Notice: From Wednesday, July 21, 2021, only people with a validated health pass will be admitted to Rencontres d’Arles exhibitions. French health pass — double vaccination/ neg tests/Covid recovery for access to cafés, restaurants, cinema and long distance travel — will take effect from 9 August.

Photography flourishes once again in Arles. After a year off due to the pandemic, Les Rencontres d’Arles launched it 2021 season on July 4 with a new director Christoph Wiesner, the former artistic director of Paris Photo.

Running to Sept 26, the festival encompasses 35 exhibitions, 61 curators, 200 artists, and 55 public events. Keeping a dozen exhibitions of his predecessor, Sam Stourdzé, Christoph Wiesner accentuates two predominant themes in this season’s selections: diversity and identity.

“I work to show diversity. We must give visibility to all eyes. Women have been too much overlooked in photography. There are also new generations who express themselves with talent, among others on social networks,” Christoph Wiesner told Les Echos. One may add to the agenda making visible the complex and sometimes contradictory representations of racial, and sexual identities.

Photo Credit: Rencontres d’Arles

A crowd favorite at the Eglise Saint-Anne, “The New Black Vanguard  presents artists whose vibrant portraits and conceptual images fuse the genres of art and fashion photography in ways that break down long-established boundaries. The images illustrate the many representations of the black body and black life as a subject, and seek to challenge the idea that Blackness is homogenous. The works—often made in collaboration with Black stylists and fashion designers—present new perspectives on the medium of photography and the notions of race and beauty, gender and power.”

“At the Église des Frères Prêcheurs, “Master Rituals II: Weston’s Nudes,” by Tarrah Krajnak whose work makes clear reference to the history of photography, on the one hand, and to the artist’s identity as a Latin-American woman, on the other. A sequel to her first critical homage to Ansel Adams, this series is consecrated to another North American « master », Edward Weston. Krajnak here re-enacts the famous Nudes. She takes the place of models Bertha Wardell and Charis Wilson, reproducing their poses—but also depicts herself as author of the photographs, a remote shutter release in hand.”

In her work “At No Intermediate Point,” the American Zora J. Murff mixes photos and abandoned artefacts with her own shots in her work on a black neighborhood of North Omaha (Nebraska). The images reinforce how much social exclusion and the economic life of black residents is a legacy of the racism and violence that has afflicted them for a long time. Showing at the Église des Frères Prêcheurs.

Note: For exhibition details and location, consult Les Rencontres’ website or download the free Festival app (see below).

Photo Credit: Les Rencontres d’Arles

La Mécanique Générale at Luma Arles

The Luma Foundation offered Les Rencontres a showcase at Luma Arles. La Mécanique générale has been made available to the festival for five years, representing the largest exhibition space devoted to photography in France – with an area of ​​4,518m², of which 2,930m² of space for hosting exhibitions, performances, and cinema. Originally built as a repair shop for SNCF railcars, La Mécanique Générale required almost a total rebuild by Selldorf Architects.

La Mécanique générale presents an opportunity and a challenge to Les Rencontres: searching out and booking awesome large-scale exhibitions from museums around the world, presented with the accessories and amenities that heighten the aesthetic experience.

La Mécanique Générale ©Hervé Hote / Luma Arles

This summer La Mécanique générale features the gigantesque and richly-themed exhibition, “Masculinities,” organized by the Barbican Center, London.

“This major show brings together the works of over 50 international artists, photographers, and filmmakers to fathom how masculinity has been coded, performed, and socially constructed from the 1960s to the present day. Presenting the often complex and sometimes contradictory representations of masculinity, the exhibition explores the way masculinity is imagined and understood in contemporary culture.”

A Delicate Balance (Financial)

The appropriate adjective that comes to mind for managing this year’s festival is: prudent. 

The opening week featured three evenings of presentations in the antique Roman theater, yet there were less events than usual on the calendar along with the cancellation of the traditional end-of-the-week conference.

Overall attendance for the first week was 14,000 – down 26% from the record-setting 19,000 in 2019 – an admirable benchmark nonetheless given travel restrictions. International visitors, who made up 45% in 2019, accounted for only 20% the first week. In past years, international attendance after the first week flattens to 12% for the rest of the season.

New COVID restrictions, such as a health pass to travel on trains and to gain access to cafes and restaurants, threatens to dampen attendance. In the 3 departments that include and border Arles, only 45% of the populations is fully vaccinated. Other restrictions, such as an 11:00 p.m curfew, may be imposed if the Delta variant surges.

Why this matters? The festival, with a budget of around 6.5€ million this year, covers 50% to 55% of the costs from its own resources. The absence of foreign visitors weakens revenues from tickets and boutique sales, not considering any COVID-related fall out.

Christoph Wiesner has stated that there are contingencies in place to augment the festival’s financial resources if there is a shortfall in receipts this season.

Photo Credit: Rencontres d’Arles

Navigating Your Visit

Rencontres Cell Phone App

A free cell phone application facilitates organizing your itinerary. You can reserve the day or the days of a visit, and buy your festival pass online. All exhibits are profiled, and listed by location, along with a map.

Since it is not possible to reserve a specific time slot, the app indicates in real time the approximate attendance of each exhibit (high, low).

The interactive map is a handy way to find your way around Arles and all the festival venues. You can personalize your visit with “My Route” and “My Agenda” features, and receive alerts about must-see events.

Download the free app in English here.

Free Daily Shuttle: Numerous stops from Luma Arles Parking to Town Center.

Two electric shuttles link the Minimes car park at Luma Arles to the center of town with numerous stops near numerous photography exhibitions. The shuttles, called Vi’Arelate, run every day, Sundays and public holidays included.

Consult an online information brochure with times, route map and stops here.

Health Pass

Proof of vaccination is required to enter all exhibitions. The French are issued a health pass.

Although the white card issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is valid for proof of vaccination, it does not serve as a health pass. Therefore, travelers vaccinated in the U.S. with a CDC card must bring their cards with them to France, and locate “any willing French doctor or pharmacist can enter the vaccination information in the French system, even for people who do not have a French social security number or carte de séjour.”

If you are unable to obtain a health pass or elect not to, you may be able to still gain access to cafes, restaurants, museums, etc., by showing your CDC card, and enter at the discretion of whoever is checking..