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15th edition of La Gacilly Photo Festival questions time for Earth
What happens when the infinitely tiny meets the infinitely huge? Spike Walker’s work uses dizzying, perspective-altering angles to explore the resulting confusion and shake our perception of the world around us. © Spike Walker.

by Cyril Drouhet and Florence Drouhet

LA GACILLY.- 15 years ago, La Gacilly Photo Festival was created to be a space where images gave us an insight into our planet’s extremely 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. The greatest names in contemporary photography have supported us throughout the years. They are, in their own way, custodians and protectors of our Earth. Without their shots, their drive to let others see what they see, their sensibilities and their implacable vision of the society emerging around us, we would not be able to stand in wonder before wild animals, the last unviolated ancient forests or the miracle of life itself. Neither would we know of the tragedies unfolding, of inhuman cities which crush in ever more inhabitants, of the earthworks which might destroy an entire ecosystem or of the pollution which is endangering our shared heritage.

Since the Festival first started in 2004, it has exhibited more than 300 artists and given visitors the chance to see more than 7000 photographs, opening up thousands of windows onto our world. In our open-air galleries and passageways and our gardens designed so that visitors can wander in amongst the art, we have aimed to share with an ever-growing audience of all ages all the brutality of our times – but also images of hope or, quite simply, beauty. We can do this because the renowned photojournalists and artists we present each year all share our wild passion for our Earth as they travel the world looking for shots that reveal an undeniable truth. Many of them have even become friends of the festival, such as Brent Stirton, Pascal Maitre, Michael Nichols, Pierre de Vallom breuse, Sophie Zénon, and Nick Brandt. We extend our sincerest thanks to them for sharing their talent so loyally with us.

Our hope for the 15th anniversary Festival was that it would celebrate our reinvigorated Earth, with humankind having finally devoted all its attention to it out of concern for its future. Alas, as time has ticked on ever faster, the first warning signs have flared up and nation states have endlessly gathered to find solutions for our ailing planet, we are getting inexorably closer to the brink and at an increasing pace, despite us all being aware of how urgent action is if we are to avoid our ruination. Throughout our history, we have looked at nature without really seeing it. We have never sought to love it, but to tame it.

Is there still time to save our burning home?
In 1992, 1700 researchers called on us to act against environmental destruction. They feared that “humanity was pushing Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capacities to support the web of life”. Yet things have only worsened, and faced with the gravity of the situation, more than 15,000 scientists put their name to an unprecedented warning 25 years later in November 2017. In it, they stated that, over a quarter of a century, forests have inexorably disappeared, with 1.2 billion km2 of space having been swallowed up, largely by agriculture; numbers of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish have fallen by a third; and the use of greenhouse gases has soared – and global temperatures with it. Over the same period, areas of the ocean covered by “dead zones”, where marine life has been smothered by farming waste carried in by rivers and where oxygen has all but disappeared, have expanded by 75%. This damage is being done in lockstep with increases in population growth. Since the first call to action was issued, the number of people on the planet has increased by a third.

As science sees it, our only hope of salvation is if we undergo both a collective and personal change of mind-set. If we do not, we will run out of time. To reverse the dynamics currently underway, scientists have urgently recommended that we halt population growth by making family planning more widely available; create more nature reserves; strengthen laws against poaching; and offer wide-scale support for renewable energies and other green technology.

Take the time to observe, contemplate and respect the natural world which gives us our life force. Refuse to turn away from reality by taking responsibility for the irreversible footprint we leave behind. Declare any sign of progress a source of hope. These are the objectives.

La Gacilly Photo Festival has always strived for. For the 2018 Festival which marks our 15th birthday, we wanted to gather together the finest examples of photographic style, documentarian, photo-journalistic or artistic, so long as they demonstrated an awareness of our world while also expressing its enchanting qualities or beauty.

Astronaut Thomas Pesquet inspired millions of French people during his voyage aboard the European Space Station. There, he revealed himself to be an incomparable photographer and defender of the environment. He speaks eloquently of his cause, telling us “Earth is a spaceship with a crew of 7 billion people, all of whom are seeking to survive. My photos are now my way of sharing the heightened awareness I have of this with you.” We are exhibiting his images of space, which demonstrate that “our planet is magnificent yet fragile”. Spike Walker’s images come to him in a rather unusual way. This British scientist allows us to delve into the “micro-cosmos” of living organisms, unveiling a form of life we do not usually get to see. Yet the world’s beauty is just as in evidence in Philippe Bourseiller’s extraordinary work focussing on ice and water; in Jean Gaumy’s abstract images of rocks; in Olaf Otto Becker’s images of ancient forests; in Matthieu Ricard’s focus on the Himalayan people’s harmony with nature; in great colour photographer William Albert Allard’s shots of the America of wide open spaces which we all love; and in the pictures of our world taken by amateur photographers belonging to Image sans Frontière, the best of which we will display. We are also celebrating the animal kingdom which is seeing its natural balance equally threatened, in the wild animals represented by American Michael Nichols, the captivating creatures of Karen Knorr and troubling images by German Jan C. Schlegel.

La Gacilly Photo Festival is not content to simply exhibit great photographers – we want to actively support environmental causes. Nations have a role to play, and so does business. Every year, 13 million hectares of forest – an area four times the size of Belgium – disappear all around the world. The Fondation Yves Rocher has committed to planting 100 million trees by 2020, and it is financing photography projects to raise public awareness of the sheer scale of deforestation. This year, we will exclusively unveil pictures taken with the Fondation Yves Rocher’s support by Brent Stirton in Ethiopia, Emanuele Scorcelletti in India and Phil Moore in France. Yet our drive to create photos goes even deeper than this. French-Spanish photographer Catalina Martin-Chico has spent a two-month residence in our village focussing on youth in La Gacilly. Edouard Elias, on the other hand, has travelled Le Morbihan to capture images of the local people who make our region so diverse, with support from the Departmental Council. We are also living out our ambition to showcase future talent by continuing a partnership with Fisheye magazine which lets us uncover emerging artists, and by again running the Le Morbihan School Photo Festival.

Our commitment also continues to emerge through the messages we seek to pass on to future generations via the photographers and their finely intelligent work. Chris Jordan makes photographic frescos which are grand in scale yet which defy our sense of perception, displaying the damage wrought by over-consumption. Artist Stéphane Couturier explores the overpopulated urban areas we have built. Patrick Tourneboeuf makes our head spin with images of cities of the future built in double-quick time in India or China. Fausto Podavini exposes how local Ethiopian life has been ravaged by policies encouraging major development. Frédéric Delangle gives us a compassionate glimpse of the teeming human life on the Indian sub-continent. And Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison share their dreamlike, surrealist vision of a shattered Earth.

Solutions exist, and they require us to respect local people and the harmony between humans and their natural environment. They also entail the development of innovative technology that generates less pollution. Miquel Dewever-Plana has set his focus on the tragedy lived out by Amerindians in French Guiana to reveal portraits of a people in search of an identity. The same issue always lies at the heart of Brazilian photographer Claudia Andujar’s work. She has helped to protect indigenous peoples by sharing in the daily existence of the Amazonian Yanomanis for several decades. We will also see intensely delicate and poetic photos by Russian Emil Gataullin for the first time ever in France. He examines rural life in his home country, and the results bear no relation to our apocalyptic vision of an industrial, desolate Russia.

Slovenian Matjaz Krivic reveals the reality behind lithium, an alkaline metal we all already have in our smartphones which will revolutionise our future by providing the batteries for our electric cars.

La Gacilly Photo Festival is able to run for its 15th year thanks to its wide-reaching appeal, the message it puts across and the quality of the photos it exhibits. Our values, high standards and love for photography will continue to drive our work for as long as the public wishes to engage with it. We are proud to announce that our concept for exposing works themed around environmental issues on a large scale in the open air has stirred envy internationally and that on 8th June, the small town of Baden, Austria, will open up its gardens, streets and parks for the first ever La Gacilly-Baden Photo Festival. Our latest adventure has begun!

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