Major Feinstein Retrospective: Mougins Centre for Photography, Arles Photo Festival

An excerpt from the Arles Photo Festival website announcing the exhibition with The Mougins Center for Photography
Curator, Francois Cheval, and Director Yasmin Chemali visit the studio in January 2023 to make the final selection of photographs for the exhibition.
Francois Cheval considers his choices for a major Feinstein retrospective in the studio visit of 2018. Here with Audrey Hareau and Thierry Bigaignon.

Opening on June 30th and running through October 3rd, a 101 print Harold Feinstein retrospective entitled “The Wheel of Wonder” will be exhibited at The Mougins Centre for Photography. Curated by Francois Cheval and Yasmine Chemali, the exhibition is on the program of the Rencontres d’Arles as part of the Grand Arles Express.

The seeds of this exhibition were planted in 2018 during a visit by Francois Cheval, Audrey Horeau and Thierry Bigaignon, owner of Bigaignon in Paris, where Harold’s work has been represented since 2017. Many thanks to Thierry for making the introduction to Francois.

During that visit, Francois made a firm commitment to a major exhibition. After the interruption of Covid, he renewed his commitment and came for a studio visit in January of this year, together with Museum Director, Yasmine Chemali. At that time, they finished their selection of prints, which includes both contemporary and vintage work.

The exhibition will also include a 200+ page monograph, an assortment of video clips from Harold’s teaching materials and a full screening of the documentary Last Stop Coney Island: The Life and Photography of Harold Feinstein. Filmmaker Andy Dunn will be present. As Director of the Harold Feinstein Photography Trust, I will also be at the opening and will remain in Mougins a few days and take in the artistic atmosphere of the place where Pablo Picasso spent the final years of his life.

It was such a pleasure to work with Francois and Yasmine, and to enjoy some fascinating conversation in my home for dinner. Upon leaving my home Francois made the comment: “Remember, every exhibition is a love affair!” I was reminded of one of Harold’s favorite quotes from the poet Rumi: “Art is the conversation between lovers.”

Francois’ words below, taken from his curatorial statement, captures this deeper understanding of Harold’s sensibility, as a lover of life and of the common humanity we all share, no matter who we are or where we come from. Invoking Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, could not have been more appropriate. It was one of Harold’s favorite pieces of music since it seems to capture the buoyancy, resilience and optimism of the mid century America that fertilized his vision and to which he paid homage.

Viva PuertoRico, 1969, one of the many exuberant photographs included in the exhibition.
GI in Photo Booth, Fort Kilmer, NJ, 1951

“Harold Feinstein’s Coney Island is a photographic transcription of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue: ‘Music should express people’s thoughts and aspirations, as well as their era. I am a man without tradition, my people are Americans and my time is today. I have the modest claim to contribute to the great American songbook. That’s all.’ [George Gershwin].

There is no ‘pure’ contemplation in these images. It is above all an ethical disposition, an aesthetic of the ordinary. There is nothing important in these series of small moments. Nevertheless, it is these moments, these gestures and stances, these strange encounters, that structure and ensure the continuity of a community. All of this ultimately composes an ensemble, a great songbook in the midst of the upheavals of American society, with the Great Depression, the exacerbation of racial tensions, McCarthyism, etc…

It is this vision of the world, of photography committed to the benefit of a united humanity, that the photographer seeks to convey.” Francois Cheval, Curator

If you’re planning a trip to France this summer, I hope you’ll stop by and take in the exhibition!