I’m currently taking a class about social spaces. This week’s readings about the role of advertising in culture and society kept taking me back to a specific experience – the theater festival that happens in July every year in the city of Avignon, Provence, France.
The reason for this is that during the festival the city’s walls, posts, doorways, and gates get covered with posters advertising all the different plays (and there are hundreds of them). It is probably impossible to choose one to go see amongst all of the options, but the ritual of covering the city in cardboard and paper persists nonetheless.
The images I am providing here are from a dérive that I unknowingly embarked upon while in Avignon last summer. The photographs were shot on 35mm black and white film, and printed specifically for this post. During my walk, I contemplated the relationships between the posters and their contextual positions in time and space, and their cultural role.
What I find fascinating in these images is the distinction between the paper theater posters, which have an ephemeral quality, recent modern shop signs, and the old painted ads that are now peeling off of some of the walls. This truly exemplifies the cultural appeal of France, which is a very old country sitting on the fence between upholding heritage and tradition and inversely, progressing towards a modern, highly consumerist-based society.
I think Avignon is a magical place; it has a genuine mixture of old and new, bourgeois and bohemian. During the month of July, the city is inundated with tourists. These photos, taken towards the end of the month, are perhaps not the best representations of that phenomenon, but if anything I like them more this way – we are left with Avignon’s residents, circulating amongst the residues of the city’s busiest month.
When I think about it, there is something about France that is very different from most countries I have lived in – the country has very strong ties to a social and cultural tradition, one which is engrained in so many aspects of their lives. Summertime in particular is a very festive time in France. Villages have “fêtes”, in which all sorts of people from the villages themselves as well as neighboring ones, gather to celebrate the fact that it’s warm at night, under the pretext of celebrating a saint of some sort.
Going back to the Festival D’Avignon, it is a great example of this very French desire to commemorate culture. One tradition which has been instilled into the city is that of the theater posters. People seem very willing to set aside factors such as how messy the city gets, how un-ecological the use of all that paper is, and the fact that the flood of tourists is rather unbearable in the heat of July – all because these things seem to be serving a greater good – that of culture, of social interaction, and of maintaining appearances. And let’s not forget, making money (what else are ads for anyway?).