Arles goes black and white

Unseen Guy Bourdin and Hiroshi Sugimoto photographs head up a re-examination of monochrome imagery
Revolution 008, Caribbean sea, Yucatan, 1990 by Hiroshi Sugimoto
Revolution 008, Caribbean sea, Yucatan, 1990 by Hiroshi Sugimoto

When the Arles Festival of Photography was founded in the southern French city back in 1970, colour imagery wasn't really hung on gallery walls. Fine art pictures were in black and white and colour was the preserve of the amateur. How times change; thanks to the likes of Stephen Shore, Guy Bourdin and Joel Meyerowitz, colour imagery is as widely favoured in fine-art circles as it is in iPhoto apps.

So consummate was the rise of colour photography, that black-and-white images have been overlooked in recent years, as the 2013 Arles programme makes clear. “Black and white had almost totally disappeared after 2000,” the festival organisers claim in their notes, “and colour established its supremacy in all photographic practices with the rapid development of digital technology.”


Self portrait, 1954, by Guy Bourdin
Self portrait, 1954, by Guy Bourdin

Hence their current theme, Arles In Black, which seeks to reappraise the role of monochrome photography today, asking whether its for “Realism or fiction, poetry, abstraction or pure nostalgia?”

While these are important questions, Arles shift of focus has allowed the festival to feature some great, previously overlooked works: “discoveries," the festival directors says, "of course, but also works by renowned artists that have never been shown until now, along with treasures from the past.”

1950-1955, Paris post war. Courtesy of the Guy Bourdin Estate, 2013.
1950-1955, Paris post war. Courtesy of the Guy Bourdin Estate, 2013.

Chief among these is an unseen trove of black-and-white shots by the great French photographer, Guy Bourdin. These recently discovered shots were mainly taken in the 1950s, and look more like stills from an early Truffaut film than the slick, glossy fashion shoots he became better known for.

Japanese photographer, Hiroshi Sugimoto, is the subject of two exhibitions this year: Revolution, dedicated to unseen black-and-white prints, and Colours of Shadow, 20 colour Polaroids printed onto silk.  Sugimoto also gave a talk earlier this week at the festival, offering some insight into his work.

There is also a retrospective of work by Sergio Larrain, the Chilean Magnum photographer who mainly shot in black and white; an exhibition by fellow Chilean, the artist, photographer and architect, Alfredo Jaar; works by 2012 Deutsche Börse Prize winner, John Stezaker; as well as  shows from the Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen, and the ever-brilliant, German snapper, Wolfgang Tillmans.


1950-1955, Paris post war. Courtesy of the Guy Bourdin Estate, 2013.
1950-1955, Paris post war. Courtesy of the Guy Bourdin Estate, 2013.

The event opened earlier this week, and runs until the 22nd of September; to find out more, go here. To learn more about Guy Bourdin, please consider our great introduction to the work of the innovative fashion photographerPhaidon Club members will receive 80 points with their purchase. For more on Magnum's black-and-white greats, please take a look at our Magnum Stories book (£45, with 450 Phaidon points); for those keen to learn more about Sugimoto's highly textured shots, please consider our Art and Photography book, which features this Japanese master, and much else besides.

And remember, Phaidon Club is about more than just points towards your next purchase. You'll be given the opportunity to get your hands on limited edition signed copies of books first, be offered truly excellent partner deals along with invitations to events with Phaidon creatives like Stephen Shore and Joel Meyerowitz. Join Phaidon Club.

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