Photography exhibit
Credit: FRANCK PENNANT/AFP/Getty Images

Paris has become a serious player in the booming photography fair scene, with four events coming up this fall—most notably November’s can’t-miss Paris Photo. But for true fans of the medium, nothing tops what goes on in the south of France every summer, starting this week.

Les Rencontres d’Arles was founded in 1970 by three culture warriors—including the late photographer Lucien Clergue, who died last year at age 80—at a time when photography wasn’t getting much love as an art form. The fair takes over most of the stunning Provençal city of Arles, setting up exhibitions and events in such historic buildings as a 12th century chapel and a Roman Coliseum.

It’s fair to say that if you’ve heard of a photographer, they’ve probably either shown or attended Les Rencontres d’Arles, which is big on creative collaboration and special editions. Guest curators have included Martin Parr, Raymond Depardon, Nan Goldin, and hometown designer Christian Lacroix. In 2006, Patti Smith played a live show to celebrate the photo agency Vu; Sarah Moon gave a special workshop last year.

This year, new director Sam Stourdzé chose to focus on “rereading the great masters,” and organized the fair around three themes: photography about music, cinema and architecture. There will be collections of little-seen Walker Evans and Steven Shore works, both originally commissioned for magazines, and a chance to view the amazing Sandro Miller series, “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich,” featuring the actor in remakes of historic snaps.

There’s also a massive exhibit of record sleeve photography curated by Martin Parr and singer Matthieu Chedid; a deep dive into the archives of Robert Venturi and Denise Brown from their groundbreaking studies of Las Vegas; and a rare chance to see color stills from Fellini’s 8 1/2, taken on the sly by set photographer Paul Roland—reprinted from the negatives specially for this event.

For the first time, the Cosmos Arles Books photo book fair will also be part of the main festival, joining 75 publishers in the huge Parc des Ateliers (formerly the local rail company HQ). Also new will be the presence of food trucks throughout the town, and a sort of photographic open mic of free, rotating exposition space for amateurs. Though the festival ends July 12, exhibitions will be on view until September 20.

Alexandra Marshall is a contributing editor and the Paris correspondent at Travel & Leisure. Food, design, architecture and fashion are her specialties, which means, living in Paris, that she is very busy. You can follow her on Twitter at @alexmabroad and on Instagram @alexandra3465.