Correction appended Apr.29, 2014
The 29th International Festival of Fashion and Photography opens on April 25, in Hyères, France. The annual event in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is a showcase of conceptual art and collaboration that festival founder and director Jean-Pierre Blanc describes as “magical and emotional.”
“We feel like every year we could change the lives of 20 people forever,” Blanc told TIME.
Of the thousands of applicants, a small handful are invited to Villa Noailles, a modernist mansion in the hills above Hyères, to show their work to a jury of celebrated photographers, editors and designers, to meet their peers in person, and potentially win the career-defining prizes and awards.
“We look for people with a strong personal language in their work,” photography curator Raphaelle Stopin told TIME. “We’ve found that over the years fashion designers and photographers have much more to say to each other, as opposed to just speaking with other designers and photographers.”
Collaboration is one of the main themes of the fest, and while only 10 designers and 10 photographers are selected to show and share their work, the constant ebb and flow of ideas inspire new projects and help young artists forge important relationships with established professionals in the often-unwelcoming worlds of high fashion and fine art.
“I imagined I could create a bridge between young artists and professionals in the industry,” said Blanc, who introduced photography to Hyères about 15 years ago. Fashion photography as a genre however is not a requirement for photographers submitting their work, as as both Stopin and Blanc are more interested in the big ideas behind young artists’ work than how they classify what they do.
The photographers participating in this year’s festival use abstraction, still life, sculpture and installations to address topics as varied as family, racism, pollution and memory. “There’s a strong stylistic approach that they all share, even if the photographers and designers have very different concerns,” Stopin said.
It’s not unusual for past contestants at Hyères to go on to lead groundbreaking careers in fashion and photography, respectively, as Blanc said three formers winners were included in the official program during Paris Fashion Week. “We want to show the public what fashion and photography is today, and why it’s important,” Blanc said. “We try to present the largest view possible, because if it’s done well, it’s more than just fashion or design, it’s culture. It’s history.”
Jean Pierre Blanc is the founder and fashion curator for the International Festival of Fashion and Photography at Hyères
Raphaelle Stopin is the photography curator for the International Festival of Fashion and Photography at Hyères
Krystal Grow is a writer for TIME LightBox
Correction: The original version of this story inaccurately described a requirement for entering the competition and also misspelled Stopin’s name.