The Body and its Images

Story and photos by Alexie Zollinger

As I walk the narrow streets of Arles, I find myself pausing periodically to admire a piece of graffiti, art displayed in storefront windows, or the occasional flier posted around the city, of which there are plenty. Many of the pieces I am stopping for are public art that display entirely nude figures or they incorporate messages of sexuality or love. 

My assumption is that these are no more than your average piece of artwork to the French and to Arlesians, hence their public display. While I was eating lunch Tuesday and absentmindedly watching French cable television, none of which I understood, on came a commercial depicting a group of nude male and female models being doused in colorful plumes of smoke. It wasn’t until the end of the commercial that I even knew it was an advertisement for deodorant. I sat back and thought, “Wow, that would never fly in Salt Lake City, Utah.”  

Utah is largely known for its five beautiful national parks, outdoor recreation opportunities and, of course, its impressive population of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), in which I was raised. The religion itself is a branch of Christianity which shares many of the same beliefs as other Christian religions, but varies in certain aspects. For the purpose of this reflection, I’ll stick to the beliefs I grew up with surrounding sex, modesty and virtue. 

As a young girl, I was first introduced to the concept of sex and intimacy through the context of the LDS church. I was instructed to treat sex as an extremely intimate and sacred act only permitted between a married couple, (additionally– only between a heterosexual and cisgendered couple) for the purpose of reproduction and an important stepping stone towards a primary goal of LDS members, to bear and raise children. 

As a pre-teen and teenager in the church, I learned the church’s guidelines on morality. 

For women, there were no tank tops, no shorts shorter than three inches above the knee, same deal with skirts, no midriff visible, no tattoos or facial piercings beyond one ear piercing in each ear, no low T-shirts or dresses, etc. What I disliked about these messages, even from a young age, was how closely these rules were tied to self worth. 

In Salt Lake City, if someone is not viewing intimacy through a religious lens they are talking about it in a way that is so hypersexualizing that it is dehumanizing. It feels as though there is very little room for healthy sensuality.

Thankfully, being raised by a rather feminist mother, I was taught that I am very capable and what other people think of me is not my concern. I was never attracted to the “better than” narrative I was picking up on through these lessons: “Women who show lots of skin are often women of bad morals,” “Women who have sex out of marriage lack dignity and self respect.” 

In high school, I pierced a second hole in each of my ears, and the glances and suspicion really only increased from that point up until last year, when I signed a letter, had it notarized and sent to the LDS Church’s lawyers, notifying them of my wish to be removed as a member and have my records erased. I had stopped attending church a few years previous to this, but the decision still made my mother cry, and my father sigh. My extended family still doesn’t know, as far as I know.

In Arles and perhaps in all of France, nudity and sexuality appear to be less of a taboo subject than in the United States with its Puritan roots.

I am grateful that through personal growth I have come to find my body as a gift given unto myself, one that is capable and is able to feel all things from sensuality to sadness. I am grateful for having open conversations with friends that help normalize intimacy and encourage comfortability in my skin. 

I am grateful that in other areas of the world, such as Arles, nudity and the human figure are spoken about in terms of art and beauty, and not in privacy and shame. I hope one day to see nudity and physicality and intimacy portrayed in this manner at home, where women feel uncomfortable in their feelings and skin. I will bring more of this approach home with me, and will continue to discourage negative language around the human body, sexuality and intimacy, and act as the French seem to–as though it is something normal and even beautiful. Because it is.

This is a personal reflection and does not necessarily express the opinion of The Arles Project or program sponsors ieiMedia or Arles à la carte.

Taking Flight

Story, video and photos by Louis Denson

Last Tuesday in Arles, I was walking back to my host home when I  heard a smack and a splat. Looking over my shoulder, I saw a small black sparrow spread-eagle on the ground looking around like it was waiting for me to tell it what just happened. 

After watching the bird make a few failed attempts at flight, I thought to myself, “I’ve  never touched a wild bird before.” It seemed its shock at hitting a wall had turned into helplessness as it just lay  there with its wings spread wide. Stroking the wings and body with the back of my middle  finger, I could see that this bird was in no immediate presence of death. “Maybe a broken foot?” I thought as it gave another effort of flight that jumped me back into the street. Natalia Puglia, a  language teacher and interpreter for Arles à la carte, stopped on her bike and told me that  sparrows can’t fly from the ground and need wind or velocity from height to take flight; so this  bird was not broken, it was just stuck in a rut. 

Before I could think of anything to do, a woman approached the three of us and had a  quick exchange of words with Natalia in French that went along the lines of “What happened?”  “This sparrow ran into the wall and can’t take flight on its own.” Without hesitation, this woman  scooped up the sparrow in her hands and gently examined its body. Not only was I surprised that  the sparrow made no attempt to prevent this from happening, but I was also slightly jealous that I  missed the opportunity to hold and help the bird. After only a few seconds and the lifting of her  hands, the sparrow took flight in the direction it had been going when it crashed and landed on a  windowsill. We exchanged glances, assumed the bird was safe and said, “Bonne nuit,” and went  our separate ways. 

How quickly, confidently, and casually all parties–other than myself–handled this  situation really shed light on the different air in the streets of Arles. I’ve seen and been a part of  conversations that consisted of strangers asking about each other’s children and wellbeing,  and leashless dogs looking over their shoulders to check in with their owners as they walk down busy  streets in the middle of the day. Arlesians show a calmer attitude than I see in people back home toward flies and mosquitos. Their sensitivity to nature almost brings to mind stories I’ve heard of Native Americans who could pick up a scent in the wind as they ran without sound or shoe  through woods and forests. There is an energy that is quick acting but also calm and collected, that is so natural and harmonious with its surroundings that I can’t think of another way to say it  other than that Arlesians are tapped into something special.

This is a personal reflection and does not necessarily express the opinion of The Arles Project or program sponsors ieiMedia or Arles à la carte.

Comment dit-on?

By Ella Slade

I point to my dinner, a full plate of tomato salad and fried egg crêpes, and rack my brain for the French translation of “this looks good.” The words exist only in English, and I stifle a sentence I know my host won’t understand. 

Communication with my host “mom,” a wonderful woman named Djamila, involves an amalgamation of French (with the aid of Google Translate), English, gestures and facial expressions. I have never before experienced this kind of difficulty in finding the correct words; English was always my strong suit, and I have nearly three years of communication-related college courses under my belt. 

When it comes to speaking French, however, the average second-grade student could shamelessly wipe the floor with my written and verbal abilities. I now feel slightly ignorant in calling myself an expert communicator, as I’d only ever attributed the skill to communication in my native language. 

The frustration I feel at not being able to exactly express my thoughts is a new and special experience. If I could tell Djamila anything, I’d ask her where she found each and every one of the paintings that ornament her apartment walls. I’d speak precisely about the differences between my town in Iowa and Arles, France. Instead, I use choppy French to say something about how Iowa has a lot of farmland, a lot of corn, as she nods and smiles. 

Surprisingly, I continually find that being “taken down a notch” in my preferred area of expertise is not discouraging. As my proficiencies are challenged, I gain new skills. 

After one of Djamila’s home-cooked meals, I now can express my satiety in French, thanks to her teaching. We laugh together without use of complete sentences, and respond to the television with sighs and smiles and eye-rolls. 

This is a personal reflection and does not necessarily express the opinion of The Arles Project or program sponsors ieiMedia or Arles à la carte.

How I got scammed at the Arles market

Story and photo by Destene Savariau

Let me start by saying that I love bunnies so much that you could call them my kryptonite. I have wanted one since I was young. Since my parents would not let me have one, anytime I see one, I cannot help but fall prey to their adorable faces, fluffy bodies and floppy ears. When I came to Arles, I was not expecting to see any, especially not at the open air market.

The author pets a bunny at the Arles Market.

The Arles market has been held Wednesday and Saturday mornings since at least 1584, according to a letter written by King Henry III. The market of Arles takes place right outside the limits of the old town, alternating between the Boulevard Émile-Combes to the east on Wednesdays and the Boulevard des Lices to the south on Saturdays.

One Saturday, I went to the market and the street was jammed with vendors. The sound of bargaining French people rang through the air. The air smelled like fresh olives and paella, which simmered in huge pans. Many of the vendors sold fresh produce straight from the countryside, and others offered inexpensive clothing, including shirts and dresses from Senegal. Those were my favorite as they had vibrant colors and patterns that complimented my skin beautifully. 

As I walked further down the boulevard, I noticed two tiny carts. They were filled with hay and little furry bodies. As I got closer, I realized what they were. One held a lionhead rabbit, which is a rabbit with an extra furry face, and a dwarf pig. The other had a black and white lop-eared rabbit and three snowball bunnies. 

When I first approached the carts, a man asked if I wanted to know how much they were. I answered, then he joked as if he wanted to sell them as food. I immediately denied wanting to eat them as they were too cute to eat and much more suited to be pets. I pet them, held them and learned why they were there.

The two men who ran the stand explained that they rescued animals, like the bunny and the pig, and helped them get medical attention. They sold candy to raise money for vaccines so they could be adopted. He showed me an open box and gave me a sample to try. The candy itself was not so bad, just a bit too sour for my tastes.

“Thirty euros for the small box of candy can cover a vaccine for a small cat and two rabbits,” the vendor said. “And the big box is 50 euros, which can cover vaccines for two cats and a dog.

The small box of candy was actually a small circular metal tin. The words on it were French, but its background was of a serene plain with a river. There was a barn at the forefront and a small French village tucked in the mountains.

I told him, “No, thank you.” Fifty bucks? That is way too expensive, I thought, especially for such a sour candy.

But then, he hit me with a deal I could not refuse. 

“I’ll give you the big box and small box for 30 euro.”

That was nail one.

“It will go towards treating a whole family of bunnies.”

That was the final nail in the coffin.

Hell, yeah, I was going to buy some of the candy! I would not be able to leave the market knowing that I did not do anything to help these poor, helpless baby animals. Buying the candy felt like I had done something really good.

When I got home to my host family, my host father explained that  those guys were scammers.

Apparently, it is illegal in France for people to use animals as a tool to sell things. After my host father told me that, I felt kinda stupid. Those guys really tricked me and made me feel like a silly American tourist who was an easy mark. 

But then again, learning from those experiences is what makes traveling so enriching and unforgettable!

This is a personal reflection and does not necessarily express the opinion of The Arles Project or program sponsors ieiMedia or Arles à la carte.

Why Aren’t You Fat?

Story and photo by Sophie Wyckoff

I sit at the wooden table with a mother and her two children, whom I luckily get to call my family for the next four weeks. We’re sharing our first meal together. My host mother, Isabel, breaks the silence and blurts out in her broken English how shocked she was when we first met that I wasn’t “fat and didn’t eat a lot.” 

Since then, my host family and I have often compared portion sizes, meal choices and grocery shopping differences between the United States and France. I find myself confirming Isabel’s stereotypes as I describe how much fast food our country has. Isabel shares that on Wednesdays and Saturdays, a market with fresh produce and butchered meat is located less than a half mile from her home.

On Wednesday morning, I stuff my purse with euros and start my journey to the Arles market. I hear the voices of the Arlesian people doing their weekly shopping as the smell of freshly baked croissants hits my nose. I have experienced farmers’ markets in my hometown in America filled with homemade items, but nothing compared to the abundance of fruits, vegetables and baked goods available at this market.

As I walk down the street surrounded by produce, my mind begins to wander to life at home. Instead of freshly grown ingredients, the aisles at Target, Hy-vee and Walmart are loaded with prepackaged food, saturated fat and high-fructose corn syrup. If we had as easy access to farm-fresh ingredients as we do fast food, America would not have earned the image of poor health it has today. These next couple weeks, I will relish the locally grown food until I am back to the reality of America: processed food. 

This is a personal reflection and does not necessarily express the opinion of The Arles Project or program sponsors ieiMedia or Arles à la carte.

Spare change

Story and photo by Ella Ehlers

As I was sitting outside a small bakery in Arles with some friends, the remains of our lunch scattered around us, when a small boy approached our group and caught our attention. 

The boy looked to be around 7 years old, but his clothing looked a lot older. He was wearing ripped-up shorts and a gray T-shirt with gashes through the fabric. His hair was shaggy, and he had dirt smudged all over his face. I was instantly hit with a wave of sadness after seeing the state this young boy was in.

He looked up at us and softly asked for some coins for a pastry. I was too stunned to speak, but quickly turned to my wallet and started digging for coins. I could feel the boy’s eyes looking at me, making me hope I could find some spare change. I snatched a few euros to give him and my friends chipped in too. We ended up collecting enough for him to buy some food. The boy’s eyes started to glow, and he smiled ear to ear as he thanked us for the coins and quickly scurried into the bakery. 

As the boy walked away I was filled with a wave of relief, knowing that he could buy something to eat. But I was quickly taken back to a dark place, knowing there are children fighting hunger and homelessness every day. Then the boy came out of the bakery with a bag in his hand. 

He sat down at the table right beside us and quickly gobbled down the sandwich. It seemed like this was the first time he had eaten in a while, which made me upset. From the way the boy was eating, it seemed like he didn’t know how or when he would get his next meal.

As the boy was leaving, he said, “Merci, mes dames,” and rode away on his rusty bike.

I was left with a pit in my stomach and many unanswered questions. I wondered where his parents were and how he could be left alone at such a young age. 

After this interaction, I feel grateful to have grown up in a family that was able to financially support me, and I feel deeply sorry for the children who aren’t sure if they will eat every day.

This is a personal reflection and does not necessarily express the opinion of program sponsors ieiMedia or Arles à la carte.

Watching death through a lens

Story and photos by Sam Guzman

When I heard there was going to be a bullfighting event at a ranch on the outskirts of Arles, I jumped at the opportunity to photograph it. I had been to rodeos before, but I’d never attended a bullfight.

“La Corrida” is a centuries-old tradition for the people of Spain and Southern France.  Bullfighters wear traditional outfits –- short jackets, knee-length trousers and boots — and dance with the bulls as spectators watch. It ends in the death of the bulls, one sword to the body and another to the head. To many people in this region, it is an act of honor. 

I thought I was going to a practice session where the animals would not be killed. Marie-Anne Devaux, my guide for the day, introduced me to three of the matadors who were to be performing that day. Everyone there was incredibly charming and kind. They really made me feel welcome, and I was excited to shoot photographs of the bullfight. 

Lalo de Maria was the matador up first, and it was fascinating to see him work. Lalo threw a red cape in front of the bull, and the animal charged towards him. Then a man on a horse provoked the bull to check its bravery. It was at that moment when Devaux turned to me and said, “Oh, they’re gonna kill the bull; you can tell because he has his sword in his hand.” 

Matador Bruno Aloi uses a red cape on a pole to attract the bull and hide his sword.

In this moment I felt conflicted; I didn’t come to this event to see a bull die. It was against my very nature to want to see something like this. However, I also knew that as a journalist it’s not my job to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s not my right to go to a country I’ve never been to before, with a language I don’t speak, with customs I don’t understand and say that what they’re doing is wrong. 

Photographing the bull as it’s dying, blood leaking from its mouth, its eyes starting to fade away, was the most important thing I could do in that moment.

As I put the camera to my eye, I thought of a photograph I had studied in school.

After being stabbed, the bull collapses to the ground before dying.

On July 22, 1975, in Boston, Massachusetts, 19-year-old Diana Bryant and her 2-year-old goddaughter were on a fire escape during an apartment fire, waiting for firefighters to rescue them. But the platform they were on broke and the two of them fell to the ground. Bryant died; her goddaughter survived. 

A few feet away, Stanley Forman, a photographer for the Boston Herald American, was shooting the entire incident. He took a series of heartbreaking photographs, capturing the two bodies as they fell through the air. The photographs sparked a lot of outrage, and the press was charged with invasion of privacy. However, the photographs led to change; within 24 hours, the city of Boston altered its policies on the regulation and maintenance of fire escapes and other cities around the U.S. also passed new legislation, inspired by Forman’s photographs.

As I looked at the bull through my viewfinder, lying there, its life slowly leaving its body, I realized the power we photographers have in capturing death as well as life. Whether or not I support the practice of corrida, it’s my job to photograph this and show it to the world.

This is a personal reflection and does not necessarily express the opinion of The Arles Project or program sponsors ieiMedia or Arles à la carte.

Dancing in the Streets

The streets of Arles transformed into music halls on June 21 as the town joined in the annual French celebration of Fête de la Musique. Some of the musicians and their audience shared stories with our reporters.

Photo and interview by Sophie Wyckoff

Janis and Jacques Lemay are Canadian tourists who traveled to Arles, France, for their third time to feel the words, rhymes, and beats of la Fête de la Musique. They intended to listen to only La Chorale Coeur Escandihando at 3 p.m. but stayed and listened to a Latin-American choir until 6:30 p.m. Janis explained how the pianist was so theatrical that she “stood up screaming and cheering” once the conductor signed for the end of the song. The couple is already planning to travel to Arles for the fourth year in a row.

Photo and interview by Sam Guzman

Juan San Juan, 79 and retired, has lived in Arles for 24 years. He goes to Fête de la Musique sporadically. “I’m alone, all of my friends are in Spai, so I just occasionally come to enjoy. Look around, it’s Wednesday night and there are people from everywhere, on every street.”

Photo and interview by Destene Savariau

Wissem Agagg of Arles performed at the festival with other rappers. “It’s a party. Friends, music and lit vibes.”

Photo and interview by Louis Denson

Lous Martial has traveled far and wide over the last 50 years. He lived in France from 1970 through 1993 before traveling from New York to Vermont, India, and Morocco. Returning to Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône five years ago, he has made yearly trips to Arles to enjoy and participate in La Fête de la musique. Martial plays blues and electric music with a friend who plays the bass. Rather than performing cover music or their own composed pieces, the duo prefer to jam and let the music take them where it leads. “It could go for hours.” 

Photo and interview by Ella Ehlers

Sebastian Denez is a member of a band in Arles and he plays the drums. The band plays a lot of old music and they play Spanish songs a lot too. ”Sharing energy is what I like to do and the drums allow me to do so.”

An international reporting project co-sponsored by ieiMedia and Arles à la carte.