IMAGES OF HOPE
“It’s pointless Man conquering the moon if he ends up losing the earth.” François Mauriac
We often say that history repeats itself as a way of burying our heads in the sand or reassuring ourselves. History, with its bloody excesses and obscurantist tendencies, must not be repeated, or it would amount to a sad admission of man’s worthlessness. When chaos reminds us, as it does all too often these days, of our worst memories, we focus on our immediate worries and put the more distant, less perceptible reality off until tomorrow. This is a very natural, human feeling, and no one should be blamed for it. And yet... The same is true of the fragile balance of our planet: we are aware of it, we can feel it, we know that the living world is dying, that we are subsisting in a precarious environmental state, but the troubles and dangers that make today’s headlines obscure this inevitable fate.
Since its creation, La Gacilly Photo Festival has never strayed from its original aim: to show, without naivety and through the prism of photography, the beauty of nature and the need to protect it, the solutions available for leaving our children a healthier planet, and the challenges of a sustainable world. Without ever taking our eyes off the often dramatic reality. Playwright Octave Feuillet was not mistaken when he wrote: “Hope is like the night sky – there is no corner so dark that the persistent eye does not end up finding a star.” The same is true of photography: it undoubtedly remains the most incisive tool for marking public opinion and kindling the embers of humanity. All photographs stand as acts of truth. Whether taken for documentary or artistic purposes, they capture emotion, a moment, and restore a notion of reality. Above all, they are a sign of a hope: hope of life and hope of our unalterable faith in a future that, if not more virtuous, is at least more mindful of a certain harmony.
We have barely emerged from a pandemic that turned our lives upside down, and yet bad news continues to engulf us, as if a wicked fairy has cast her spell over the cradle of our illusions. Last August, in an ironic twist of fate, the Taliban recaptured Kabul, 20 years after being ousted from power and now reign with an iron fist over Afghanistan once again, forcing their vision of Islamic law on a population already exhausted by over 40 years of murderous conflict. Then, in late February, Russian troops invaded Ukraine, horrifically reviving images of war that we thought we would never again see in Europe. Again and again, the folly of men rattles our consciousness and arouses our most legitimate fears.
Despite it all, efforts to win the crucial climate battle must not be abandoned. It is true that the recent French presidential election campaign has put these crucial issues to one side in light of the tragic events unfolding on the geopolitical stage. It is also true that the COP26, held last November in a chilly Glasgow in Scotland, failed to keep its promises: at the end of the conference, Alok Sharma, the summit’s British chairman , made no attempt at pretence. Moved to tears, he admitted that he was “profoundly sorry” that the discussions to curb global warming had not ended with any decisive agreements.
But the urgency cannot be denied. By the end of this century, half of the plants and animals that currently live on this planet will be extinct. “Eden is gradually withdrawing from the Garden”, to quote novelist Pascal Quignard. As human beings, we are now faced with some unprecedented situations as the climate crisis triggers increasingly extreme weather phenomena. It is the duty of governments to drastically reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 if we are to have any hope of limiting global warming. If they fail to do so, our grandchildren could live on a planet that would be entirely alien to us.
All is not lost. The environmental catastrophe can still be avoided. But how do we maintain hope and resist fatalism? Through action. The action, of course, of the men and women who continue to fight and innovate to preserve the greatest asset we all share: planet Earth. And the action taken by cultural institutions who defend our lands, here and elsewhere. Our Festival is resolutely determined to bear witness to and take part in this process: by continuously showing our visitors the multiple facets of this world in motion, and by supporting ecological initiatives as well as photographic creation, a sector that is going through its own deep crisis.
VISIONS OF THE EAST: REBELLIOUS PHOTOGRAPHY WITH DEEP ROOTS
We must find meaning in our lives and, in these troubled times, La Gacilly Photo Festival cannot conceal the sad truth. However, it must remain a receptacle for all our hopes. This year, it is no coincidence that we have chosen to spotlight a region of the world that, although it has been under fire for decades, remains the home of a thousand-year-old civilisation, of unique artistic creativity, home to courageous authors and the source of disconcerting modernism that has chosen photography as its weapon. Visions of the East highlights artists from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Three south-west Asian countries that are all part of the Persian cultural sphere; three countries that are predominantly Muslim, with Indo-European populations, and that remain subject to the laws of religion and obscurantism; three countries that we really know so little about but that have conquered the hearts of all the travellers who have ventured there, from Marco Polo to Kessel, from Chardin to Bouvier; and three countries whose photographers defend a positive way of thinking, ambassadors of ecological awareness, and beacons of a new hope.
Iran remains a cradle of civilisation. Founded more than 2,500 years ago, the Persian Empire once stretched from Macedonia to India. It is a country of great poetry – Hafez greatly influenced Goethe – and cinema with some highly talented directors, and a country whose photographers have always chosen to break with convention and develop an innovative style. To give credit where credit is due, every year, we like to pay tribute to a great master of photography. Abbas, originally from Iran, has left us with pictures that will go down in history. For this first retrospective since his death in 2018, we show how this eminent member of the Magnum agency built up a powerful body of work, from his testimony of the 1979 Iranian revolution to his view, steeped in humanism, of men and gods: a journey between darkness and light.
In his country, which Montesquieu described as “enlightened”, the next generation of photographers is replete with talent and the world’s museums are starting to take notice. From among these innovative photographic expressions, where women are legion even under the oppressive rule of men, we have chosen to showcase the work of four young artists, all born after the Islamic revolution and who all share a preoccupation for their artistic freedom alongside an ever-present ecological awareness. Gohar Dashti constantly questions our relationship with the environment. Revealed to the general public in 2008 through her surrealist photos of a couple going about their daily life against a backdrop of war, she presents us with several series that are all radically different, all subtle works applying a disconcerting artistic approach.
Ebrahim Noroozi made a name for himself through his journalistic work, and has won several World Press Awards. But he also takes a powerful, more artistic look at the ravages of the climate crisis affecting his country, using a completely different approach. Playing with shades of red and blue, and with highly contrasting colours, his work barely suggests human figures, portraying them as spectators of a kind of reverie as the consequences of the slowly receding water become apparent. Maryam Firuzi also explores present-day Iran in her own highly personal way, questioning the status of women in such a male-dominated universe: her various works, some of which will be shown exclusively at La Gacilly, upturn all our notions of photography with clever staging that convey many implied messages. Like Noroozi and Firuzi, Hashem Shakeri is represented by the Silk Road Gallery in Tehran, a leading showcase for contemporary Iranian photography. This 34-year-old artist deftly handles a very distinctive and very pure colour palette in which white predominates, giving his landscapes an almost lunar aspect. His take on the endemic drought affecting Sistan and Baluchistan Province, and of the new towns rising from the desert, transport us to an unexpected world.
As we mentioned in our introduction, Afghanistan continues to slide into obscurity and the words of Yasmina Khadra in The Swallows of Kabul seem to ring out like an irreversible sentence: “Nobody believes in miraculous rains or the magical transformations of spring, and even less in the dawning of a bright new tomorrow. Men have gone mad; they have turned their backs on the day in order to face the night.” And yet... The photographs by Paul Amalsy that will go on show on the banks of the Aff river show that nothing is inevitable. This French photographer, who died in 2003, was a tireless traveller who journeyed across all of the world’s countries – except Mongolia, as he liked to point out. In the early 1960s, he spent a long time in Afghanistan documenting life in the country, which was keen to open up to the modern world and encouraged schooling. His images, which could never be taken today, show little girls with their hair exposed and young boys sitting together on school benches. They are real gems and this is the first time they will be exhibited. Meanwhile, Véronique de Viguerie is one of the most eminent photojournalists working today. Afghanistan is in a way her country, the first country she photographed in 1999, the country where she lived for three years until 2004. Until the fall of Kabul in August 2021, she travelled constantly around the country, documenting its internal wars and military occupation. We have chosen to show you a selection of her images taken far from the chaos of a country in turmoil: shots of people’s lives that are like slivers of peace, glimmers of hope against some breathtaking backdrops. Women are life’s fighters. Fatimah Hossaini is one of them. This 28-yearold Afghan artist, photographer, teacher and activist, had to leave her home country when the Taliban took over Kabul and fled to France. In her images, she defends the boldness of beauty, of Afghan women and, through them, the audacity of freedom, dignity and peace. Through our ongoing partnership with Agence France-Presse, an essential link in the international news chain, we are showing some of the most moving images from two of AFP’s most emblematic Afghan reporters: Shah Marai, who was killed in a suicide bombing in 2018, and Wakil Kohsar, who tirelessly continues to report from the Kabul bureau. Both show the same empathy for those who are still standing, both demonstrate that only photography can reveal the truth of a visible reality.
As an epilogue to these Visions of the East, we head for Pakistan, a country born from a painful split from India in 1947 and which borders Afghanistan. A Muslim territory strewn with various ethnic groups, Pakistan remains a mysterious country full of paradoxes, oscillating between ancestral traditions and flashes of modernity. It is not particularly open to photography, but we chose to explore it through the work of Sarah Caron, a French photographer who lives there and has been observing it in all its complexity since 2007. Through her lens, Pakistan presents a mosaic of contradictory currents: teeming cities vs. mountainous and deserted landscapes, provocative urban youth vs. conservative rural society. Hers is a journey to the edge of confusion.
DESIGNING THE WORLD OF TOMORROW
As we have said time and time again, from the outset, La Gacilly Photo Festival has endeavoured to display the sources of beauty that unite humankind and nature. Because biodiversity is the cornerstone of all life on earth, because it is threatened everywhere by our craving for unbridled development, and because we have a duty to preserve it to ensure the sustainability of future generations, the Yves Rocher Foundation, which is committed to protecting the living world, has launched a new photographic campaign that will run until 2024. The aim is to alert, engage and bear witness to the vulnerability of sanctuaries of life located around the world. The first part of this programme will be unveiled in La Gacilly this summer, with Mélanie Wenger’s exceptional long-term project in the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (TAAF). These islands harbour ecosystems that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. It is home to the largest colonies of king penguins, France’s largest glacier, and even a tiny pristine primary forest. A precious gem that is guarded by a whole community of scientists. To complement this celebration of beauty, we will be exhibiting one artist’s work of a lifetime and an ode to nature, with the poetic black and white photographic works of Bernard Descamps. The images of this master of composition, his views of the sky and the sea, of the dense yet delicate forests and of steep mountain ranges, seem to elude time and the human hand.
Gabriele Cecconi is the 2021 winner of the Yves Rocher Foundation Photo Award, in partnership with Visa pour l’Image. He takes us far away from these unspoilt lands to show us quite the contrary. He journeyed to Bangladesh, where he visited the makeshift camps built by hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas fleeing persecution in their home country of Burma. With no other choice, these wretched people have built a future using the materials found on the land they now call home, cutting down forests to build shelters and drawing on already depleted natural resources. More destruction, in another place: the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For decades, this African country has seen its assets exploited by international companies as waste piles up. Covering themselves in this waste in lieu of traditional masks, a generation of artists has set out to expose this attack on the natural world, and talented portraitist Stephan Gladieu photographed them in the streets of Kinshasa. This pollution, which we condemn and would refuse to accept in our Western countries, is also present across the Indian subcontinent. Again, as part of our partnership, AFP photographer Money Sharma travelled his home country, observing its evergrowing addiction to coal. The capital New Delhi chokes day after day on fumes while the open-pit mines contaminate entire populations, but nothing seems to change: the digging must go on at all costs.
Our Festival is more committed than ever to the environmental mission it has set itself. And with that in mind, we have chosen to work with Reporters Without Borders, all of whom are ardent defenders of journalistic freedom. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of their review, which honours the greatest names in still photography, the organisation is publishing an album of 100 photos by 100 photographers on the theme of... the tree, an emblem of our fight to preserve the environment. These photographs will be displayed on the walls of our village.
SUPPORTING PHOTOGRAPHIC CREATION
As an unwavering supporter of photography and of anyone who is deeply invested in nature, La Gacilly Photo Festival backs projects all year round. Antonin Borgeaud, who skilfully blends poetic and documentary expression, spent the winter immersed in the islands off the Gulf of Morbihan as part of a project financed by the Morbihan Departmental Council. He captured a universe caught between land and sea to illustrate the relationship that inhabitants have with their fragile territory. The ambition of the Ruralité(s) artistic residency programme is to highlight our concern for our Breton environment while spotlighting those who weave the fabric of our rural territory. For this second year, the programme has given carte blanche to Jérôme Blin, who sensitively trains his lens on rural teens as they make some important decisions – whether to stay in the region or to leave it behind and perhaps return later, all the better for it. Then, for the 7th year running, we have teamed up with Fisheye for the New Takes on Environmental Photography Award, which recognises emerging photographic talents that raise public awareness of climate change. Three photographers have been singled out: Alisa Martynova, who guides her subjects through uncertain landscapes that oscillate between bloody red and cold blue; Maxime Taillez, who takes his camera and his sense of humour along the new borders of the Schengen Zone, these now imaginary contours between states at peace; and Chloé Azzopardi, who celebrates a pacified universe where life thrives as part of a harmonious ecosystem. And last but not least, we are once again hosting the Morbihan School Photo Festival. For this 11th edition, the images produced by 350 secondary school pupils explore the notion of openings, a value that is more relevant than ever in an era that is inclined to accentuate our personal differences. For our 19th Festival, nothing will cause us to deviate from the path we have laid out. Now more than ever, we aim to give centre stage to the photographers whose images embody seeds of hope. Their works are exhibited in the openair galleries of our Breton village, in our narrow lanes and gardens, and on the walls along our streets, filling us with wonder, helping us reflect, moving us, sparking our anger as well as our empathy, convincing us that we must always take the shortest route, and that the shortest route is the one mapped out by nature.
Exhibition Curator at La Gacilly Photo Festival