1 / 5       TeddyBär, 45. Courtesy of Jean-Marie Donat. © Rencontres Arles.
2 / 5       BlackFace, 39. Courtesy of Jean-Marie Donat. © Rencontres Arles.

3 / 5       During the visit to the exhibition Vernacular! Three series from Jean-Marie Donat collection. © Stefania Biamonti/FPmag.

4 / 5       During the visit to the exhibition Vernacular! Three series from Jean-Marie Donat collection. © Stefania Biamonti/FPmag.
5 / 5       During the visit to the exhibition Vernacular! Three series from Jean-Marie Donat collection. © Stefania Biamonti / FPmag.


Rencontres d’Arles hardly misses an opening on vernacular photography. Over the years, family albums, collections of scatological photography, several sets of images taken from the large collection of Erik Kessels and more have come in succession. Everything collected, as standard in very scenic and challenging settings. A tradition that was confirmed again this year despite the change of artistic direction, a sign of interest in this photographic genre apparently, continues to rise. However, if in previous years the exhibitions dedicated to these special collections of images, had always left me rather indifferent – accomplice the wanted visual din that often accompanies it and that hardly attracts my attention – this year I had to think again.
As the title Vernacular! Three series from the Jean-Marie Donat collection suggests, the exhibition presents three sets of images – TeddyBär, BlackFace and Predator – from the collection of about 10,000 images put together by Jean-Marie Donat in over twenty-five years. «TeddyBär – says Donat himself – features photographs taken in Germany between the end of the First World War and the late 1960s. Anonymous people pose alongside actors dressed up as placid or menacing polar bears, travelling across time. The history of Germany files past. BlackFace uses photographs of whites who painted their faces black for minstrel shows or private parties to question how the view of Afro-Americans changed between 1880 and the late 1960s. Lastly, Predator brings together pictures by amateur photographers from around the world (1920-1970) with one thing in common: the shadow of the photographer in a hat is in the image».
Three very different series but connected double-locked from the selection criteria used by Donat to compose them. Each collection is in fact played on the repetition of a particular meaning, whether the subject (as in TeddyBär or BlackFace) or simple detail (Predator). A repetition that facilitates comparison, allowing the visitor time to grasp the changing historical context in which it is the subject (TeddyBär), now to observe how over time the way you look at people changes (BlackFace), now to leave the field open to imagination and imagine bizarre stories around those obscure details that recur constantly…
However, there are not many individual contents nor numerous cues for reflection offered on the way around the setting in the Chapelle de la Charité – place characterised by a kind of horror vacui that pervades the atmosphere and, unfortunately, often the settings – the most significant contribution of this exhibition. Its strength is another, in my opinion, and it is in highlighting, the careful research work done. The collection, study and storage operated by Jean-Marie Donat over time. A meticulous work, which allowed him to create from nothing meaningful collections of images, onto which are introduced texts and sub-texts that allow you to intertwine interesting readings and additional readings, often of historical and sociological type. All characteristics that turn a mere collection of orphan images into a valuable collection, sometimes documentary, and that confirms the difference between an astute collector and one who improvises. [ S. B. ]

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Chapelle de la Charité | until September 20th, 2015
admission fee: 5,00 €

published on 2015-07-27 in NEWS / EXHIBITIONS

ARLES2015 ErikKessels StefaniaBiamonti


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