ARLES IN BLACK

By François Hébel, director of the Rencontres d’Arles.

It may seem paradoxical that, in the spirit of discovery, the Rencontres d’Arles proposes a radically black and white vista in 2013.
Until the 1980s, colour was treated with disdain, while black and white were inherently the tones of art photography.
The slow decline of black and white began at the beginning of the 1990s, when colour became established with its share of technical advances (silver film and prints) and the art market demonstrated a sudden interest in photography, numbering prints and turning young photographers into stars.
Black and white had almost totally disappeared after 2000 and colour established its supremacy in all photographic practices with the rapid development of digital technology.
The eradication of black and white led to the discarding of the family photo album and photos retouched with paint. With colour, larger formats appeared, along with installations and digital dissemination possibilities.
The status of the photographer, whether as artist, amateur or professional, his relation to the subject, model or quite simply to creation, was transformed with the disappearance of the mysteries and magic of developing and the dark room arts.
What place does black and white photography still hold today? Realism or fiction, poetry, abstraction or pure nostalgia?
By deciding to radically dedicate the 2013 edition to this aesthetic form, genuine pearls are offered to us: discoveries, of course, but also works by renowned artists that have never been shown until now, along with treasures from the past. Many of these exhibitions are genuine events, in the form of conceptual installations, albums, classic prints and, it goes without saying, a few exceptions in colour.
Those who’ve known the period when greys reigned supreme will perhaps see that the freedom of genres, often advocated in Arles, allows a black and white programme that is different from what it would have been twenty years ago. The reaction of younger generations who have not known this prism is most interesting.
The 2013 Night of the Year will take place in the village of Salin-de-Giraud, in the middle of the Camargue, thereby allowing visitors to better understand the Arles’ district, France’s most extensive region. It is a region at the crossroads of many social, productive, ecological, political and touristic issues.
Regional issues are also the subject of the exceptional commission to twelve photographers from the Rencontres and the Market Photo Workshop (created by David Goldblatt), in conjunction with the France-South Africa Seasons 2012 & 2013, to photograph social traces in the South African landscape.
The publication and success of the Rencontres’ Pause Photo Prose game extends the extraordinary work that has been carried out by the education department in the past forty years through workshops, in the past ten years through the Back to School with Images project and numerous other programmes.
The three symposiums and numerous discussions are occasions to delve more deeply into the different themes threading through this special edition, which will be complemented by the initiatives of the Méjan Association, the Abbaye de Montmajour revisited by Christian Lacroix, and the LUMA Foundation.
The experience of this radically black and white edition, the talent and generosity of the artists and curators, the dynamism of the Rencontres’ team and the support of public and private partners make Arles a must-see city in this year when Provence is the European Capital of Culture.