More than games: photography festival celebrates sport as statement

By Ollia Horton - RFI
Europe  Raymond Depardon  Magnum Photo
© Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photo

As France gears up for the 2024 Olympics, the L'Oeil Urbain (Urban Eye) photo festival is celebrating sport not only as competition, but as a form of social engagement. 

Entitled "The Flame", the 12th edition of the L'Oeil Urbain photography festival explores how sport is used as a political statement and a display of resilience in troubled times. 

Ten exhibitions go on display from Saturday in the working-class suburb of Corbeil-Essonnes, around 30km south-east of Paris.

The subject matter is as diverse and challenging as the Games themselves, capturing the sporting spirit and extreme human effort that goes into each performance.

As guest of honour, veteran French photographer Raymond Depardon presents archive photos from his coverage of past Olympic Games.

From American athletes protesting racial discrimination at the Mexico Games in 1968, to the hostage-taking of nine Israeli Olympic participants in Munich in 1972, he has captured some of the most iconic social and sporting moments.

His large-format images in black and white are displayed in front of Corbeil-Essonnes' town hall.

Faster, higher, stronger

This year's artist in residence is Paris-based photographer Cyril Zannettacci.

He worked closely with members of the city's amateur sports clubs for the collaborative exhibition "Citius, altius, fortius" – inspired by the official Olympic motto, which translates as "faster, higher, stronger".

He chose a two-step technique, beginning with over 30 studio portraits of athletes taken against a black background with flash photography to capture them in motion. He then photographed the giant projections of these images onto walls of buildings at night.

The final larger-than-life portraits are on display at the Parc Crété.

In another outdoor location, the Allées Aristide Briand, Amandine Lauriol shares her portraits of Marzieh Hamidi – a 21-year-old refugee who fled Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban took back power in August 2021.

The exhibition "Azadi (Liberty)" documents Hamidi's life since arriving in France, her integration into the the French taekwondo team, and her participation in the World Championships in Baku in 2023.

Breakdancing, bodybuilding

Another newcomer featured is Bgirl Campanita, born in Venezuela, who recently settled in the south of France with a visa allowing her to pursue breakdancing as a professional sport.

Thanks to Laurence Kourcia's exhibition "Breakers", Campanita can be seen in action in Nice, where she performs with the Bakhus group.

Breakdancing is one of the four new disciplines added to the Olympic Games for 2024, besides surfing, sport climbing and skateboarding.

The festival also features big-wave surfing from Hawaii pictured by Bernard Testemale, and an eye-popping trip through the streets of Jerusalem with Constance Decorde, who met young practitioners of parkour, or free running.

Staying in the Middle East, Charles Thiefaine shares the story of body builders in Mosul, Iraq, with his exhibition "Sinan and Nebraz".

Moroccan photographer Rime Sabbar focused on the national football team's exploits during the World Cup in 2022 in the exhibition "Red and Green". She is the 2023 winner of the Face à la Mer prize, linked to the Tangers Photography annual summit founded to support North African photographers.

Back in France, the famous Tour de France cycling race takes pride of place in Jérémy Lempin's collection and Nathalie Champagne shares portraits of Ludivine, a competitive skater who was the victim of sexual abuse.

All of the exhibitions are within walking distance from the station and free to the public.

Corbeil-Essonnes is one of several towns in the local area that will host 24 disciplines including basketball and table tennis for the Paris Olympics and Paralympics this summer.

L'Oeil Urbain festival runs from 6 April to 11 May in Corbeil-Essonnes, France.