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A couple of weeks ago, some of our Public Programmes and Collections team attended the opening week of Les Rencontres d’Arles, an international photography festival in France.

This year the festival focused on the photographers, historians and curators that trained at L’École Nationale Supérieure de Photographie (ENSP), a photography school founded in Arles.

(l-r) Anna Ward, Greg Hobson, Ruth Haycock, Rebecca Smith

The historic Roman city, hot and full of mosquitoes, was our temporary home for the week—and for the next few months, it will be home to Les Rencontres d’Arles.

Ruth Haycock (Exhibition Organiser) and I penned a few thoughts about our trip to share with you.

Day One

We arrived mid-morning from Liverpool and found our apartment. It was small but beautiful, and perfectly located within the city centre. After unpacking we headed out…

Josef Koudelka in the Eglise Sainte-Anne

Our first stop was the Eglise Sainte-Anne, to see Gypsies by Josef Koudelka.

The beautiful, raw and grainy images capture the essence of a unique community. Koudelka’s approach is honest and reflects the closeness that he developed with the community, one which he felt developed through a shared love of music.

The exhibition highlights Koudelka’s struggle to produce his book Gypsies, which the Guardian called ‘one of the defining photobooks of the 20th century’. It was first published in 1975, and thirty six years later the book was re-published incorporating new, unseen material. The early book dummies, and personal correspondences between Koudelka and various photographers and publishers which feature in this exhibition, add an interesting dimension.

After our evening meal we went to see the work of Amos Gitai in the Eglise des Frères Prêcheurs, one of the many churches used to stage exhibitions in the city. Finally we made it to the Voies Off—an alternative look at emerging photography—then headed home for the evening.

Day Two

Our second day began with an amazing selection of pastries for breakfast, lovingly selected at a nearby boulangerie by Rebecca, our Exhibition Content Developer. We decided to visit the tramsheds.

On entering the first building, we encountered an exceptional number of photography books (470 in total) all laid out for people to look through. The books have all been submitted and selected for the Book Awards, and the winner will receive a financial prize which is shared between the photographer and their publisher.

L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie d’Arles exhibitions

We saw exhibitions by graduates of L’Ecole Nationale Superieure de la Photographie d’Arles (ENSP), photographers, ENSP founders and tutors, and the Discovery Award 2012. The winner of the Discovery Award is selected by public vote and awarded €25,000 plus a solo exhibition. We each placed our vote.

The tramsheds hold a substantial amount of work, and by the time we had been seen most of it we felt exhausted! In among our more earnest adventures, we rediscovered the shoot gallery. This is a great attraction, resurrected from the 2010 festival when it appeared as part of the wonderfully successful show Shoot! Existential Photography. It was time to test our shooting skills and so we took aim. If you hit the target, you were awarded a photograph. Some of us were more successful than others…

One last stop for the day: the Theatre Antique for a glimpse at the nominees for the Oskar Barnack Leica Prize, followed by a screening of Magnum Photographers’ breakthrough projects. At around 1.30am, thoroughly worn out and more or less photography-blind, we stumbled back to our bijou residence and went to bed.

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