In 2007 Serge Negre founder and former director of the Musée Arthur Batut in the small french town of Labruguière in south of France near Toulouse created the first ‘Festival A Ciel Ouvert’. Arthur Batut was a 19th century pioneer of photography. He took the first aerial photographs using a kite and created a body of work called portrait-types. The aim of the festival was to take photography out of the gallery and make it accessible to non-gallery goers and encourage people to look differently at their familiar surroundings. Images were printed up large (1.20M x 2M ) and fixed to the walls around the town.
This year I took responsibility for the festival and gave it a new concept. The work was concentrated on the main road in the historic center of the village. On the one hand, rue Jean Jaures is a street which is suffering from dwindling commerce and neglect. On the other it boasts medieval architecture, and covered a market space dating from the 1200s. Instead of hanging the images high on walls, the empty shopfronts were transformed into picture frames. The idea took advantage of on an instinctive peeping Tom, in all of us. We are so conditioned to look in shop windows that this space creates a natural point of contact between passers-by and the artwork. Rather than gloomy empty windows visitors see large some larger than life portraits of cowboy poets and their poetry.
These images are the work of American photographer Kevin Martini Fuller. Fuller has been attending and making portraits at the National Cowboy Poetry Gatherings in Elko Nevada for 29 years almost from its inception. He has accumulated an outstanding body of work showing poets at many different points in their lives. Each face has the west etched into it by the fierce winds and weather that those men and women work in. Yes there are cowgirl poets and poets of Native American origin represented in the exhibition.
The conception of the project was the easy part, the realisation required considerably more energy. The team at the Espace Photographique Arthur Batut were very supportive and helped get the local municipality on board. I had considerable help from friends to translate the poems, so the mostly french audience could understand them. The installation has transformed the main street and its visitors, making people pause, look, and think. The businesses working on the street are delighted to have the art to look at and tone of street has gone from depressed to joyful.
This project is part of my commitment to reclaim the public space from advertising to communicate humanist messages. The cowboys and cowgirls are for the most part not ‘top model’ material, yet the honesty of their faces makes them more intriguing if not more beautiful in real sort of way than the computer generated young and “beautiful” we are generally bombarded with. These are faces we can relate to and dialogue with via their image and their words.
Kevin Martini Fuller’s ‘Cowboy Poets and the Poetic’ is on show in Labruguière France until 20 October 2014.