Located in the region of Provence, surrounded with an impressive and stunning diversity of landscapes, the city of Arles has first charmed painters, before becoming the capital of photography, such as the Dutch post-impressionist Vincent Van Gogh who imagined the “Atelier du Midi” for himself and his friend Paul Gauguin.

This story didn’t end happily ever after. In fact, it ended with an immense fight between the two friends, a cut ear and, ultimately, the tragic loss of the famous painter the following year. The same cannot be said, however, for the photography festival fifty years later, celebrating its first edition in 1970.

The organizers of the first edition feared that it would be a failure. It was held in the Hall of Honour of City Hall in an evening in July in the suffocating heat. Around 9pm, a crowd started taking over the room, climbing up on the benches, occupying the stairs and hall to get to see the first photographic slides projected on a screen-wall and discussed until very late at night.

Since then the festival hasn’t stopped growing and transforming the city. “Les Rencontres de la Photographie” became “les Rencontres d’Arles”, and continues to be a meeting with a city through the celebration of images.

Under the direction of Sam Stourdzé for the fifth year in a row, town hall to churches, convent and cloister, wasteland, domestic houses, schools, gym and old paper mills every space of the town becomes an exhibition location, transforming Arles into a curated city. “Every year we try to surprise the public by inviting them to new places” he said.

Speaking of unusual locations, last year a new space on the top floor of the supermarket chain Monoprix was inaugurated, guiding the visitor through groceries aisles connecting our daily habits to a space of art and vision; this year, for the first time a wild garden of 5000 m2 was opened right next to the city station. Hosting Mario Del Curto’s visual tale “Vegetal Humanity, as the Garden Unfurls” which explores the relationship between man and nature, it beckons us to reflect on a potentially “soilless humanity” through an immersive experience questioning our future.

Arles’ photography festival is not only transforming its city but its influence and transformative effect is now expanding to the region.  Indeed, four years ago Sam Stourdzé inaugurated the Grand Arles Express, a curated program connecting Arles with neighbouring cities including Nîme, Avignon, Marseille, Toulon, Port Bouc and Cavaillon and welcoming newcomers every year with the ambition a making “The Great South” a major meeting place for photography.

Throughout the years, the desire to act in favour of the economy for the area, encouraging local employment became part of the festival’s identity. In ten years, nearly 2,000 Arlesians participated in this program offering extensive training and field work and nearly 70% of them found in the year following a long-term employment. At the height of the activity, nearly 400 people work together for the success of the festival and its photographers and artists who change our perception of the world.

Following the impulse of the photographic institution, Maja Hoffman, one of the major financial supporters of the festival since 20 years already (among Olympus, BMW, SNCF or BNP Paribas and others), has chosen Arles, in memory to her father, to host the construction of an experimental cultural centre, LUMA Arles, in 2014.

Together with a core group of artistic consultants such as Tom Eccles, Liam Gillick, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Philippe Parent and Beatrix Ruf, she re-invested the steam train construction site, the "Parc des Ateliers". It was left as industrial wasteland for over 20 years and symbol of the post-industrial decline of this former worker's city, participating in its economic revival. This ambitious project envisions an interdisciplinary centre dedicated to the production of exhibitions and ideas, research, education, and archives connecting local actors and resources to international artistic figures.

The opening of the main building on campus, a tower designed by Frank Gehry, is scheduled for next summer, while Luma Arles as already opened its doors to many exciting exhibitions, collaborations, residencies and projects. Among them, the Offprint book Festival; LA Dance a residency with the French choreographer and former director of the Opéra de Paris, Benjamin Millepied and “A school of School : learning Design” an exhibition and workshop program curated by Jan Boelen for the fourth Biennale of Istanbul.

It also hosts Atelier Luma, a Design Think Tank, a production workshop and a learning network of the Luma foundation also lead by the Belgian curator Jan Boelen. It aims to create new and sustainable ways of using the natural and cultural resources of the bioregion by developing research teams bonding local actors and resources to designers and specialists from various horizons around six strategic themes: Waste Matters, Producing (in) the City, Healthy Mobility, Next Hospitality, Food Circle, Circular Education.