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Tom Wood, “Back cover” (1986)
Tom Wood, “Back cover” (1986), Looking for Love seriesCourtesy the artist

Rencontres d’Arles: Highlights from the world’s premier photo festival

Take a look through some of our favourite exhibitions from this year’s Rencontres d’Arles

Since it began in 1970, the acclaimed global photography fair Rencontres d’Arles has continued to bring together extraordinary images by the most revered contemporary artists and old masters, as well as work by heralded new photographers and hitherto undiscovered image-makers. 

Last weekend, the 53rd iteration of the festival took place in its hometown of Arles in the south of France, as galleries and exhibition spaces throughout the historic city hosted the most exciting photographs of our age, underscoring the importance and potency of photography as an incisive tool of communication, storytelling, provocation, and resistance. Director, Christoph Wiesner, writes: “Every summer, the Rencontres d’Arles seizes a condition, demands, criticises, rebels against established standards and categories and shakes up the way we look at things from one continent to another, reminding us of our absolute need to exist.” 

Displaying work by photographers such as Susan Meiselas and Marta Gentilucci, Tom Wood, James Barnor, Mitch Epstein, Akeem Smith, Rodrigo Masina Pinheiro, and Gal Cipreste Marinelli, the festival’s many exhibitions, shapes and narratives begin to emerge, as a matrix of stories told through the constellation of images, creating a space in which to reflect on our shared history and allowing us a broader perspective on the current moment. 

A Feminist Avant-garde (held at the Mécanique Générale), considered the underrepresentation of female photographers and sought to shine a light on some of the women working at the radical vanguard of the medium. Featuring artists such as Cindy Sherman, Helena Almeida, and Martha Wilson, the show focused on women using photography as a major means of expression and emancipation, revolting against what Lucy Lippard referred to as “the cult of male genius or the hegemony of painting for a radical reinvention of the image of women by women”.

Lee Miller’s portraits of World War II remain some of the most enduring images of that brutal conflict. One of the most acclaimed war photographers in history, Miller’s photographs bring us alarmingly close to the frontlines of battle and its devastating aftermath, as well as infiltrating the most intimate spaces of the Nazi regime – including the Führer’s bathtub in his abandoned Munich apartment which she took refuge after the fall of the German army. “I’d been carrying Hitler’s Munich address around in my pocket for years and finally I had a chance to use it. But my host wasn’t home,” wrote Miller. “I took some pictures of the place and also I got a good night’s sleep in his bed. I even washed the dirt of Dachau off in his tub.” Viewing Miller’s work on display in Rencontres d’Arles [at Espace Van Gogh], it remains as potent and charged as ever. It’s impossible not to draw parallels with the current Russian invasion of Ukraine and be reminded of how far we still are from peacetime. 

The artists featured in the 2022 Louis Roederer Discovery Award exhibition [held in Arles’ Église des Precheurs] were selected for their attitude, rather than being united by a shared theme or genre. Through their unique depictions of intimate experience, these works “resonate beyond the particular to forge ties with conditions we have in common.”

Daniel Jack LyonsLike A River, one of the projects honoured in this year’s Louis Roederer Discovery Award, is a coming-of-age story set in the heart of the Amazon. The American photographer’s portrayal of trans and queer teenagers growing up in the rainforest. “This project is about challenging expectations and general assumptions about indigenous life in the Brazilian Amazon,” Lyons told Dazed in a recent interview. “In particular, it explores how the intersectionality of indigenous traditions and modern identity politics and how they are both guarded and celebrated against the backdrop of a toxic mix of environmental degradation, violence, and discrimination.”

Dazed 100 alumni Rahim Fortune – also featured in the Louis Roederer Discovery Award – uses striking black and white photography as a way of enshrining and explicating the endangered, disappearing features of the world around him. As a member of the Chickasaw Indian Nation tribe, Fortune began documenting his community in 2016. “I began making documentary photographs as a way of understanding what is happening in regards to racial inequality and economic disparity,” he told Dazed in 2020. “I strive to create work that will allow others to learn and heal.”

I can’t stand to see you cry incorporates the artist’s photography alongside personal objects, and stills from his childhood VHS. In what the gallery describes as “an autobiography informed by history”, the work encompasses scenes at the bedside of his dying father, the onset of the pandemic, and the violent spectacle of George Floyd’s brutal execution.

Take a look through the gallery above to take a look through some of the most exciting works on display at this year’s Rencontres d’Arles