DAY 4 – Thursday July 5, 2007

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A trip back to the Ateliers SNCF takes us to the Magnum exhibition to celebrate the agency’s 60th anniversary. Spread out along a timeline-like wall, the story begins in 1947 when Robert Capa has the idea of naming a new kind of photo cooperative after his preferred beverage. The first picture is of Capa’s World War 2 Normandy landing and is followed by all the iconic images of the last half-century. Texts punctuate the visual history lesson, with information on the new members, when they joined and what they contributed. The rest of the archives are presented on large screens controlled by a computer terminal and ordered by the photographer’s name that the visitors can choose on-screen. It’s a great way to discover all of the agency’s members.

Robert Capa at the Magnum exhibit. © Neil Atherton

In the adjoining room, the ‘Officials’ exhibit traces the past portraits of France’s president, including Jacques-Henri Lartigue’s portrait of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Bettina Rheims’ portrait of Jacques Chirac.

French president's portraits. © Neil Atherton

The official collection is supplemented by ‘Madame la Presidente’ – an imaginary series of portraits taken of potential female presidents. The idea is to transform the format and represent people from all ethnic minorities, some wearing traditional costume and veils, while others play with children or even breastfeed a baby. If only Segolène Royal had won the election…

Rankin's portrait of QE2. © Neil Atherton

Another fascinating series is that of the Queen of England’s official portraits. Her Majesty is the only international figure to have been photographed for over 80 years by the world’s top shooters. And what a collection it is! Lord Snowdon, Cecil Beaton, Lord Patrick Lichfield… right up to Rankin and the commissioned Golden Jubilee portraits of 2002.

NYC by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao . © Neil Atherton

The final show we visited at the Ateliers SNCF was the Discovery Prize – 15 emerging photographers whose work has recently been – or deserves to be – discovered on the international scene. They are elected by seven nominators and the prize money is the princely sum of 25, 000 euros.

Our favorite work was by Taiwanese Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao’s panoramic shots of New York. Deeply saturated and exquisitely lit urban scenes show another side of NYC life along the tracks of the 7 Train in Queens, well away from the usual skyscrapers and Fifth Avenue glitz.

Vernacular Photography. © Neil Atherton

One of the themes at this year’s festival is the finding and collection of photographs. Two of the exhibits we have already talked about this week – The Alkazi Collection and Pannonica de Koenigswarter’s ‘Jazz Musicians and Their Three Wishes’ – demonstrate how the preservation of photographs can help document history and educate a new generation of appreciators.

More Vernacular Photography. © Neil Atherton

Erick Kessel’s ‘Vernacular Photography’ is a compendium of lost or rather found pictures, whether salvaged from a dusty drawer at a flea market or from an obscure internet site. A whole series is dedicated to a Mercedes Benz, for example, or some Spanish guy’s wife, or even a host of military portraits blown-up to life-size proportions. There’s a distinct retro feel to the show, helped in part by giant photo cubes from the '60s and magenta-tinted prints from the '70s. Definitely one of the stand-out shows of the festival.  

The Spanish wife. © Neil Atherton

One of the highlights of post-exhibition viewing is the Hotel du Forum's annual pool party. Run by a very friendly Italian team, they usally show work from compariot photographers and this year there were pictures from Franco Fontana and Giacomelli.

Hotel du Forum's pool party. © Neil Atherton

At the Théâtre Antique, the special guest was Spanish photographer Alberto Garcia-Alix. A retrospective slideshow of his work from the last 20 or so years was accompanied by music from Argentinian tango guitarist and singer Daniel Melingo.

Alberto Garcia-Alix. © Neil Atherton

The last stop of the night was the official afterparty at Le Cargo. The Parisian collective Tendance Floue projected their images while the DJ provided the soundtrack.

Tendance Floue at Le Cargo. © Neil Atherton

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