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Portraits in Arles

Other Articles:

Ange-Dominique Bouzet, Arles : Irakiens et GI dans l'oeil de Van Kesteren (Libération, August 11)

Bérénice Bailly, Miguel Rio Branco ausculte la violence du monde, à travers ses images baroques (Le Monde, August 11)

Sean O'Hagan, Put me off at the strawberry (The Observer, July 10)
It's time again for the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, the major photography festival in the city of Arles in southern France (through September 18). I haven't paid much attention to it so far, since we've been obsessed with opera this summer at Ionarts. I have just read an article by Claire Guillot (Les Rencontres d'Arles explorent l'art de l'autoportrait, August 11) for Le Monde about the focus on portraits there (my translation):
If the face is something inherited, it is also constructed. The Dutch photogrphaer Annet van der Voort, with her series Métamorphoses, reveals a "feminine secret," what occurs in the bathroom. On a neutral background, always in the same frame, she has taken portraits of women of different ages, in the time between waking and leaving: leaping out of bed, after the shower, getting made up, getting dressed. In seven stages, we watch the metamorphosis of women preparing to confront the world. "There is social pressure, the traditional role of seduction, which has come down to women in our society," says the artist. The young girl takes great care of her hair, and the grandmother insists on good accessories. By unveiling the intimate rite most woman undertake every morning, Annet van der Woort does not really mean to denounce it as a lie or an artifice. All these portraits are in some part truthful. "Everyone plays a role; these photos teach us about the role women want to take on. Here, the portrait [...] is constructed through the addition of different moments."

In Arles, the most striking work is surely that of Leandro Berra, author of a disturbing game of face-to-face with himself. This work, which seems playful on the surface, has tragic echos in the story of this Argentine living in France since 1981. In 2003, the artist received an archival document, in which his name was mentioned: this was the confession of a man tortured by his country's secret police, during the years of the dictatorship. The victim was a childhood friend, "disappeared" in 1978 without a trace. Blown away, Berra decided to try the program of automatic portraiture used by the police: rather than being used to track a criminal, this police technicque would permit him to evoke the absence of a dear friend. After having made his friend's portrait, Leandro Berra extended the experiment by inviting other people, unknown to him, to make their own automatic portrait, from memory, at the computer. Surprise: one man could not even remember if their glasses were made of metal or plastic. Another, perplexed by his nose, imagined it as enormous. Who can really say that he knows himself?
Leandro Berra's exhibit is called Autoportraits-Robots, and it pairs a photograph of each subject with the computer portrait he created of himself. Annet van der Voort (that's how the RIP Web site spells her name) calls her show Métamorphoses. The Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie includes 55 exhibits in various venues around the city of Arles. The newspaper has some nice Web features on the show, including Le promeneur d'Arles (Le Monde August 10), a slide show of 21 images from Arles. There is also a set of 10 images called Instantanés d'Arles (Le Monde, July 4).

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