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ARLES PHOTO FEST CHANGES COURSE

Les Rencontres internationales de la photographie, the annual international photography festival in Arles, France, closed last week with little to celebrate: mixed critical reception, weak attendance, and fiscal problems. Yet the festival’s future appears to be secure since François Barré was recently named president by Hervé Schiavetti, the newly elected mayor of Arles. Schiavetti, who would have normally been responsible for the job, couldn’t have selected a better replacement.

The sixty-two-year-old Barré has held top cultural positions in France over the past decade, from deputy for the arts at the national Ministry of Culture to president of the Centre Georges Pompidou. From 1996, Barré acted as director for architecture and heritage at the Ministry of Culture until he was recruited last August by François Pinault to collaborate on the much-anticipated opening of the Fondation Pinault, the new museum for contemporary art on Île Seguin in Boulogne-Billancourt that will house Pinault’s ever-expanding private collection.

Speaking in an interview in Le Monde, Barré announced a series of changes for the photography festival at Arles that are intended to give it the same status as the festivals at Cannes, Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence. Barré intends to abandon the annual theme, add a grand prize, and give the next director a tenure of five years instead of the current one year, with the possibility of one renewal. “Five years is a good period of time to cut one’s path,” Barré explains. “The future director does not have to be a photographer, nor strictly an administrator but should be a prominent figure—and not necessarily French—who knows the whole field of photography.”

The new director, who will be named in September, is not the only change. Barré envisions three new areas for development. First, he hopes to create greater links with the École Nationale de la Photographie, the French national photography school (opened at Arles on account of the festival), by adding a doctoral program, an annual colloquium, and an exhibition with other European schools. “The school will have a real responsibility in the festival,” he adds. “The students will no longer be just little assistants.” Barré also intends to take advantage of the current boom in the market for photography by inviting both collectors and gallerists to Arles and establishing an auction.

As if these activities were not enough, Barré also hopes to take advantage of technology to extend the borders of photography and its uses. “I’m convinced that technology is the principle mode of access to culture today,” he explains. “We’ll explore photography as a technology, especially in its relation to cinema.” Barré has few kind words to say about French museums’s relationship to the medium. “They remain in the fine arts tradition and continue to hang photographs near the restrooms.” If Barré has his way, not only the festival at Arles but also photography will have a new day in France.

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