According to Timothy Prust, “When a curator does not have fun, you can see it in the exhibition”. His exhibit ‘La vache et l’orchidée’ is blatant proof that Timothy does have a lot of fun curating his shows. His collection of Colombian pictures overwhelms the Rencontres de la Photographie de Arles, with its orchids, its cows, and its cumbia vibes.
When Sam Stourdzé, the director of the Rencontres calls him “the curator-poet” Timothy bursts out laughing. The British curator has indeed one of the biggest collections of vernacular photography in the world, but he is very down to earth when it comes to his methodology – “All I do is collect pictures I like” he tells us. In 1991, he created the Archives of Modern Conflict, focusing on the photographs of the two world wars. These archives spontaneously evolved into a huge and diverse collection of pictures that testify to normal people’s versions of history. Timothy now prefers the word “normal” over “vernacular”. “We were the first ones using the term vernacular” he tells us, “but it lost its meaning”. He likes Erik Kessels’s term “useful photography” to depict what he likes: “pictures taken by people for the people” that do not have a place in museums.
The Colombian vibe
He composed in Arles a heterogeneous, though extremely coherent, collage of generic pictures of Colombia that he has gathered for 10 years. His superposition and mixture of original prints, projections, and moldmade paper enlargements from different times and situations creates an immersive reality. Behind the exhibition poster, that borrowed its aesthetics from an obituary, he wants to recreate “the life of the city and the vibe of Colombian streets”. The first room is dedicated to tiendas, small shops where people meet for a beer, listen to some jukebox tunes, gossip and talk about sport. Photos of El Tigre Colombiano, a famous fighter from the 50s, adorn the walls of Timothy’s tienda in Arles. “I like to display pictures in the place where they would be displayed” he says.
He bought the archives of the newspaper of the Amazon region, and selected the photos of Kapax, the Colombian Tarzan, who swam for more than 1000 kilometers up the Rio Magdalena in 1976.
Exclusive shots of Felix Tiness show Bolivar Square in Bogotà in 1968, during the shooting of Les Aventuriers. According to Timothy, it is “One of the worst movies ever made, very fun to watch for about 2 minutes”. In the last room, we part from this unique display of “real” pictures of Colombia with shots of cows participating in beauty competitions, “I gave each one of them the name of an orchid”, Timothy says.