It would be hard to find a more beautiful place in the world than Southern France in summer, and harder to still to find a town as enchanting as Avignon. A cultural hub surrounded by medieval walls and located in the heart of Provence, Avignon is also home to SVA’s Arts Abroad program Photography in Southern France, where 13 photo enthusiasts recently gathered for a week and a half exploration of the picturesque region and a series of hands-on workshops.
Led by French photographer Jean-Marc Veillon, Program Coordinator Toni-Ann Agay, and tour guide extraordinaire Laurence Minard-Amalou, the group got acquainted with their new surroundings with a walking tour through Avignon’s narrow streets, taking in everything from the area’s endless Gothic architecture to the local cuisine at Les Halles, a traditional Provençal market.
The following day it was beyond the city walls to Nimes, where crowds were gathered for a Spanish bull fighting festival. The students snapped shots of revelers (many wearing festive red scarves for the occasion) outside of the giant arena, as well as matadors warming up for their matches. Afterward, the group headed to Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge that crosses the Gardon River, for a picnic, swim, and of course, more photography.
For current BFA Film student Nick Stango, the change of environment really helped his work. “When I first came to France, I felt that my photography was incredibly stagnant, I was doing the same photos over and over again,” he said. “By the end of the program I had developed a new way to do landscape photography, I took advantage of a new way to do street photography, and all of those came about from having new subjects. The location brings you to do something new.”
From a night-shoot in the center of Avignon, to capturing the reflection of the afternoon sunlight off the canals of L’Isle sur la Sorgue, the students had plenty of opportunities to challenge themselves. There were also some pleasant surprises along the way. During a drive through the mountainous Luberon region to the town of Rustrel (referred to by many of the students as the “Colorado of France” because of its red cliffs and rocky terrain), the group stopped at a roadside poppy field for an impromptu photo shoot before continuing on.
Other program highlights included a trip to the Saint-Paul de Mausole psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy de Provence, where Vincent van Gogh painted Starry Night and over 150 other paintings during his stay there from 1889-90. Another favorite spot for many of the students was the Camargue region, where they photographed flamingoes and other wildlife at an aviary reserve before gaining exclusive access to a salt marsh on the coast of the Mediterranean for more shooting at sunset.
The students also received serious evaluations of their work, and for Jerroid Marks—a business analyst from Chicago and self-described “hardcore hobbyist photographer”—the feedback offered by instructor Veillon was invaluable. “The critiques were amazing,” he said. “Jean-Marc is an intuitive photographer but also a very technical photographer, so he was able to give feedback from both ends of the spectrum. He was able to tell you what things felt good, what things didn’t feel good, and then to also give you the technical explanation behind them.” Marks was so impressed, he’s already making plans for 2013. “I’ve already talked to Toni-Ann about coming back next year,” he said. “I feel like there’s still even more I could get out of the program.”
Photos from top to bottom: The Rhône river and Pont Saint-Bénezet bridge in Avignon, courtesy of SVA Arts Abroad; outdoor market by Camila Botelho Rocha; Pont du Gard by Francesca Perlov; Nick Stango on a cliff in Rustrel by Roslyn Julia; Jerroid Marks photographing poppies by Francesca Perlov; Camargue at sunset by Jean-Marc Veillon.