Arles Photo Festival Sneak Peek: The talents changing the landscape of contemporary photography - Friends of Friends / Freunde von Freunden (FvF)

Arles Photo Festival Sneak Peek: The talents changing the landscape of contemporary photography


The Rencontres d’Arles is one of the most influential and exciting international photography festivals. Founded in 1970 as a series of small encounters for photography enthusiasts, this festival has become one of the biggest platforms for photographic talents. From 12th-century chapels to supermarket façades, every year a wide range of exhibitions, panel discussions, and book signings take place across the city of Arles and in the neighboring towns. With a vibrant program favoring unpublished work, The Rencontres d’Arles has become an unmissable event.


This year, as its title, Visible or Invisible, a summer revealed suggests, the 53rd edition of the festival will explore how reality is concealed and exposed on film. By speaking to contemporary issues, such as gender, racism, technology, and diversity, the festival will reveal the stories often left out by the history of photography. Juxtaposing historical figures, emerging artists, and unknown talents, The Rencontres d’Arles is a testament to photography’s timeless power.


Below are the works and exhibitions we are counting down the days to see.



We have been following Norwegian-Nigerian artist Frida Orupabo’s work for a long time. Her practice explores questions of race, gender, violence, and identity. Combining family photographs with found digital and physical material, Orupabo revisits and challenges the authority of archives and sheds light on stories and people often left out of them. In Arles, she will be presenting the exhibition, How fast shall we sing, a series of collages of reassembled bodies belonging to black women. Each collage is approached as a way of deconstructing ideas of colonial violence and stereotypes and exposes photography’s role in them. 


Curated by Kathrin Schönegg, this show offers a new take on a topic that has always captivated artists: The sky. With new technologies and forms of contemporary image production, the idea of the cloud has been transformed. It is no longer only a beautiful motif but also a metaphor we use to think about digital networks and data. By pairing historical and contemporary images of the clouds, Songs of the Sky contrasts past and future: a cloud in the sky and a cloud-computing technology. 


We can’t wait to see The Land where the sun was born, Julien Lombardi’s series of photographs taken from 2017 to 2021 of Wirikuta, a desert valley in central Mexico, and the land of the Huichol Indians. In this body of work, Lombardi borrows tools from biology and archeology, such as sampling and extracting. While bridging research and fantastic realism, the images capture Wirikuta’s enigmatic history.


Like a breath of fresh air, But still, it turns, celebrates photography as an extension of life itself. The works of Gregory Halpern, Vanessa Winship, Emanuele Brutti and Piergiorgio Casotti, and many more, depict life and its entanglements with honesty at the core. In this beautiful exhibition, no story is too small to be told.


We are used to seeing Mitch Epstein’s contemplative approach toward American culture and society in his photographs. This is why we are curious and excited to see In India, 1978-1989. This extensive body of work results from Epstein’s eight trips to India between 1978 and 1989. Through his distinctive introspective eye, we see the contradictions and motions of the culture unfold in complex and captivating compositions.


Transit will be Sam Contis’s first solo show in a French institution, and we can’t wait to see it. Building on her characteristic tenderness and subtle sensuality, these recent photographs and video projections address the current issue of transitional spaces and identities. While using formats and techniques that reflect on the history of photography, Contis keeps highlighting contemporary photography’s puissance.


Maya Inès Touam’s practice is rooted in her identity as the daughter of Algerian parents and granddaughter of immigrants. Often taking personal objects and images as a departure, her work has always been moving and irreverent, and we don’t expect  Replica to be the exception. Touam reinterprets Henri Matisse’s body of work by placing creolization on his emblematic images. In Replica, the narratives and boundaries of photography are pushed, and the meaning of homage redefined.

Every summer, The Rencontres d’Arles opens its doors and invites us to discover the best of international photography. This year, its 53rd edition will take place from the 4th of July to the 25th of September in Arles, France.
If you want to read more about photography, visit our story on how photographer Julia Sellmann captures intimacy in her portraits.

Photographs courtesy of: Frida Orupabo, Julien Lombardi, Mitch Epstein, Sam Contis, and Maya Inès Touam.

Text: Maria Paris Borda