the 20s to completely static in the 30s and also the evolution of the models’ bodies over the years. In the context of this exhibition, these photographed – brightly selected, curated, and nicely framed as an exhibition as a whole can be labeled as
vernacular. The rigorous formality and the systemacy of the framing, lighting and mise-en-scene, make these pictures look as if they were the conceptual project of a single photographer.
Brilliant !

Some of the still life become minimalist abstract art, the photographs look SO modern, it takes my breath away. The exhibition continues with a History of fashion video. The extracts from French TV show “Dim Dam Dom” from the 1960s are just moments of pure joy. These strange experimental fictions gives homage to a fashion theme , my favorite being the one dedicated to the fur :
a genius of editing combining some beautiful animal shots with slightly charicatured women wearing fur hats . All of this displayed in a deliberately superficial and careless tone. What stands out from these videos is the freedom that the filmmakers and TV
programmers had at that time. These videos are “ovnis” (UFO) as we say in French, a mixture of video art, commercial and music videos.

Stills from French TV show Dim Dam Dom

Directed by famous fashion and photography masters like Jean-Loup Sieff, David Bailey or Peter Knapp among others, they are far from  only being a way to show clothes in movement, but creative expression itself.

Another exciting part of the exhibition is an airy installation of look-books and catalogues of atypical designers such as Yohji Yamamoto and Martin Margiela.

Vogue Lookbooks

Congratulations Mr Saillard, I definitely feel reconciled with the fashion world!

So on to the next shows…
Still Life from Vogue Magazine, also curated by Olivier Saillard…
I am a touch disappointed by this exhibition. In my opinion the quality is lacking, it doesn’t reflect the diversity of signatures published by this iconic magazine. Some images did catch my eyes and remain as a references for me to this under-estimated genre.

Paolo Roversi
Lived up to expectations with his much adored poetical and mystical photography. The highlight to me being his images of these white bodies that vanishing into the brightness of the background.

©Paolo Roversi

Outside the Paolo Roversi we come across a strange parade. Young artists promoting the opening of their exhibition, not part of Les Rencontres official selection, calling themselves “Le Salon des Refusés”. Its quite successful as they they automatically make the whole festival look a bit stuffy and over intellectualised…
Le Salon des Refusés

6 pm.
Ok now i’s time for a well-earned aperitif with our friends Gigi Giannuzzi and Hannah Watson from Trolley books ( Nothing more ritualistic than this glass(es) of Pastis in the Place du Forum.

7 pm.
An early American dinner laid on by the International Center of Photography (NYC), i am a former student of the school. Its a yearly reunion that i both look forward to but also creates a feeling of anxiety since each invited guest must stand up and tell the story of their life. An easy task for Americans but a real struggle for a “Frenchie” like me. We learn that the fantastic Robert Blake – main teacher of the school for the past 22 years – is retiring. A page is turned…

9 pm.
Just across the street, in Hotel du Forum, my friends are all attending an Italian party, another annual rendezvous. Free drinks and spaghetti around a pool, and yes you guessed it, after few glasses of Chianti, some people end up jumping in, some of them even naked.

Italians, Chianti, a Pool and Gigi

10 pm.
Time to head towards the amphitheater for the evening slideshow spectacular:
First part of the show is the members of the Rencontres jury presenting their choices for the “Découvertes” section, the annual prize awarded to an emerging artist. The jury is selected by Christian Lacroix and is only composed of magazine and fashion people. At first glance, I have to say that i am not very excited by the nominees. Except for Pieter Hugo’s “Hyena and Other Men” project which is after all not really a “discovery” this year.

Son et Lumiere Arles

However, i do want to give a special bravo to Luis Venegas, eclectic and atypical curator/ editor of fanzine137 –  who as a member of the jury gave a hilarious and spontaneous speech. A blast of fresh air in this slightly conventional presentation.

12 pm.
After an interval the second part of the projection is about to start with showings of photography by Paolo Roversi and Peter
Lindbergh. For Stephane and I it is, however, Game Over and we beat a dignified and exhausted retreat back to our hotel.

See you again tomorrow…

Caroline Niémant is a freelance Curator and Photo Editor. In 2006, she founded Peeping Tom,, a not-for-profit organization to support and promote contemporary artists through exhibitions, informal auction sales, publications, collaborations with art institutions, festivals , etc. In the fall 2008, Peeping Tom will also be a magazine (published by Capricious Publishing : Caroline Niémant is also the Photo Editor of fashion/art magazine Double

All photographs courtesy of Stéphane Blanc and Caroline Niémant.