Ombres et lumières

STRAIGHT TO THE POINT : HANS SILVESTER

05/07/2024
"Straight to the point: pétanque and jeu provençal through the lens of Hans Silvester". The 2024 edition of the Rencontres d'Arles.
Hans Silvester
Mulugeta Bekele
Mulugeta Bekele

Born in 1938 in Lörrach, Germany, Hans Silvester is an insatiable globetrotter who has played a part in shaping the remarkable history of photojournalism. He joined the Rapho agency in 1965, and began working for various international magazines. Fascinated by the strength and fragility of nature, and of humanity, he has chronicled environmental destruction as well as immortalising the lives of the peoples encountered along the way. The series presented here dates from the early years of his career, and reflects the fascination which took root in the young photographer during his first visits to Provence, when he rapidly noticed that games of boules were an omnipresent part of local life. During the 1970s he devoted himself to chronicling these activities, so emblematic of male social life in the south of France.

A Provençal, on his own turf, under his native sun, has never made and never will make any effort to look like anything other than a Provençal.”

Jeune joueur de pétanque
Hans Silvester
Hans Silvester

DRAMA IS OMNIPRESENT

The playing of boules in various formats has been well-documented in France and elsewhere in Europe since the 198th century. Nowadays, these games are played all over the world. In Provence, two main forms of the game continue to coexist: jeu provençal, also known as ‘long boules’, and pétanque, a simplified version of this game which emerged in the early years of the 20th century. 

This exhibition presents a selection of contemporary analogue prints of the images captured by Hans Silvester almost fifty years ago, primarily in the Vaucluse and Bouches-du-Rhône départements. The photographs showcase the theatrical aspect of the game. The backdrops are many and varied, taking in rural and urban scenes, usually well-shaded for obvious reasons. The sense of performance is undeniable, both on the part of the players and on the part of the photographer, who succeeds in capturing boules suspended in mid-air and an array of spectacular movements. Drama is omnipresent, not least in the celebrations and commiserations, the demonstrative gestures which give the game so much of its southern flavour. The final protagonist in this scene is the audience, the “gallery,” who watch the game and pass comment on the players’ performances.  

Hans Silvester invites us to contemplate these men, women and children, intensely focused on the present moment, entirely engrossed in the game, a slice of Provence as he saw it, imagined it and described it in his first “trip down to paradise” more than sixty years ago.

< >
Lourmarin
Hans Silvester
Hans Silvester
Joueuse de pétanque
Hans Silvester
Hans Silvester
Décors
Hans Silvester
Hans Silvester
"Chinche"
Hans Silvester
Hans Silvester
Galerie
Hans Silvester
Hans Silvester
Décors
Hans Silvester
Hans Silvester
Borely Park

Playing the game today

Between June and December 2023, the Museon Arlaten conducted an ethnographic study of pétanque and jeu provençal players in Marseille and Provence.

Champions including Dylan Rocher, Sylvette Innocenti and Mohamed Benmostefa agreed to discuss their sport, along with a host of lesser-known players. Interviewed at major tournaments such as La Marseillaise à Pétanque, as well as more modest contests in village squares and boules clubs, they offer first-hand accounts of a contemporary activity which is much more than just a pastime.

Passed down through the generations by fathers, grandfathers and uncles, boules is a game requiring skill, strength and balance, a public affirmation of bonds of friendship and family, and a social pursuit which remains predominantly masculine, with women only rarely occupying a prominent role. If pétanque, and the jeu provençal, do indeed embody a certain southern way of life, then they provide fertile ground for investigating the shifting priorities of our contemporary society.