Every summer, Vichy becomes one with the art it hosts at the Portrait(s) Photography Festival, held in a variety of locations in the city. This year is the fourth anniversary of the festival, which runs from 10 June to 4 September. For an entire season the city resumes its place at the leading edge of contemporary photography, offering the public striking yet accessible exhibitions, all centred exclusively on the art of the portrait.
The festival celebrates portraits of all kinds, whether based in the documentary tradition or in pure fiction, intimacy or more conceptual schemes. Drawing from the work of both established figures and younger artists, it brings together celebrity portraits and the faces of the unknown, offering a voyage along which a multiplicity of different ways of seeing and being seen emerge, with the aim of bringing the public to discover or rediscover the portrait in its most classical and most disconcerting forms. For the third year running, Vichy has also reconfirmed its commitment to contemporary photography by offering a photographer a stay in the city. This year the artist in residence has been Sweden’s Anton Renborg, who, pacing the city streets by day and night, in both fair weather and foul, has developed a fascination with the special atmosphere of the places in it.
This year, Portrait(s) presents eleven artists, exhibitions of whose work are being held simultaneously in the open, in the city centre and the outskirts. The galleries of the Centre Culturel Valery-Larbaud, which was built at the beginning of the last century, feature work by Jean Depara, Nicolas Comment, Hellen van Meene, Nicola Lo Calzo, Maï Lucas, Ruud van Empel and Jean-Christian Bourcart.
Jean Depara was one of the most visible photographers in Kinshasa back in the 1950s. When not snapping portraits of Kinshasa beauties in his studio, which he called the “Jean Whisky Depara”, he worked in bars and nightclubs, where young night owls brought a high-rolling, seductive charm to Depara’s photographs. For six years now, Nicolas Comment has been assembling a photographic blason of the body of his lover and muse Milo, who appears and disappears in the folds of a love forever new. Hellen van Meene has for many years been making portraits of adolescents in which she gracefully choreographs their sometimes apprehensive and melancholy looks and gestures. Nicola Lo Calzo has been exploring post-colonial memories on different continents for some five years. Following projects that took him to Africa, the Caribbean and Louisiana, the angle he is exhibiting at Vichy is Cuba. For over twenty years, Maï Lucas has been documenting American street culture. A fine observer of clothing styles and displays, she fixes her eye on the fashion details - an Afro hairdo, a mauve wig, a stripy strapless bra - that make a figure unique. Ruud van Empel recreates images of a verdant Eden peopled with individuals, most often children, with stares as fixed as totem poles. His photographs, the result of lengthy digital retouching, are composed like timeless pictures. Working together with graphic artist Ben Salesse, Jean-Christian Bourcart has created a stunning work based on Farm Security Administration photographs taken in the United States during the Great Depression. Bourcart has managed to obtain a number of rejects, prints recognizable from the stamps that mutilated them, and has set them side by side with quotations from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Paola de Pietri takes portraits of mothers carrying their babies, against empty backgrounds they bring back to life simply through their stubbornness to live and to give life, thereby renewing the dynamic of generations in an environment that for its part seems to be frozen.
The photographs of Vichy and its people exhibited this year are by Anton Renborg, as commissioned by the city. Pacing the city streets by day and night, Renborg developed a fascination with the special atmosphere of its places. Through these calm, equivocal images, he creates a portrait of a health resort rich with history, a worldly place, a place of display that is also a shadow theatre where destinies play out as if in a movie by Claude Chabrol.
On the Esplanade and Park “Des Ailes”, walkers-by will find portraits by Jean-Marie Périer, the proverbial eye of the 60s and 70s, the years that saw the birth of a new generation of pop singers. Here stars like Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Vartan, Eddy Mitchell, Françoise Hardy, the Beatles, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan stage a tremendous comeback, bringing a mythic period back to life all along the riverside.