The photography Festival Les Rencontres d’Arles started last week in the South of France with a programme elaborated for the second year by Sam Stourdzé, who succeeded to Francois Hébel .

In his editorial of the press kit, the director states “Photographers are investigators (…) They are neither historians nor sociologists, but artists who construct a visual cosmology out of still or moving images, texts or sounds”. With this statement, Sam Stourdzé sets clearly the new premises in which he intends to make the festival operates from now on: one in which photography is not anymore a discipline/ field but a visual medium along others used by artists to explore and express an idea.

The exhibition presented at Atelier des Forges, next to the future Luma Foundation,Where the others rest, awakening forgotten images is certainly central to the new direction that Sam Stourdzé intends to take.

By looking at images from a contemporary art perspective, the two curators Agnès Geoffray and Julie Jones, relocate the festival discourse in a wider art context relating more to Aby Warburg’s concept of image than to Cartier-Bresson’s idea of photography. The question they ask, ‘How do images haunt our individual memories and feed our collective imagination?” allows for an historical and contemporary enquiry into images and our relation to them. The exhibition displays works by artists known for working with photography such as Bromberg & Chanarin but also by Eric Baudelaire, curator and writer David Campany, collector Mrs Merryman and, the much appreciated diaporama Ombres Chinoises by Marcel Broodthaers. The show not only displays still imagery but also videos, drawings, installation and sculpture. The diversity of approaches and medium opens-up a philosophical reflection on the multiple “form” of images and their place in today’s culture.

Similary, Nothing but blue sky curated by Mélanie Bellue et Sam Stourdzé, explores the representation of September 11 2001 through works with a variety of approach: Han Peter Feldmann has covered a room with the newspaper front pages dated 12 of September 2012 from around the word, Gerard Richter has painted, and wipped the twin towers in a small format canvas, Walid Raad has collected 96 sky views of American cities witch together draw an imaginary horizon post attack.

Akin, the Discovery Prices present this year a refined selection of selectors and artists. If some seem already a bit known to be discoveries, Sara Cwynar, Daisuke Yokota and Marie Angeletti for example; it overall shows qualitative works that use installation and photographs on the wall to develop a meaningful discourse. Basma Alsharif selected by Mouna Mekouar has created a mesmerising installation where still-images and videos inhabit a 3 dimensional living-room creating an ambiguous sensation of comfort and uncanny through the cumulative layers of representation.

Luma Foundation installation in the city is certainly not totally foreign to this essential bridge eventually built by the festival with Contemporary Art. However a more traditional approach to photography persists in the rest of this expensive programme, mainly in the centre of Arles.

From a focus on Street Photography including Garry Winogrand or Eamonn Doyle, to the After war with exhibitions of works by Don Mc Cullin and Yann Morvan, les Rencontres displays photographer working with the medium as a testimony of the real, albeit with a more conceptual approach than in previous years. The other exhibitions in the centre of the town similarly addresses a wide audience with shows such as Charles Fréger’s work on Japanese traditional dresses or the appealing Fabulous Failures curated by Eric Kessels. A little demonstrative and conceptually loose, these displays are clearly conceived to attract a wider audience less familiar with contemporary art. Three shows also intend to root the festival in its territory: Camargue Western recalls the surprising time when the region was an exotic scenery for French cinematography. Stéphanie Solinas, first resident of the Festival, investigated and reinterpreted the history of Lustucru Hall, a 120 years old building conceived by Gustave Eiffel for 1906 Colonial Exhibition and abandoned when the Lustucru factory closed in Arles’ outskirts.

The Festival clearly intends to offer photography to all possible public, from the “arlesiens” to the international visitor, from amateurs to artists, curators and art critics. The tasks are therefore many for a festival that has became the most important for photography in France and probably in Europe. It is a central element of Arles economy and cultural scene, bringing 93 000 visitors who sleep, eat and consume in the city; while attracting a group of select professionals including international curators, artists and writers. And that probably explain an oversized programme that would sometimes benefit from more concision.

Overall, the Festival responds proudly to these many challenges and this edition opens the possibility to exciting directions for the next years.