At the Rencontres d’Arles, photographers revisit portraiture. Ann Ray captures Lee McQueen, Givenchy’s artistic director, William Wegman dresses his Weimaraners with style, and Wiktoria Wojciechowska photographs the tormented faces of the Ukraine war’s fighters. Let’s take a look back at the most striking portraits of Les Rencontres.

1. Behind Givenchy’s curtains

Ann Ray met Lee Alexander McQueen when he had just been appointed artistic director of Givenchy, in 1996. From the viewpoint of a friend – a close friend, even, following the fashion designer until his death in 2010 – the photographer captured the man behind the empire, and now presents her Inachevés (Unfinished ed.). In the Atelier des Forges’s great space, Ann’s pictures appear like memories, doors leading to the past. While the catwalks are quite present, the creator appears here and there as well, both touching and insolent. In a luxurious and glittering universe, the photographer took the time to immortalise each instant, lurking behind the curtains, away from the spotlights. She managed to get closer to the intimacy of a man nicknamed “the terrible child of fashion”, a man she celebrated through the risks he took, and his visionary approach of haute couture. Among the black and white pictures, colour sometimes shines through, strong and unapologetic, just like Lee McQueen himself. A red reminding us of passion, love and anger. A series of portraits revealing a chic and poetic universe.

© Ann Ray

2. Exercise in style

Multitalented artist William Wegman loves putting his dogs – Weimaraners – at the heart of his art. This year, his work was the cover of Les Rencontres d’Arles – an unusual portrait. The Being Human exhibition taking place at the Palais de l’Archevêché is surprising. While man is absent from the big format polaroid pictures, the Weimaraners’ expressions are somewhat humanlike. Sometimes proud, other times shy, the models sublime the different settings built by the photographer. William pays a tribute to different pictural movements in his creations. Minimalism, art deco, cubism, fauvism (a pictural movement close to expressionism, recognisable by its vivid colours), or even colourfield paintings (swathes of colours erasing any type of background), his portraits are a reflexion of the extravaganza or the modesty of past eras. Cleverly, the artist places his animals the way a painter or a designer would. A playful exercise in style testing our artistic culture.

© William Wegman

3. War gaze

In Ground Control, the Confluence Gallery presents Polish photographer Wiktoria Wojciechowska. We had already noticed this young artist’s poignant images during the 47th edition of Les Rencontres. Soberly displayed on the walls of a room, the soldiers’ portraits catch our eye. Melancholic, their faces are closed, as if they were preserving themselves from the horrors of the conflict. War in Ukraine has gone rather unnoticed in Western Europe, and Sparks reminds us that those tensions are as real as they get. “They went to fight in their sneakers with weapons stolen from a museum. They left their previous identities and occupations: philosopher, mechanic, astronomer, music DJ, bank assistant, high school student – none of them were prepared for what they were to experience”, Wiktoria explains. While few texts accompany the pictures, the men’s gaze speak volume. A project you must (re)discover during Les Rencontres.

© Wiktoria Wojciechowska

What about the off festival?

The Voies Off festival presented many events during the first week of the festival. Among them, the Myop collective, and Fotohaus, a project by ParisBerlin>Fotogroup caught our attention. The exhibitions closed on July 8th, but Olivier Monge and Holger Biermann’s portraits stayed in our minds.

French photographer Olivier Monge presented, within the Myop exhibition, a series of portraits by the seaside. In the room dedicated to the photographer’s work, on cloître street, he impressed us, mastering colours and portraying such different bodies. In a contrasted universe, the pictures appeared like spontaneous moments, stolen during a day at the beach. A series of portrait praising differences.

ParisBerlin>Fotogroup landed once more in their Fotohaus. In big format, Holger Biermann‘s portraits are fascinating. His model, Karolina, captivated the artist as well as the audience. “I met her one summer night in Berlin”, Holger tells us. “She caught my attention because of her appearance, the way she dressed and how she behaved”. Sensual, mysterious and bold, Karolina reigns over this room in Arles in all her splendour. A journey into her unique daily life.

© Olivier Monge / Myop

© Holger Biermann / ParisBerlin>fotogroup