At the Arles meetings, the publishers of French photo books make common cause

In the evening, at the Rencontres d’Arles, an attentive crowd flock to the Collège Saint Charles, in the coolness brought by the shade of a large hackberry tree: seated in the courtyard, behind school tables, photographers come. autograph their book and discuss with visitors. Thus François Daireaux, who publishes Discover, a big book to Loco editions on his images taken in China, a successful mix of documentary and offbeat gaze.

The day before, photographer Sabine Weiss, 96, carried by her exhibition at the Museo Arlaten and by the publication of a Photopoche at Actes Sud, attracted a large audience, won over by her humanist images and her enthusiasm. “We saw less people than usual, but the people who come this year are really connoisseurs”, says Fabienne Pavia, from the publishing house Le Bec en l’air, who has seen visitors buy mostly The Songs of the Asphodel, by Mathias Benguigui, after seeing the exhibition dedicated to the photographer at the Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation in Arles.

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The festival is usually a highlight for photo book publishers. But the 2021 edition, adapted because of the health situation, is special. Temple, the official event that brought together publishers from around the world in 2019 during Professional Week, has been canceled. This year, only a few foreign publishers are present, like the German Kehrer, but the French have come in force: in addition to Actes Sud, based in Arles, which sells its books in its large bookshop in Méjan, 11 French publishers grouped under the banner of the France Photobook association, offer their publications to the public at two nearby locations.

The time has come for solidarity after a complicated year for photo book publishers, who for the most part sell their works not in bookstores, but rather in art and exhibition venues, closed for months because of of the pandemic. “Some have had a blank year, explains the editor André Frère, I postponed releases to instead exploit books that had not had time to meet their audience. On the other hand, online sales, among all publishers, have exploded ”.

400 books published per year

Grouped since 2019 in an association called France Photobook, which now has 25 members (including Actes Sud), all publishers of author’s photo books, they seek to give more visibility to their field but also to find financial means for this sector. both very abundant and fragile – more than 400 photo books are published per year. “Today, photo book publishers are frying pans looking for gold on the beaches! sums up with a laugh Eric Cez, from Loco editions. The number of books has exploded, but the market has not moved much, and producing this kind of book is very expensive, from 20 to 25,000 euros on average, while sales, even for successes, remain limited to a few. hundreds of copies ”.

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