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Report: France - South Africa

Rencontres d'Arles - Land issues in South Africa

From the series "Echoes from Dust and Fracturation", Karoo region, South Africa . 2012.
From the series "Echoes from Dust and Fracturation", Karoo region, South Africa . 2012. A.Willaume / Tendance Floue
Text by: Rosslyn Hyams in Arles
3 min

Social Landscape on land issues in South Africa is just one of the 50 photo exhibitions at the 44th Rencontres d’Arles in Provence until 22 September. It provides an intense view of South African land and people's issues, and is also part of the France-South Africa Season 2013.

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Far from South Africa, in a nonetheless stifling disused warehouse where the temperature had reached 40°C in the month of July 2013, hang the exhibits in a photo documentation project involving 12 photographers, six from South Africa, five from France and one from Belgium.

French photographer Alain Willaume's assignment was to document the plans for fracking gas from the Karoo desert substrata. He immediately turned to environmental concerns. He found himself working, he says on "the invisible" remarking that "it’s a strange challenge for a photographer."

The result of Willaume's creative research and artistic intuition is that his portraits of the Karoo dwellers, and landscapes, have a dusty feel.

"That’s all there was, dust, " says Willaume, " and an increase in dust from even just the tanker-trucks supplying water will be one of the first consequences for the people of the Karoo when the South African government’s fracking project with Shell begins.”

Coming from France, and landing in South Africa for the first time, with environmental concerns uppermost in his mind, he says the experience was a social and racial shock. He hadn't expected to find Black South Africans working in slave-like conditions on White South African-owned land any more, which he did in the Karoo.

For that reason, and others he reckons that this type of cooperative project is worth a lot, both for photographers and for the public who come to see their work.

The photographers were sent to working in different place, sometimes in pairs. John Fleetwood of MarketPhoto Workshop is co-curator of the Transition: Social Landscape exhibition.

He says: "Francois Hebel, the director of the Rencontres d’Arles and I based the idea of a social look at landscape from a French photographic tradition. Also, for example, it’s the cententary of the Natives Land Act of 1913 in South Africa, which restricted land access to Blacks in South Africa. So we realised the importance of photographing the human relationship to landscape."

Fleetwood says he's satisfied with the scope, the reach of the project which came out of a savvy mix of photographic styles.

"We chose some established landscape photographers, like Jo Ratcliff and Santu Mofokeng, also those who would bring a fresh look to landscape photography, such as Raphaël Dallaporta who’s more conceptual, or Zanele Moheli, who usually works on gay and lesbian issues, and who deepens the discussion on landscape."

Not all the photos in this particular exhibition on South Africa are in black and white. Wuillaume's down-toned handling of the black and white-ness of his photos is however in keeping with the main theme this year at the Rencontres d'Arles - Arles in Black, a contemplation of black and white technique still very much in vogue.

Also on show in this historic and photogenic town, is a rich range of photo exhibitions, in all the colours of the rainbow, in all their shades, and from many places, until 22 September 2013.

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