Am very excited to be heading off for the start of the Arles Photo Festival today. Les Rencontres de la Photographie happens in Arles every summer. This is the first time I’ve been here for opening week and I’m looking forward to attending lectures, projections, receptions, etc. as well as the lineup of always interesting exhibitions on offer.
I arrived in Arles early, and spent yesterday exploring various historical eras of Arles’ past.
In the morning, we scurried over to see the Fetes d’Arles with its colorful lace-laden costumes in the Ancient Roman Theater. The Fetes is held every year at the beginning of July and kicks off Arles’ busy festival season.
The ruins of the old Roman Theater, which is a stunning pile of rocks, made a dramatic backdrop for the festivities. Only two columns remain of the many that once supported the theater.
The Arles Roman Theatre, or Théâtre antique d’Arles, was built in the late 1st century BC, and originally held 10,000 spectators. Today, it’s put to good use for festivals and other presentations.
Arles was an important Roman City State with early settlements starting about the 5th century BC, and lasting, off and on into the 4th century AD. And the city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
After enjoying a luscious cafe creme and a croissant at a new cafe in the old city, we headed off to the Arles Archaeological Museum, designed by Henri Ciriani.
The Archaeological Museum in Arles defies every stereotype you’ve had about archaeology museums. This one is airy and open and the displays are arranged so you can wander and explore and create your own experience of the artifacts and information.
The artifacts are impressive, and new ones, like this boat, are being added regularly. The boat was discovered a few years ago buried in the muck of the Rhone River, sunk loaded with cargo in Roman Arles’ busy port.
The new wing that was added to house this full-sized boat caused a bit of controversy, since Ciriani, the original architect was not consulted. The addition significantly alters his original triangular plan, and had a significant impact on the building’s flow.
Archaeology is big in Arles. There’s an active archaeological dig with tours on Sunday mornings. Just a couple years ago a life-sized marble bust purported to be a portrayal of Julius Ceasar was dug up from the river. The bust is on tour at the moment.
Leaving the museum, we headed over to take a walk along the old Roman City Wall that winds through central Arles.
Traffic rushing by, parking lots below. The wall sits nonchalantly within its environs.
I’m intrigued by the way the built wall melds with the bedrock on which it’s built; delicate yet massive.
Along the way to the wall, we passed the Arènes d’Arles.
The Roman Amphitheater was a site for Gladiator contests for four Roman centuries. Four centuries. After the fall of Rome, it became a small medieval fortress city housing something like 130 families. It ended up somehow better preserved than the Theater. Today it hosts bullfights and other events.
Not far from these Roman sites, a new monument is under construction.
Frank Gehry was commissioned by Maja Hoffman of the LUMA Foundation to build a new center for Photography and Art in Arles. Hoffman is a major collector and promoter of photography, and wanted a new cultural complex in Arles.
The site for the new building is situated among abandoned train workshop – ateliers – buildings that have for a number of years housed exhibits for the Arles Photo Festival. (During my first visit to the Rencontres, the rough quality of the old warehouses and their ad hoc installation style inspired a series of exhibit installations I directed in Chicago, using empty storefronts for a similar purpose.)
The area is called the Parc des Ateliers, and two of the railway workshop buildings have recently been restored and re-purposed by New York architect, Annabelle Selldorf. Hoffman and LUMA envision a center for collaboration and experimentation for artists and curators, including a library, residencies, and interdisciplinary productions.
It’s an exciting development.
I hope to get a closer look at the building plans and design as I wander through the Rencontres Festival’s 40-some exhibits and many lectures and screenings.
For now, I say Au Revoir!
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