Michael Christopher Brown
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Departure for the 49th Rencontres d’Arles is today. This year, you are invited to cross space and time with a breathtaking, celestial journey across the ages. Photography is often the best-placed medium for registering all the shocks that remind us the world is changing, sometimes right before our eyes. An arts program is an excellent time machine – a constellation of exhibitions, intersecting, interacting and occasionally colliding. With the artist’s eye as our aid, and the recent past as our measuring stick, we can discover the near future, and shed some light on the big questions of society today.
Grozny: Nine Cities / Olga Kravets, Maria Morina & Oksana Yushko
Cristina de Middel & Bruno Morais
Cristina de Middel & Bruno Morais
RUN, COMRADE, THE OLD WORLD IS BEHIND YOU
1968 goes hand in hand with the events of May. Yet more broadly, it was a year of great upheavals. Many moments would rock the world, shaking those who thought values were immutable in their wake. Meanwhile, from Martin Luther King to Robert F. Kennedy, the “disruptive” were assassinated (The Train).
Beyond the revolt, 1968 was a time when everything seemed possible. There was a belief that well-being could be developed on a large scale, in dreams and concrete. In France, we would plan, develop and urbanize. The same year, the Rhône delta would begin work on three icons of modern design. Launched with just a few months in between, Fos-sur-Mer became the emblem of industrial concentrations, and the Grande-Motte made the dream of the seaside resort attainable to all. The third project was the Regional Nature Park of the Camargue: the preservation, if not creation, of wild space par excellence. (Paradise!)
It is this global project of a materialist and consumerist society that the youth of ’68 would challenge, waving slogans and cobblestones. With commentary by historians Ludivine Bantigny and Patrick Boucheron, the exhibition 1968, What a Story! uses different points of view (unpublished items from police archives, Paris-Match and Gamma-Rapho-Keystone) to capture the spirit of revolt that took hold of Paris, and the world, at this time.
50 years later, we are living in controversial times again. All the data we produce is systematically recorded, shared and circulated. The emergence of digital man is both fascinating and troubling. The victory of artificial intelligence over human intelligence is proclaimed daily. We witness the emergence of an enhanced mankind each day, a cyber world in which digital power ensures a new welfare. Health and security are now managed on screens. We slowly enter the realm of the cyborg, with transhumanism pledging its unshakable faith in science and technology, sole guarantors of improvement to the human condition!
Today, in the face of the digital revolution and its promises of a post-human future, we see movements for going back to the basics, like those of 1968. Modern forms of resistance entail a reevaluation of fundamentals. More than ever before, attention is paid to food quality and to local and sustainable development. We reinvent ourselves with a different set of values -ecology, spirituality, meditation. Navigating two extremes of belief in man, between transhumanism and collective introspection, we move forward.
Jonas Bendiksen follows seven characters from around the world who, reassured by their followers, consider themselves the new messiah. From Africa to America, Cristina de Middel and Bruno Morais look at transhumance and changes in Esù, the spirit that controls life’s movement. The architect Simon Velez builds an immense bamboo temple to accommodate the photography of Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk close to the Dalaï Lama. Christoph Draeger and Heidrun Holzfeind go to Auroville, an Indian community founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (known as The Mother) designed by the architect Roger Anger with the goal of “attaining human unity”. This utopian community still hosts around 2,500 people today.
For some years, Matthieu Gafsou has devoted himself to inventorying every version of transhumanism. His work H+ focuses on dreams of a plausible future. Here, exoskeletons make the very notion of incapacity obsolete, and cryogenics unify the notions of eternal life and temporary death. Because it forces us to imagine ourselves in a world that is close to science fiction, in between fantasy and reality, imagination and progress, fiction and the future, our age is an inspiration to photographers. Thanks to the efforts of artists we discover what does not yet exist.
AMERICA GREAT AGAIN
We would like to commemorate another anniversary. Ten years before ’68, a young man devised a book that would shatter our notions of photography. In 1958, when photographer Robert Frank and editor Robert Delpire were 34 and 32, respectively, they published The Americans, a book of 84 prints. This book would mark generations of photographers, historians and curators. For the first time, a perspective that broke with the complacency of the postwar humanist schools was offered. Robert Frank invented the photography road trip. He was quick, agile, and mobile, and made off-centering a creative choice. With Frank, photography entered a new age, and the Beat Generation found its angle. There was a lot of criticism, of course. He was reproached for a derisory use of the word “Americans”, the title of his series of ordinary portraits and situations. Praising the ordinary and sacralizing non-events earned him scorn. Where is the America of dreams and consumerism, always growing, and promising a beautiful tomorrow? It’s right before our eyes, trapped in the paradox of consumerism and boredom and the changes that would bring about vigorous opposition to inequality and mounting injustice. Although missing from the actual photos, not far behind are the people who would brandish cobblestones demanding justice, diversity, and openness, with calls to dispense with the old ways.
America has not changed all that much-outraged, in the past, to find a foreigner (Robert Frank is Swiss) representing it, the work of stigmatizing otherness continues. While speech after speech, its startling leader advocates for withdrawal, the Rencontres d’Arles offers an off-center look, proof that the world’s leading power owes a part of its image to foreigners.
Robert Frank (Switzerland), Raymond Depardon (France), Paul Graham (United Kingdom), Taysir Batniji (Palestine), Laura Henno (France), born in 1924, 1942, 1964, 1966, and 1976. Representing each generation, with a foreigner’s eye, these artists take a look at America, wary of the photogenic. Each in their own way, they have captured the violence of disparities, documented the power of stories, taken road trips with no final destination, and thus unconsciously made their contribution to the image of the country. More than other places America is nourished by the foreign.
The Rencontres d’Arles is your festival. It is a place for sharing and discovering photography in all its diversity and depth of vision; an instrument for understanding, reflecting and building the society we live in. One thing is certain, photography also shapes the world we live in.