The south of France is the place to be during the summer and even more so with the Les Rencontres d’Arles, an annual summer photography festival drawing people from around the world to the charming French city of Arles. Having started July 2 and running until September 23, this year’s festival will showcase a range of subjects while also introducing the creative talent behind the works of art presented as they share with the world their perceptions of both the past and the present and their visions for the future. 
Besides acting as a springboard for emerging talent, the festival also sponsors programs and educational activities to support up-and-coming photographers and those interested in photography. The Rencontres d’Arles awards are three: the Discovery Award (€25,000), Author’s Book Award (€8,000), and History Book Award (€8,000), awarded to new talents in photography and publication. Also, the Photo Folio Review and Gallery encourages aspiring photographers to submit their portfolios to international photography experts for appraisal during the festival’s opening week.

And the Rentrée en Images takes students from primary to graduate school levels on guided tours of the exhibitions which for the majority of them is their first exposure to contemporary art. So, as you can see, the festival goes beyond organizing exhibitions. Nevertheless, they’re what matter most, in the end, so we’ve selected ten that you can’t miss if you visit Arles.

The Unfinished - Lee McQueen
, by Ann Ray

Alexander McQueen is a name that garners much respect in the world of fashion. Known for his dramatic designs and the raw emotions that they would invoke on the runway, McQueen had a long and complicated history with the industry and Ann Ray was there to document it all. Striking an immediate friendship with the British designer upon his appointment as artistic director of Givenchy in 1996, Ray photographed everything in McQueen’s life, from runway shows to intimate moments. This once confidential relationship has produced close to thirty-five thousand photographs, some of them now on display to the world that details the life of a man whose creative vision rebelled against fashion’s standards.
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Ann Ray, Unfallen Angels I, Paris, 2009. Courtesy of the artist.

H+, by Matthieu Gafsou

Transhumanism is a controversial subject in the realm of intellectual thought and science. It is a movement that advocates the use of science and technology to augment a human’s physical and mental abilities. Matthieu Gafsou follows the people – like Neil Harbisson –, the objects, and, at times, the concepts related to this movement in an attempt to explain the true meaning of its existence to a wider audience unfamiliar with the subject. To the unsuspecting eye, his pictures have little context and no common theme that weaves them together. But these pieces to the puzzle are in reality a bridge to understand the principles behind the movement captured by the documentary photographic style of Gafsou.
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Matthieu Gafsou. Freiburg, March 30, 2017. Courtesy of the artist, Galerie C and MAPS.

Midnight at the Crossroads, by Cristina de Middel and Bruno Morais

Cristina de Middel and Bruno Morais are the duo behind this next exhibition that focuses on the influence of African history in Latin America. Even though the history of Africa in the Americas is complicated and uncomfortable, it’s an undeniable presence in the cultural fabric of the region, especially in the form of its spirituality. In the Yoruba religion, Èsù is described as the dynamic force that rules all movement in life by acting as a bridge between the gods and humans. As the religion has spread around the world through its African descendants, Èsù serves a vital role in the everyday spiritual practices of the people who practice the Yoruba faith. This visual experience will guide onlookers to the roots of African spirituality through the shores of four countries – Benin, Cuba, Brazil, and Haiti – as it brings the force of Èsù to life.
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Cristina de Middel & Bruno Morais, Untitled from the Midnight at the Crossroads series, Brasil, 2016. Courtesy of the artists.

Encrypted Purgatory, by Christto and Andrew

The future is something that we all think about. Christto and Andrew take those thoughts one step further and present to us various scenes that evoke a sense of nostalgia for the past as our perception of media evolves in the future. The traditional ideas of reality and time are upended in this exhibition as the dual nature of their images straddles the line between the primitive and the new technologies of the digital age. As such, the past and the present collapse as the two photographers ponder through their work what the impact these new technologies will have on our future.
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Christto & Andrew, Transhuman Existence I., 2018. Courtesy of the artists and METRONOM.

White Night, by Feng Li

There’s a simplicity in photographing the everyday life of ordinary people. In this exhibition, Feng Li takes advantage of that simplicity by photographing the lives of ordinary people in his native city of Chengdu (China) in mundane situations that are almost as striking as they are revealing. His photographs peruse the routine of the people around him in shopping streets, parks, and restaurants where the characters that he encounters are drawn to his lens like moths to a flame. Some of them are starlets in mini-skirts or old ladies in fake furs and even homeless people on the street. However, they all play a unique role in creating a great story about ordinary life in Chengdu.
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Feng Li, White Night, Chengdu, 2017.
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Feng Li, White Night, Chengdu, 2015.

A Pillar of Smoke, by various photographers

As Turkey’s political and social climate deteriorates and the creative environment that once flourished in the country is now under attack, many artists, journalists, and intellectuals that call Turkey home are increasingly at risk for the simple act of doing their jobs. This collective show features works by artists and photographers from every aspect of Turkish society documenting the complicated realities of the current climate in the country. The ultimate purpose of the project then is to reflect on the variety of issues afflicting the country and to foster a dialogue that will have people talking openly about them with each other. Despite the obstacles that they face, the artists and photographers in this exhibition continue to express themselves to expose the truth during a difficult time in their country’s history.
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Çağdaş Erdoğan, from the Control series, 2015-2016. Courtesy of the artist.

The Potemkin Village, by Gregor Sailer

The origin of the Potemkin Village started with a lie that has lasted until this day. Back in the 18th century, Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin, a favorite of Empress Catherine the Great, allegedly ordered the creation of entire fake villages in order to hide the desperate state of the recently annexed Crimea from the monarch. Gregor Sailer keeps the theme going by photographing the modern Potemkin villages of our time: field exercise centers in the United States and Europe, European city replicas in China, urban vehicle testing tracks in Sweden, and more. Sailor’s images are in reality a metaphor for today’s society absurd obsession with the things that are fake and hold no substance but that we choose to celebrate anyway.
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Gregor Sailer, Carson City VI / Vårgårda, Sweden, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

The Hobbyist, by various photographers

In the age of online blogs and YouTube channels, people have learned to capitalize on their interests and hobbies. Interestingly, this exhibition examines what it would look like if artists and photographers incorporated their hobbies into the work that they create in order to challenge artistic practices and hierarchies. Because the impact of the Internet has shifted the notions of private and public spheres, the context of what a hobby might be is more unclear now than ever before. This portrayal of the relationship between photography and hobby culture is split into five chapters that tell one cohesive story starting from the avant-gardes to the hippie culture of the 1960s, the DIY craze of the 1980s, and the ‘makers movement’ of the present.
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Benedikt Bock, Alexander Hall, 2017 (The Hobbyist exhibition). Courtesy of Collection Fotomuseum Winterthur.

Redemption, by Laura Henno

Laura Henno is back at the Rencontres d’Arles after earning the 2007 Discovery Award with an exhibition more focused in its formal and ethical ambitions. This time, her work takes her to the Californian desert at the lost Slab City, a place where drug addicts, army vets, hippies, and other eccentric characters reside. For two months, she settled into a caravan to meet, observe, and engage with the people mischaracterized by society in an attempt to dispute the area’s lawless reputation. Paying tribute to American photographers such as Dorothea Lange and William Eggleston, Henno tells a great tale about the plight of a fallen people in unfortunate circumstances.
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Laura Henno, Revon and Michael, Slab City (USA), 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Les Filles du Calvaire.

Ascension, by Monica Alcazar-Duarte

Since the beginning of time, space and the possibility of life on other planets has fascinated the human imagination. After the space race in the 1960s, the desire to explore the cosmos has been brushed aside as matters on this planet take precedence. But humanity is once again getting back into the idea of space exploration with nations and private corporations and a new generation of space scientists pioneering the technologies and skills needed to become explorers of the final frontier. Monica Alcazar-Duarte reveals images of the natural curiosity and determination to explore the unknown by the people and the institutions working behind the scenes to make it happen in this interactive installation that reminds us why we have never lost the desire to discover the secrets of our universe. 
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Monica Alcazar-Duarte. Courtesy of the artist.