DAY 1 - Monday July 2, 2007

See the video of Day 1

Today is the official inauguration of the festival. Many of the exhibits remain closed to the public, but François Hébel, the festival director, leads a guided tour of some of the major exhibitions, starting at the Espace van Gogh with the photographs of Umrao Singh Sher-Gil (1870-1954).

This Indian photographer, who claims modestly to have always been an amateur, photographed his wife and two daughters in daily situations, documenting the life of an Indo-European family in the first half of the 20th century. Black & white and sepia vintage prints show the eccentricities of an artist’s family. It is not surprising to discover that one of India’s most influential artists of pictorial modernism, Sher-Gil’s daughter Amrita, grew up in such an environment.

François Hébel with guests. © Neil Atherton

Next, we visit the Alkazi Photography Collection, an exhibit of painted photos spanning almost 100 years. These hand-colored photographs, from between the 1850’s and the 1940’s demonstrate how the arrival of photography in India marked a new era in the visual representation of religion and culture. There are also reproductions of ‘souvenir albums’ – books revealing iconic images of Indian rulers and their courtiers in the princely states.

Umrao Singh Sher-Gil. © Neil Atherton

These two exhibitions, part of the celebrations for India’s 60th year of independence, provide an introduction to the country’s cultural and artistic heritage. It will be interesting to discover the contemporary work on show later this week and see how these early pioneers have influenced later generations.

Meanwhile, on the historic streets of Arles, ‘La Cocarde d’or’ - the biggest traditional bull-run in the Camargue’s calendar – gets underway with hundreds of people cheering on the horsemen who guide the bulls from the Roman arena back to wherever they came from.

Arles bull-run. © Neil Atherton

At the entrance to Alberto Garcia-Alix’s show at the Eglise Sante-Anne, a  sign warns that ‘some photographs may disturb certain viewers.’ Indeed, the highly personal pictures of this Spanish artist’s friends and family oscillate between the  dark underworld of drug abuse and addiction and sexual provocation. Tattooed nudes and leather-clad bikers reveal the post-Franco era of free-expression that took hold of Spain’s youth culture in the 1980s. Garcia-Alix himself bares the scares of this era, and as his self-portraits demonstrate, he is a living testament to the realism of the subjects that bring his photographs to life.

Alberto Garcia-Alix. © Neil Atherton

The HSBC Foundation for Photography has supported emerging photographers since 1995 and here in the Eglise des Trinitaires, we are given a glimpse of some of the 20 or so artists who have been awarded HSBC’s annual prize. Photographs by Rip Hopkins, Eric Baudelaire, Marina Goddeneix as well as last year’s laureat, Julia Fullerton-Batten, grace the walls of this magical exhibition space.

HSBC exhibit. © Neil Atherton

Jeff Wall and Mark Lewis’ show at the Arles National Photography School is a little disappointing, due largely to its size. One large-format panoramic landscape from Canadian photographer Wall is accompanied by Lewis’ video of a boat traversing a lake shrouded in fog.

Exhibition entrance. © Neil Atherton

The first day wraps up with a press conference at the Rencontres HQ, with speeches from the organizers, representatives of the Arles region and the governmental arts delegation.

Presse conference. © Neil Atherton

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See the video of Day 1

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