Being in France during the summer, it would seem a shame to not go and see Les Rencontres Arles, the world famous yearly photography exhibits that take over the small Southern French town of Arles. Unfortunately, it looked as if it was simply too much money to go down for only a few days as the hotels were pricey. While I would have loved to hop on the train and stay in a hostel for a few days, soaking in the photography, my wife and 11 month old daughter needed me in Paris, and splitting up the family at this point simply could not work.
In the end we decided we would all go down to Marseille while my wife had a brief break from school. She then surprised me with a one day return trip to Arles. While my two favourite girls roamed the streets and played in parks, I immersed myself in the wonderful world of Les Rencontres Arles.
For anyone who has never been to Arles, you do not know what you are missing! The town on it’s own is beautiful and extremely photogenic. There are old roman ruins and a great coliseum, not to mention an old town square and a fantastic Saturday market. The photography exhibits are spread throughout, held in old churches, abandoned railway stations and old hotels. There are dozens of locations and many more exhibits to be seen. I bought a one day pass (25 euros) and managed to see about 20 exhibits (there were close to 60 in total). Admittedly, some of the exhibits that interested me less I went through rather quickly, with so much to see I couldn’t be bothered to waste time with those that I didn’t like.
While I thoroughly enjoyed myself, I had a few criticisms. While the scope of the entire exhibition is very large, with many exhibits, I found it overwhelming. There was simply too much and the quality didn’t always seem to accompany the work. Some exhibits had far too many photographs, they became repetitive and made the better photographs less powerful than if they had stood on their own. Finally, there were several exhibits that weren’t photographs at all, more sculpture than anything else.
It was definitely worth the money and I’m glad that I went, however I don’t know if I’d return in the future. I think I’d be happier going to several exhibits in Paris over the span of a few weeks and to only pick ones that I would enjoy. Nothing in Arles approached what I had seen at the Willy Ronis exhibit in Paris, although you can’t expect to see photos of this calibre on every gallery wall…