7 Photographers Interpret a World in Flux

ARLES, France — How far should technology help augment the human body? Can photography be reinvented in the digital age? How does it feel to explore a neighboring country that has toppled into a state of war, or to document counterculture in an authoritarian regime?

Posted Updated
Switch to classic wral.com

Daphné Anglès
, New York Times

ARLES, France — How far should technology help augment the human body? Can photography be reinvented in the digital age? How does it feel to explore a neighboring country that has toppled into a state of war, or to document counterculture in an authoritarian regime?

These are a few of the questions raised by photographers from China, France, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey and elsewhere whose works are at the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival, which runs through Sept. 23.

These are edited excerpts from conversations in which the artists explain their work.

— Feng Li: ‘White Night’

Every day for the past 13 years I have been capturing these little moments that are often so unreal that I have a hard time believing them myself. My work is not necessarily about China, but about people, wherever they are, who are the actors of unlikely fictions unraveling before my eyes, with their poetry or their absurdity.

In 2015, in Chengdu, I saw a disabled, probably homeless man dressed in a rabbit outfit. I was moved by the unexpected blend of elements both gentle and poignant.

Some of these scenes are quite harsh and include people with disabilities or mutilations. But I always treat them with respect. With my subjects, I feel I am in a form of wordless communication.

I always have my camera with me. Somehow these little scenes naturally come my way, as if some higher spirit had granted me an eye for things, as well as the gift of luck. I am very lucky in my adventures.

— Matthieu Gafsou: ‘H+’

Most of my projects relate to deep anxieties. The underlying question here is the fear of death. This new religion of sorts, transhumanism, really caught my interest.

Transhumanists believe the body we consider healthy is already diseased and technology is the completion of humankind. But where do therapeutics end and body enhancement begin? I don’t have the answers.

To me, an iPhone is the perfect transhumanist prosthesis: It induces a fusional relationship and dependency as a substitute for human abilities — our memory, our sense of orientation, for instance.

I call myself a philosophical documentary photographer. I love the investigative part of the work, then I decide which images I need, like for a giant puzzle.

— Baptiste Rabichon: ‘En Ville’

Balconies are a succession of layers. They perfectly match my manner of working, layer after layer.

Half of my images are composed by computer. The plants, stone, shutters, are drawn digitally or produced by scanning handmade sketches or various objects. Then with photosensitive paper, I stand against the remaining empty part of the image, in the dark, and expose it to light. The paper is a third eye that records the final image.

My work explores the frictional encounter of two opposites: digital image making, which can be endlessly fine-tuned; and the mysteries of the darkroom, which are sensual and beyond my control.

I like pushing the boundaries of photography. As digital takes over, many artists are returning to analog photography. It echoes what happened when photography took over painting’s role as a faithful recorder of reality. Painting took off in new directions. When one medium is replaced by another, it is set free and things start to happen.

— Anton Roland Laub: ‘Mobile Churches’

My work is mainly about memory. Here it examines an absurd moment in the history of Bucharest, where I was born and raised.

Ceausescu ordered the old part of Bucharest demolished. After my grandfather heard his house would be bulldozed, he had a stroke and died. Seven churches were placed on train tracks and dragged behind housing blocks. A synagogue was hidden behind new buildings.

One church was towed 200 meters behind what are the secret-police headquarters. Another was moved twice. One was pulled just 14 meters aside. The churches were sliced up but the crypt remained underground. An atheist state was financing the rescue of religious buildings. Inside one church, I found a fresco gloriously depicting Ion Antonescu, an ally of Hitler; in the synagogue, an exhibition documents his crimes.

Romanians have a phobia of their memory. The current political situation is connected to this ignorance. In 2000, I had a choice between a nationalist and a post-Stalinist. I left the country for Germany.

— Wiktoria Wojciechowska: ‘Sparks’

I grew up in eastern Poland and spent holidays in Ukraine. The war was a big shock. Sometimes you live in a country where something happens that changes your life.

I went there to meet volunteer fighters about my age, asked them how it felt and shot portraits. I also went to the front line. “Sparks” is the civilian word for “shrapnel.”

The project includes prints, video, collages and notes from what the men told me.

In this war, there are trenches and mobile phones. Yurko gave me a picture of his squadron, explaining “this one died, this one lost his legs, this one a hand, this one his mind.” I covered the deceased with gold, used for heroes and symbolic in Eastern Europe.

I shot a video of my teenage brother stringing a bow and projected it over a photograph showing a gilded shape on a patch of grass. It is called “Body.”

— Sinem Disli: ‘A Pillar of Smoke’

Urfa, the conservative town [in Turkey] where I was born, became rich after a dam was built on the Euphrates River. On the other side of the border, however, in Syria and in Iraq, the dam caused a huge drought.

In this project, I was trying to express that land is one whole thing, with no borders. I was photographing the smoke rising from Turkish fields when they are burned in July. Suddenly, sand swept across from the border with Syria, mingled with the smoke and created this pillar. I had been looking for a significant moment like this for years.

— Cagdas Erdogan: ‘Control’

I have explored Istanbul’s underground for a while and found out about dog fights. They are illegal and organized at night.

We are experiencing a breakdown of the last 100 years in Turkey. People are going underground because of a huge, global effort to make it seem like there are only conservatives in Turkey. Seculars, queers, Kurds, Alevis, anyone with different beliefs and lifestyles has been stuffed into a drawer. My stories are about them.

I spent six months in jail for photographing the war in Kurdish cities and might still be sentenced to 22 years. My work is considered “opposition” and could not be shown in Turkey.

Artists in Turkey express themselves without taking risks, away from the street, the truth and society; I believe this goes against the true purpose of art.

Copyright 2022 New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.