Stepping out from the train station, you are greeted by the towering facade of the Duomo di Milano in all its splendour. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d hopped on the wrong train because this is actually Vevey in Switzerland, host to Images Vevey 2022, a biennial festival and celebration of photography and visual arts.
The scene before you is a staggering, almost full-scale reproduction of the German artist Thomas Struth’s photograph of the grand gothic cathedral. To reproduce it at such scale – four of his images are exhibited in this way – is hugely ambitious.
Taking risks has become a signature of the festival, which is the brainchild of director Stefano Stoll. His vision promotes a dialogue between the work shown and the fabric of the town and its landscape. Another in Struth’s series, entitled Unconscious Collectivity, sees a monumental version of his Disneyland mountain at Anaheim placed in direct confrontation with the splendour of the Alps across Lake Geneva.
The festival features a series of portraits of French female prisoners by Bettina Rheims, entitled Détenues. The project, which challenges notions of femininity and judgment, is thought-provokingly displayed in the church of Sainte-Claire. A metal framework supporting each portrait echoes the brutal aesthetics of a prison, incongruously nestling into the elegant arches of the church. It is a place of reckoning but, Stoll says, also of forgiveness and reflection, bringing another dimension to the work.
Each series has been chosen to fit this year’s theme of Together – La Vie Ensemble – which explores environment, family bonds, politics, religion and science. A statement on technology is brought by Ryoji Ikeda, a leading electronic composer and visual artist from Japan. His installation test pattern (no 14) is a disturbing immersive experience, blasting your senses with flashing black and white binary patterns and static electronic sound in the Théâtre de l’Oriental-Vevey. Walking back out into the soothing scenery of the pretty town, you can’t help but feel Ikeda is making the point that, while technology stimulates us, something unnerving is happening in parallel.
In Stoll’s mind, curating the festival is a two-way street. As a child of Vevey himself, he is particularly sensitive to the interests and concerns of the community and their environment. He is particularly proud of his sensitive renovation of the abandoned apartments above the train station that used to be home to station workers. Here he has invested in creating a cultural space, L’Appartement, while preserving the sense of a domestic setting where work that resonates with notions of “home” can be exhibited.
This year, a series of its rooms are occupied by Dutch photographer Bertien Van Manen’s Give Me Your Image. Van Manen sofa-surfed her way across Europe between 2002 and 2005, staying with friends and acquaintances. Noticing cherished photographs of loved ones displayed in their homes, she chose to photograph each one in their immediate domestic surroundings, creating exquisite little altars of memorial.
By contrast, the town’s old forge has been preserved in its original architectural state, rather than renovated, but it provides a fitting juxtaposition for Alexander Rosenkranz’s images of the postmodern marvel that is Gibellina in Italy. Commissioned by Images Vevey, Rosenkranz visited the city, which was rebuilt after being devastated by an earthquake in 1968. The purpose was to question and explore the reconstruction of a city that has become an artistic urban model. The resulting series shows an unconventional approach to architectural photography, displayed to great effect in the traditional courtyard of the forge.
Stories about the complexities of human relationships appear throughout the exhibition. From Siân Davey’s intimate study of her daughters, Alice and Martha, to Diana Markosian’s epic mutimedia dramatisation of her mother’s biography, the aim is to engage and unite us with shared themes of joy, sorrow and love.
The town’s care home for the elderly appropriately overlooks the grassy spot hosting Deanna Dikeman’s tender series Leaving and Waving. From 1991, Dikeman took pictures of her parents waving goodbye as she left their home, shot from the inside of her car, a simple reflection of the passing of time that is incredibly moving. In a circular display that flows along with the chronology of each gesture, the story unfolds – no spoilers here – to gently remind us of the festival’s theme and to cherish those we love.