Arles is best known as the stomping grounds of Vincent van Gogh. But the small city in southern France also inspired a major festival in Delray Beach - FOTOfusion, the annual photography extravaganza that is celebrating its 12th year Tuesday through Jan. 20.
Its founders, Art and Fatima NeJame, got the idea for their festival when visiting Arles' own photography blowout.
"The experience and the synergy was so incredible, we felt we had to do something like this back home," she said. "There was nothing like it in the United States. We put it on the back burner."
The back burner became the front, soon after the couple moved their Palm Beach Photographic Centre from Deerfield Beach to Delray Beach. A member of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency urged them to put on a festival "next year."
"We called Arnold Drapkin," said Fatima NeJame. Drapkin, the retired picture editor for Time magazine, was sympathetic but discouraging. "He thought it would be too complicated," NeJame said. It was a chore, but four months later the first FOTOfusion took place in January 1996. Drapkin, by the way, is still one of the festival's driving forces.
This year's festival offers the same mix of workshops, seminars, lectures, computer labs, portfolio reviews, parties, and photo shoots with some of the world's best photographers. The usual round of satellite exhibitions are missing this year, although an exhibition of work by photographer Jeff Dunas can be seen at the Photographic Centre's galleries.
Once again, a host of photographers, editors and administrators will attend, whether to teach workshops, give lectures, or evaluate people's work. They include James K. Colton, Sports Illustrated photo editor; Dan Burkholder, a digital photography pioneer; and Anthony Bannon, director of the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.
At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, hear a panel discussion featuring four Pulitzer winners, headed by David Hume Kennnerly, who covered the Ford White House.
"One of the keys to our success is getting all these photographers together," said NeJame. "Photographers work in many different fields, but their paths never cross. FOTOfusion becomes a big family gathering for them."
FOTOfusion offers more than 130 classes and events. The schedule is available by calling the Palm Beach Photographic Centre at (561) 276-9797.
Registration for workshops can take place at the last minute, although many classes are already filled. No reservations are necessary for community events, such as lectures, and people can pay at the door.
Tuesday through Jan. 20 at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre, 55 N.E. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Phone: (561) 276-9797.