Arles loves photographers and photographers love Arles. Every July, for exactly a half century, this enchanted, photogenic town — once an outpost of the Roman Empire that still sports a functional Roman amphitheater and coliseum — hosts Les Rencontres d’Arles, a lively mecca for photographers, curators, gallerists, admirers and aspirants, and just about anyone else with a passion for meaningful images. Though reputations are launched and burnished here, and a few (both legends and emerging talents) are honored in evening programs, it is arguably the least commercial such gathering imaginable. The creative pedigree of the place was secured by Van Gogh, who, as most art-lovers know, was at his most prolific here and whose name graces its cafes and museums. Arles is haunted as much by this as by the mistral that seasonally caresses the region. This year 19,000 visitors made the pilgrimage to see over 50 exhibitions in 26 venues around the labyrinthine town; 43 curators assembled work by 210 artists. We chose a handful that exerted a particular fascination, and present them here with the admission that it’s the tip of the Rencontres iceberg, in the hope that our readers will be provoked to experience the festival themselves (the 2019 edition runs through September 22) — artful, affecting photographs in the flesh, not on a screen or printed page.
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