The Rencontres d’Arles, an annual summer photography festival, was founded in 1970 by Arlesian photographer Lucien Clergue, writer Michel Tournier and historian Jean Maurice Rouquette. At a time when photography was still regarded as a “minor” art, the festival played an important role in its institutional recognition. Starting out as a series of encounters among lovers of photography, it gained importance and popularity over the years. Since the early 2000s, with the arrival of the TGV (high-speed train) and the public’s growing interest in photography, the Rencontres d’Arles has become one of the most important photo festivals in the world.

From the beginning of July to the end of September, some forty exhibitions are held each year. Often produced in collaboration with French and foreign museums and institutions, they are presented in various venues around the city. Some are part of the city’s historical heritage – chapels, a 12th-century cloister, 19th-century industrial buildings – and others are unusual or contemporary spaces, such as the Monoprix store, with its listed 20th-century facade. Many of the most prestigious photographers have taken part in the Rencontres d’Arles, but the list of those who were “discovered” there is also impressive.

The festival aims to stay abreast of changes in the photographic image and new processes and technologies, and to offer everyone a chance to get to know the world of photography. It is rich in diverse viewpoints thanks to the number and variety of photographers and curators from different backgrounds.

The artists themselves are occasionally involved in the programming, as has been the case with Martin Parr, Raymond Depardon, Nan Goldin and the Arles-born designer Christian Lacroix. And, breaking down walls between disciplines, photography is sometimes paired with cinema, music or architecture. Every year, the festival attempts to decipher a changing world, since photography is the medium that best tells the story.

The entire city – with its soft southern light and exceptional historical heritage – takes part in the festival’s opening week. In addition to the exhibitions, there are evening film screenings, concerts and performances in the city’s Roman Theatre, while the famous Night of the Year – the main festive event – is the occasion for debates, book signings, meetings with artists and, of course, an all-night party under the stars.

The Rencontres d’Arles also has a dynamic year-round programme relating to photographic practices and aesthetic education that includes classes taught by leading professionals to help participants discover their personal approach to creation, as well as the Rentr.e en Images, which teaches over ten thousand students to read images. In recent years, the festival has expanded its outreach, with regional collaborations like Grand Arles Express, which holds exhibitions in Avignon, Marseille, Nîmes and Toulon, and travelling exhibitions created for the Rencontres d’Arles in international institutions or, for the past four years, by exporting part of the festival to Xiamen, China: since 2015, the Jimei x Arles International Photo Festival has established itself as a new platform for the promotion of photography in Asia.

Arles 2021. Les rencontres de la photographie
Opening week: 5 July till 11 July 2021
Exhibitions 5 July till 26 September 2021

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