An old silver train carriage with the number 4584
(Image credit: TBC)

‘Those expecting a ‘fashionista’ festival will feel justifiably disappointed’. Thus spoke Christian Lacroix, guest curator of the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival. The designer was born and brought up in the small French town but has notably kept his distance for some time.

Mallam Galadima Ahmadu with Jamis, Nigeria 2005, Pieter Hugo

(Image credit: Pieter Hugo)

Click here to see Pieter Hugo's work.

No one really knows why. Perhaps it’s nothing more than the by-product of a busy schedule of one of the world’s most pioneering fashion designers but you couldn’t accuse Monsieur Lacroix of quietly returning to pay homage to his birthplace. No, the designer has returned with a bang, ploughing considerable time and energy into curating the festival that descends on Arles for two months each summer.

Flowers for ________ [2004-2008], Nigel Shafran

(Image credit: Nigel Shafran)

Click here to see Nigel Shafran's work.

It’s a time to celebrate and scour: celebrate the work of big guns and scour for the names of tomorrow in the awards and portfolio reviews. As guest curator, Lacroix called on his extensive knowledge of the photography world to bring together a clutch of established names and charged them to surprise him. The resulting exhibitions are indeed surprising – a complete mix of vernacular, creative and political photography.

Untitled/This Is Just To Say #43, Ethan Levitas

(Image credit: Ethan Levitas)

Click here to see Ethan Levitas' work.

Lacroix explained his vision for the festival as a whole with a string of abstract nouns: ‘identity, presence, absence, the climactic, "petit mort", life, emptiness, now, here, elsewhere’. Such a range obviously covers most eventualities take it from us: in its 39th year, Lacroix’s Arles is one of the best.

Each week we’ll be profiling our highlights, starting today with our favourites from the Discovery Award: Pieter Hugo, Nigel Shafran and Ethan Levitas. For the award, Lacroix chose five professionals from the world of photography (four and one pair to be precise), who each nominated three recently ‘discovered’ photographers.

Pieter Hugo, the winner, was nominated by Elizabeth Biondi the visuals editor at The New Yorker. The South African photographer showed two series: ‘The Hyena and Other Men’ charting a family of animal charmers in Nigeria and a series of honey collectors from Ghana called 'The Wild Honey Collectors'. Both projects have an intriguing combination of honesty and fantasy. Each picture has a sense that action has been halted for a split second, framed by stage-like surrounds and intensified by the bleached colours.

Nigel Shafran was nominated by Nathalie Ours, founder of communications agency ON Consulting in Paris. A regular contributing photographer to Wallpaper*, London-based Shafran’s work takes the quieter bits of domestic life as his subject matter. He manages to imbue everyday activities – washing up, eating breakfast - with a reverence that belies their humdrumness. 'Flowers For____ (2004-2008)' is the name of his Arles exhibition, also the title of a new publication for sale.

Ethan Levitas, also nominated by Elizabeth Biondi, is based in New York. ‘Untitled/This Is Just To Say’ is the product of four years spent photographing the New York subway trains and their commuters. The images speak of the transience of metropolitan existence, encapsulating the bizarre potential for loneliness and peace, despite always being a few centimetres away from someone else.