Photo Festival Rencontres 2023 in Arles from a Viewer’s Perspective

Photo Festival Rencontres 2023 in Arles from a Viewer’s Perspective

In 2022 we were in Arles, France for the first time. We wanted to visit the new Museum of Modern Art LUMA.

Because we were there in June, we saw announcements for that year’s photo festival Rencontres, but unfortunately, we were too early. The festival is in July, August and September and already exists since 1970.

Luckily, in 2023 we were able to go in September. This time, we were too late for some locations, because they only exhibited in July and August, but there was so much to see that we didn’t mind that much.

Photo festivals are great to visit

Outside exhibition with one of the Roman monuments of Arles in the background. Photos by Yohanne Lamoulère.

When I still lived in the Netherlands, I was a volunteer for many years at the biennial international BredaPhoto Festival organized in my city.

The festival’s curators looked at other festivals for inspiration and often talked about Arles.

That is why Arles has been on my wish list to visit for a long time.

Photos in all types and sizes

Because the festival covers so many locations, all kinds of photographers are represented, including photographers from other cultures and pictures from other times.

The festival in Breda always has a changing theme. During our visit, I could not discover whether Arles also selects its photographers based on a theme.

Perhaps that theme was “A state of consciousness“, which is the subtitle on the web page with a report of the past editions.

Rencontres Collection Donat
The festival is well attended. Photos Collection Donat.
Rencontres Juliette Agnel
The locations are at times really surprising, like this cellar 3 stairs down. Photos Juliette Agnel.
Rencontres Daniel Wagener
In my opinion, the photos, the baroque church and the way of exhibiting conflict immensely. Photos Daniel Wagener.

Not always pure photography

What appealed to me was the broad view of photography. This manifested itself in various ways:

  • Photos had been edited or supplemented with paint;
  • Photos were used in scrapbook collages;
  • Negatives were combined into a work of art;
  • Parts of photos were printed on large canvases, turning them into paintings;
  • The manner of exhibiting was more important than the individual photos.

All these differences make the festival extremely fascinating, so that even at the end of the day, tired and overwhelmed, we still enjoyed the next location.

Photo festival Rencontres Scrapbooks
The wall was used as a scrapbook background. Photos Scrapbooks.
Rencontres Eva Nielsen
The pictures had a background of an enlargement of them on thin cloth. Photos Eva Nielsen.
Rencontres Roberto Huarcaya
Huge abstract pictures, looking like paintings. Photos Roberto Huarcaya.

Photo Festival Rencontres

The host of our booked room was an enthusiast of the festival and was able to give us a lot of information in advance.

There was a catalogue in the shared living room to look through. He told us about the available app and how we could order tickets online.

Presumably, we could have also gotten that information at the tourist office, but this saved us a lot of time and walking up and down. Although the brochure that we later picked up at the tourist office was an excellent addition to the app.

The app is an excellent tool

The app is clearly laid out and the map shows where you are in relation to the locations.

There is information about the exhibitions with an image of one of the photos, so you have an idea of what to expect, and the opening hours.

The only thing I missed was a route indication from the place where I was to the location. I had to copy and paste the address into Google Maps to know how to walk. A direct route guidance from the app or a link with Google Maps would have been helpful.

Arles, Rencontres, the app

Entrance fees

There were several options. Because we were only there for 2 days and also wanted to go to the LUMA, we bought a day ticket for €30 per person.

If you are in Arles for longer or more often, it is worth purchasing a multi-day ticket.

And if time is limited, it is possible to buy a ticket for just one exhibition.

Some exhibitions are free of charge.

The organization for the next edition is already in full swing. Look here for information: Arles Rencontres.

Apart from the festival, Arles is beautiful

Mediaeval Courtyard
In the centre of Arles are several Roman and mediaeval monuments. Most of the mediaeval monuments are still in use, although in a different function than originally.

Nowadays Arles is not only famous for the photo festival but also for the Museum of Modern Art LUMA.

A beautiful museum on a former steam train repair site, which offers a different view at any time of the day because of the metal cladding of the museum tower.

Due to its location on the Rhône river, Arles was already an important city in Roman times. There are many old monuments to visit in the centre.

Vincent van Gogh

The Dutch painter Van Gogh lived in Arles for a few years and made 300 paintings there. The architect of the LUMA, Frank Gehry, was inspired, among other things, by van Gogh’s use of light.

Related: Museum LUMA in Arles, a Lively Creative Breeding Ground

European photo festivals

BredaPhoto festival

I’ve already mentioned BredaPhoto. The initiators of this festival were clearly inspired by the design of the festival in Arles. Indoor exhibitions at various places in the city and free outdoor exhibitions.

It is a pity that due to vandalism the outdoor exhibitions can be viewed in fewer and fewer places.

This festival is every 2 years in September and October, in even years.

BredaPhoto exhibition
BredaPhoto, exhibition in the water.
BredaPhoto Belcrumbeach
BredaPhoto, exhibition on the city beach.
BredaPhoto guide
BredaPhoto, me as a guide. 🙂


PHoto Espana Santander brochure
PHoto Espana, Santander brochure.

To my satisfaction, there is also a festival in my current country of residence, Spain. Unfortunately, the information about this is considerably more inaccessible than for the other festivals.

The website of PHotoEspaña is only in Spanish and the festival is not concentrated in one place. There are exhibitions throughout the year, most of which are between May and September.

Major cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Málaga have individual exhibitions.

The city that stands out for me is Santander, in the north of Spain. In September and October, there is a concentration of exhibitions at various locations with a clear brochure with information.

Next year again to Rencontres

Arles is a day’s travel from where we live, so we are planning to go again next year. And we might go to Santander on the way back home. 🙂

Have you ever visited Rencontres? Tell me what your thoughts are in the comment box below.

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