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When Images Learn To Speak

Jul 8, 2024

The A Foundation presents “When Images Learn To Speak,” an exhibition of documentary photographs from the Astrid Ullens collection, curated by Urs Stahl and exhibited at Rencontres d’Arles between July 1-September 24, 2024.

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As part of the Relectures program of Rencontres d’Arles, Astrid Ullens de Schooten Whettnall and her A Foundation invited Urs Stahel to curate a special exhibition from her extensive photographic collection. “When Images Learn To Speak” features around 650 prints from 45 photographers collected over the last 30 years, many of whom have become leading figures in documentary photography. This is the first time that the A Foundation exhibits at Rencontres d’Arles.

Over the past 30 years, Astrid Ullens has amassed a collection of nearly 5,500 photographs. As a keen and intuitive collector, Ullens never buys a single photograph, rather she focuses on collecting series’ of work or full ensembles of photographers who she finds interesting. Through this comprehensive collection, there is an extensive amount of what curator Urs Stahel calls, ‘conceptual photographers’, referring to a period in the sixties in which photography becomes a language, a speech, and photographs multiply in order to express an idea, a concept.

Stahel writes: “Since the early 1960s, the single picture rapidly became obsolete. The call was now to “speak”, to form sentences: to create a block, a network, a grid, a cloud, a narrative of multiple pictorial or representational elements that on the one hand more closely reflected the complexity of the real, and on the other facilitated an understanding of the images themselves and so of the underlying reality.” While the emphasis is on this concept of photography from the 1960s, the work on view dates between the late 1940s up to current days. The earliest photographs are by Walker Evans. He explains: “Walker Evans was a precursor of the increasing conceptualisation of both plastic art and photography in the sixties. His series on anonymous work and workers of 1949 can be understood as a conceptual project avant la lettre. He explained his approach as follows: “A document has use, whereas art is really useless. Therefore, art is never a document, though it can certainly adopt that style.” His project rejects both the uniqueness of the person portrayed and the subjectivity of the photographer. Seriality and almost anonymised documentation are here deliberately deployed for the very first time.

The full list of artists includes: Robert Adams (1937), Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902-2002), Yolanda Andrade (1950), Diane Arbus (1923-1971), Lewis Baltz (1945-2014), Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007 ; 1934-2015), Juan Enrique Bedoya (1966), Harry Callahan (19121999), Luc Chessex (1936), David Consuegra (1939-2004), Moyra Davey (1958), Facundo de Zuviria (1954), Jean-Paul Deridder (1963), Peter Downsbrough (1940), Mitch Epstein (1952), Walker Evans (1903-1975), Cesare Fabbri (1971), HansPeter Feldmann (19412023), Lee Friedlander (1934), Marcello Galvani (1975), Paolo Gasparini (1934), Jim Goldberg (1953), Guido Guidi (1941), Anthony Hernandez (1947) Graciela Iturbide (1942), Gerry Johansson (1945), Tarrah Krajnak (1979), Zoe Leonard (1961), Helen Levitt (19132009), Pablo López Luz (1979), Mike Mandel (1950), Miyamoto Ryuji (1947), Francesco Neri (1982), Nicholas Nixon (1947), Jo Ractliffe (1961), Max Regenberg (1951), Martha Rosler (1943), Ed Ruscha (1937), Mark Ruwedel (1954), Georges Senga (1983), Larry Sultan (1946), Judith Joy Ross (1946), Ursula Schulz-Dornburg (1938), Sergio Trujillo (1945), Henry Wessel (19422018) and Garry Winogrand (1928-1984).

To coincide with this exhibition and Rencontres d’Arles festival, the A Foundation launches SAGA, The Collection Book, which provides an extensive introduction to Ullens’s incredible photographic collection, with 100 photographers represented by nearly 2000 images. The book, “takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the self-reflexive and conceptually-inflected documentary photography of the 20th century, with plenty of surprises alongside the well-known landmarks.”

In addition, the book includes several essays by scholars and others, among them curator Urs Stahel, author and journalist Guy Duyplat, and photographers Nicholas Nixon, Judith Joy Ross and Jim Goldberg.

“When Images Learn To Speak” is on view at the Relectures program at Rencontres d’Arles from 1 July to 29 September 2024.

A Foundation

@Afoundation

When Images Learn To Speak, 2024, Installation view, Rencontres d'Arles
When Images Learn To Speak, 2024, Installation view, Rencontres d'Arles
When Images Learn To Speak, 2024, Installation view, Rencontres d'Arles
When Images Learn To Speak, 2024, Installation view, Rencontres d'Arles
When Images Learn To Speak, 2024, Installation view, Rencontres d'Arles
When Images Learn To Speak, 2024, Installation view, Rencontres d'Arles
When Images Learn To Speak, 2024, Installation view, Rencontres d'Arles
When Images Learn To Speak, 2024, Installation view, Rencontres d'Arles
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