The 7 best things at Arles Photography Festival
Lucy Davies selects the highlights of this year's Rencontres d'Arles 1:30PM BST 30 Jul 2014
La Guerre des Gosses ("Kids at war")
Église des Frères Prêcheurs, 10 am - 7.30 pm, 12 €
Skip the works exhibited in the main body of the church (photographs of France’s First World War memorials from the usually brilliant but here disappointing Raymond Depardon) and find your way to the tiny, red-walled booth at the back of the second room.
Inside is a small selection of “Autochromes” – early colour transparencies – of a group of children playing at war in the Parisian streets. They're tiny images, but step in close and you'll find a nurse and wounded soldier, trench warfare and a captive held at gunpoint. They were taken in 1915 and have rarely been seen since. Presented on diminutive, individual light-boxes, their reds shine bright as rubies.
Societe Francaise de la Photographie
They’re by a photographer named Léon Gimpel, who was active in Paris during the early years of the 20th century. He was a photojournalist more than a photographer, chiefly known for picturing the industrial and technological wonders that were sweeping Europe, such as electric light, the Eiffel Tower, and the first views from an aeroplane. As such he has been rather outshone by contemporaries Jacques Henri Lartigue and Eugène Atget, who had the time and means to plough their own rather more considered furrows.
As Gimpel got to know the children (with the aid of barley sugar sweets, so the story goes), he helped them make props and costumes from materials found to hand, such as bicycle wheels and broom handles. One of the most fetching images displays a blonde boy in goggles suspended from a lamppost in an aeroplane made from a wooden crate and a coffee grinder.
When Gimpel made these photographs of war in miniature, he was employed by the weekly newspaper L’Illustration, but "La Guerre des Gosses" was made for his own enjoyment. L’Illustration declined his offer to publish them but later that year, says the catalogue, Gimpel’s images were displayed in the windows of the Societe Lumière on the rue du Rivoli, where, unsurprisingly, they were a hit with children and adults alike.