Festival / La Gacilly Photo Festival: The Planet Exposed
Tucked away in the Morbihan department of Brittany in north-western France is a beautiful small town called La Gacilly. Synonymous with the late Yves Rocher, who created and ran his cosmetics empire from here, it’s renowned for its arts and crafts and is a truly picturesque backdrop for what is France’s largest outdoor photography festival. For three months of the year this town is awash with photographs – vast canvases on the sides of buildings, whole courtyards filled with images, mounted on stands lining the cobbled streets, tucked away on secret passageways, along the banks of the river Aff and peppered throughout the water meadows.
The Gacilly Photo Festival is celebrating its 15th year with an exhibition called La Terre en Questions – Question Time for Earth. There are some big names and some truely spectacular photography: from Thomas Pesquet’s Earth(s), which comprises images taken from his voyage aboard the international space station; to Karen Knorr’s Fables, portraits of exotic animals in even more exotic locales; and Olaf Otto Becker’s, Reading the Landscape, showing images of ancient forests.
It is a photography-lovers paradise quite honestly, especially on a sunny day in June. But this festival is not just about a beautiful backdrop and big names, this is a festival with a conscience and a purpose. Created in 2004 by Jacques Rocher, now president of the Yves Rocher Foundation, the aim of the festival is to make the public think about the future of the planet.
“15 years ago, La Gacilly Photo Festival was created to be a space where images gave us an insight into our planet’s extrememly fragile beauty, a beauty which has been perverted by frenetic industrialisation, uprooted by urbanisation and impoverished through over-work of the earth. Either in a spirit of revolt or with a gentler approach, the photographers have set out to magnify, document, capture or simply display the vital connection between humankind and nature,” say Cyril Drouhet, Exhibition Curator and Florence Drouhet, Festival Artistic Director. “La Gacilly Photo Festival is not content to simply exhibit great photographers, we want to actively support environmental causes.”
And that is just what they have done. As well as selecting work that fits with the four themes: A Hymn to the Earth, The Poetry of Nature, The Land of Men, and An Exploited Planet, the Yves Rocher Foundation supports photography projects to raise public awareness of deforestation. Three such projects featured in this year’s festival are Brett Stirton’s Forest Reborn, Emanuele Scorcelletti’s The Spirit of the Tree and Phil Moore’s Guardians of the Land.
Stirton’s Forest Reborn documents the local people in rural Ethiopia who are fighting to regenerate the country’s vanished forests by planting young trees grown in nurseries. Scorcelletti’s The Spirit of the Tree speaks about a replantation project conceived by Indian guru Sadhguru. His atmospheric black and white images capture not only the people and activity taking place to bring about this ambitious project, which aims to plant some 25 million trees in the Tamil Nada by the end of 2018, but also the spirituality of the land and people who are working to revive it.
Moore, a British photojournalist, was sent to three regions in France to look at organic farmers employing new farming techniques to recreate hedgerows. His work, Guardians of the Land comprises environmental docu-portraits of local farmers committed to this new agroforestry.
The foundation also commissioned two photojournalists to create projects about the local area with additional support from Le Morbihan Council.
French photojournalist Édouard Elias was commissioned to look at Le Morbihan and its inhabitants. “Fishermen heading out to sea for a 48-hour stretch, a typical day in a retirement home in Gourin, everyday life in the training barracks at Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan, a garden party at Lanester, a man who lives on his houseboat in Belle-Île: this photography essay is the story of my wanderings around Le Morbihan,” says Édouard Elias, who spent several weeks exploring the region. “Each photograph is up-close and personal, intimate glimpses of relationships that were sometimes forged in the space of mere hours, while others were built over several days.” Elias’s project, Habitats and Inhabitants of Morbihan is on show in the Jardin de L’Aff.
Catalina Martin-Chico, was invited on a two-month residency in La Gacilly. “I wasn’t familiar with Brittany, and this was my first residence, too,” says Martin-Chico. “I had no idea what I was going to do there. It felt a bit like going to see a film without knowing the plot, without even having watched a trailer. I arrived like an adventurer on unknown soil. It was the kind of challenge that piques your curiosity!”
The French-Spanish photojournalist photographed youth in La Gacilly, for her project Being 15 in La Gacilly. She chose 15 because the French goverment has just declared that, at 15, children are legally entitled to use their own data online to whatever end they choose and also because she believes that this age is when adolescents are emerging from childhood to find their place in the world. Martin-Chico was particularly interested in the issues faced by teens who live in rural areas like La Gacilly, La Chapelle-Gaceline and Glénac. Being 15 in Gacilly is on show in the nearby town of Glénac, 5km south of La Gacilly, where some of the teens she photographed come from.
Probably my favourite spaces at the festival are the courtyards at the top of town. Here Patrick Tournebouef’s enormous canvases for his project Next City cover one massive wall. They show new housing estates in China and India and comment on globalisation and exploding populations. Chris Jordan’s, Intolerable Beauty is displayed on the facing walls, more large format photographs – beautiful compositions and patterns created by the things we throw away, a comment on how over-consumption is literally consuming our planet.
In the neighbouring courtyard is a recreation of Algier’s Climat de France housing estate – the subject of Stéphane Couturier’s project with the eponymous name. Sitting on the bench in the middle of the courtyard, vistors are transported to the Algerian estate, immersed in the 360-degree view, surrounded by the sounds of a day in the life of Climat de France.
For anyone who loves photography and anyone who cares about nature and the future of our planet this really is a must-see festival. It is art becoming part of the landscape and speaking about the enviroment.
– reviewed by Corinne Whitehouse
La Gacilly Photo Festival opened on 2nd June 2018 and closes on 30 September 2018. Full details on: www.festivalphoto-lagacilly.com