Europe’s biggest outdoor photo festival

The Photo Festival of La Gacilly, Brittany:

La Gacilly is a small, picturesque town in the Morbihan department of Brittany in north-western France. It is well known for hosting the biggest outdoor photo festival in Europe. The Photo Festival of La Gacilly is an annual photographic festival that takes place during the four summer months.

Established in 2004, the Festival Photo La Gacilly association organises an open-air immersive photographic experience with some twenty exhibitions offering the best of contemporary photography with a recurring theme: our world and nature. What does change annually is the host country or region of the world.

Yves Rocher:

La Gacilly is perhaps better known as being the birth place of Yves Rocher who founded his plant-based cosmetics company in 1959 by the same name. The Yves Rocher Group is a major contributor to the local economy and is present in most countries around the globe. Mr. Yves Rocher also served as the Mayor of La Gacilly from 1962 to 2008, and was succeeded by his son, Jacques Rocher.

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2014: USA (photos: Steve McCurry)

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2017: Africa

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2021: Nordic countries (photos: Tiina Itkonen – Finland)

More than 1000 photographs adorn the walls in streets and alleys, as well as in gardens, wooded areas or marshes around the village and alongside the Aff river.

Some 300,000 visitors annually discover photographs by renowned and budding artists. The photos are enhanced by the use of large formats and the prints are designed to withstand the vagaries of the weather.

Themes of the Photo Festival

A dual theme is organised annually, combining a focus on contemporary photography specific to a country, region or continent, and a societal or environmental issue.

  • 2021: Nordic countries – The World of Tomorrow
  • 2020: Latin America – Biodiversity
  • 2019: Eastern countries – Renaissance

  • 2018: Question Time for the Earth

  • 2017: Africa – The relationship between humans and animals

  • 2016: Japan – The Oceans
  • 2015: Italy – Feed the World
  • 2014: The United States

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Photo festival 2021 – Nordic countries (photos: Tiina Itkonen)

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Photo Festival 2020 – Latin America

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Photo Festival 2016: Japan

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Photo Festival 2017 – Africa

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Photo Festival 2014: The United States

“Peoples and Nature”

The title of the festival, “Peoples and Nature”, is in keeping with the founders’ intentions. Since 2004, the festival has exhibited photographs of some 370 of the most renowned photographers in the world. The festival focuses on ethical and humanist photography, exhibits the photographers’ perspectives through art and photojournalism, and invites us to question our relationship with the world and our environment.

Photographers who participated in the festival are:

  • French photographers:

    Sarah Moon, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Robert Doisneau, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Frank Horvat and Edouard Boubat, for example.

  • Other nationalities:

    Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, American photographers such as Edward Curtis, Steve McCurry, Robert Capa, etc.

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Edouard Boubat (France)

Visitors

The exhibition is traditionally held from June to September. This year, due to Covid measures, the festival is open from July to October.

Since the 10th edition, in 2013, the annual number of visitors is estimated between 280,000 and 350,000.

Economic impact

The economic impact of the festival is undeniably beneficial to the territory. Additional jobs are created, mainly in the restaurant trade with several dozen seasonal jobs being available.

For a small town like La Gacilly, there are 13 restaurants, such as the gastronomic restaurant owned by the Yves Rocher Group “Les Jardins Sauvages” located in their La Grée des Landes hotel-spa next to La Gacilly, and their brasserie “Le Vegetarium” situated at the Maison Yves Rocher in the centre of town. There are also restaurants where you can relish Breton “galettes” (buckwheat pancakes), sweet “crepes” and even Greek food.

The festival is part of a collective dynamic through regional and national networks between professionals driven by the same concern for sustainable development and solidarity, as well as for the defence of artists and cultural rights.

The Association, “Festival Photo La Gacilly”

The association is committed to a continuous process of evaluation and improvement with an aim to reduce and question the social and environmental impact generated by its organisation and its increasing number of visitors. The festival implements sustainable actions and aims at becoming a player in the energy and solidarity fields.

La Gacilly Photo Festival has taken on an international dimension since 2018 with a sister event in Baden, Austria.

The 2021 Photo Festival: Nordic countries

“Eco-responsible, committed, focused on the protection of the environment and human, the festival decides this year to espouse the cause of conservation of northern landscapes. The North feeds the fantasies of photographers but it is also a territory weakened by human action. By highlighting Scandinavian photographic talent, the La Gacilly festival is sounding the alarm and celebrating the carnal relationship between these artists and their wild, harsh and sublime land. Here is a small overview.” – Fubiz.net – for more information and photographs.

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2021 edition: Photos by Erik Johansson

Photographers in the 2021 edition and their themes:

  • Tiina Itkonen (Finland) – Where Sky Meets Ice (photos hereabove)

  • Ragnar Axelsson (Iceland) – Man and Winter

  • Erik Johansson (Sweden) – Trompe l’Oeil

  • Helena Blomqvist (Sweden) – The Source of Dreams

  • Pentti Sammallahti (Finland) – Here Far Away

  • Sue Jonsson (Sweden) – Swedish Memories

  • Tine Poppe (Norway) – Verdant Variations

  • Sanna Kannisto (Finland) – One Flew Over the Photographer’s Studio
  • Jonas Bendiksen (Norway) – Big Melt followed by Vesteraalen News

  • Jonathan Näckstrand (Sweden) – Acclimatisation

  • Olivier Morin (France) – True Winter Sports

Ragnar Axelsson: Man and Winter

Born in March 1958 in the height of Icelandic winter, Ragnar aka “Rax” Axelsson has strived for more than thirty years to document every aspect of his frozen lands where people and wildlife live in harmony.

His exemplary work on sled dogs underscores the potential extinction of these iconic animals and, in turn, the 4,000 year-old traditional Inuit way of life.

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His work has been exhibited in some of the world’s largest institutions, including the Paris Photo art fair. He has received more than 20 Annual Icelandic Photojournalist Awards. His photos have been published in the National Geographic, LIFE, Stern and Time Magazine.

Ragnar Axelsson is currently compiling an extensive series on the eight Artic countries, where the effects of global warming are increasingly devastating. Watch his video below and visit his website here: rax.is

Erik Johansson: Trompe l’Oeil

The 36 year old Swede is a virtuoso of post production. He combines several mismatched images to create surreal views which highlight his concern for the environment.

A visual artist, his clients include some of the world’s biggest companies, such as Toyota, Google, Microsoft and Adobe.

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Landfall – 2014

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The Cover Up

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Fishy Island

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Imminent

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Impact

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Next Station

For more details, visit his website here: erikjo.com

Helena Blomqvist: The Source of Dreams

Born in 1975 in Sweden, Helena Blomqvist creates burlesque, delirious compositions. In her words, “I always sketch out my ideas before I start. Then I build my sets and models. I sew clothes, rent accessories, contact models…” She says that she spends more time preparing the image, sometimes several months, than she does behind the camera.

Her detailed creations attract contemporary art lovers and the general public alike. I was mesmerised by her art which conjures dreamlike relics of popular legends.

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Untitled

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The White Garden

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Mourning Procession

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Le Petit Soldat

Do you not agree that her images are like a patchwork of dreams, nightmares, pages ripped from old dusty storybooks, old paintings with strange creatures or snippets from fantasy films? Here’s a lovely video of her talking about her work. Visit her website too: helenablomqvist.com

Pentti Sammallahti: Here Far Away

Born in 1950 in Helsinki to a family of artists, Pentti Sammallahti’s grandfather was a Swedish photographer, Hildur Larsson. By the age of 21, he was already a renowned photographer. From 1974 to 1991, he taught at the Helsinki University of Art and Design. Henri Cartier-Bresson himself selected one of Pentti Sammallahti’s images for his personal collection, which was later exhibited in Paris in 2003.

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Tine Poppe: Verdant Variations

Born in 1957, Tine Poppe was born in Oslo. She is focussed on drawing attention to social, political, environmental and philosophical issues in a series of dreamlike images.

Such an example is found in her series, Exit Wonderland, based on the US-Mexico border to voice her disapproval against former President Trump, whilst refusing to show his face.

In her series, Psychedelic Perceptions, she focussed on plants in a tribute to the 1960’s summer of love. In her Rearrange series, she explores urban and forest landscapes bathed in a hazy and dreamlike ambiance.

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Jonathan Näckstrand: Acclimatisation

Born in 1984 in Sweden, Jonathan Näckstrand is an Agence France-Presse photographer based in Stockholm. He has travelled the length and breadth of the Far North. He started his career with a Swedish daily newspaper, for a sports and news agency, then with AFP where he covered the Winter Olympics in Sochi and Pyeongchang, the Youth Olympics in Argentina, and the West Bank and Israel.

His photographs of Nordic countries took on a whole new meaning from 2018 with the climate crisis and Greta Thunberg, with these northern countries feeling the effects of global warming well ahead of its southern European states.

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An entire side of Apusajik Glacier in Greenland collapses. Greenland’s polar cap can make the ocean levels rise by nearly 23 feet.

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Greta Thunberg is not only the face of the fight against global warming, she also represents the Northern youth.

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Reindeer farming by the Samis, one of the last indigenous populations in Europe.

2021 Photo Festival Theme: The World of Tomorrow

Nick Brandt: This Empty World

Nick Brandt, born in 1964, is a British photographer based in Los Angeles. An extraordinary artist, Nick Brandt expresses his fears but also his hopes for tomorrow’s world.

Before being completely involved in his quest to save African wildlife, Nick Brandt worked as a film director. During the shooting of the music video, Earth Song for Michael Jackson, he came into contact with the animals that he has been photographing for over fifteen years.

Nick Brandt has chosen This Empty World series to “protest against the destruction of the environment.” He illustrates a world overwhelmed by unbridled human development in which there is little room left for animals to survive. A work that questions our world’s future.

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River bed with hyenas

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“Yet, in my creations, men are never the attackers: they are victims of that same “progress”, of this relentless spread of “humanity”… I create things for myself. When I look through the viewfinder, I don’t think about people’s reactions. But if people look at my photographs and are moved, put on guard, outraged – so much the better…” (I must confess that his photographs moved me). “If enough artists, photographers and individuals take tangible action at their level, the sum of those efforts will ultimately transform our view of the world.

For example, in addition to my photography, I’ve also set up an NGO, Big Life. Today, Big Life pays for over 200 rangers to protect 1.7 million hectares in Kenya. I’m making a small contribution to a much larger project: environmental protection.”

Ulla Lohmann: The Guardians of Biodiversity

Ulla Lohmann, born in Germany in 1977, is known for her extraordinary photographs of the volcanoes in Vanuatu and the ethnicities of Papua New Guinea. She is a photographer and adventurer with a real love of nature.

In her photographs of Madagascar, an island rich in biodiversity, we learn that this fragile beauty is being disfigured by deforestation and pillaging of natural resources. We are also happy to learn that there are a few unrelenting souls trying to preserve the remaining half of its forests.

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95% of the lemur population in Madagascar is facing extinction (IUCN & Global Wildlife Conservation).

Conclusion:

These are just a few of the photographers and their art that moved me. Want to see more? It is not too late. You still have a month before the festival ends!

And if you can’t make it this year, there is always next year to look forward to. I have been regularly attending the festival since 2014 and I can truly say that it only gets better with every passing year!

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“Selfie” during a previous photo festival.

My thanks to the La Gacilly Photo Festival for filling me up with a few details, as well as for their publication, “Plein Nord”, which allowed me to compile this article, along with my photographs of the Festival.

Should you wish for more information on the subject, or wish to move to Brittany, get in touch with me! I am based 8 km from La Gacilly.

More links:

Information on past festivals – website of the Festival

Brittany tourism website for the area & more on the Festival (+ places to visit)!

– Another tourism website with photos of the Festival and detailed local map

– Want to see more of La Gacllly during the festival? Here’s a video.