Photographer Rachel Cobb has been recording the impact of this force of nature in Provence for more than 20 years
France’s most famous wind, the mistral, funnels down the Rhône Valley, occasionally gusting to hurricane strength.
Over the past 40 years, American photographer Rachel Cobb has regularly visited, and lived in, Provence where she experienced first-hand what it is like to endure the mistral.
Photographing the impact of this relentless force of nature on life in Provence has been Rachel’s mission for two decades. As she became sensitive to the rhythms and effects of the mistral, she realised it was not just a weather phenomenon, it was an integral part of the fabric of Provençal life, impacting its architecture, agriculture, landscape and culture.
She says: “I first stepped foot in Provence at age 13, before Peter Mayle put the region on the international map.
“Back then, the village we visited regularly did not even have street lights or a bakery. On nights when the mistral blew, I would lie awake and listen to it howl down the chimney, making the flue bang in fits and starts.
“Everybody else complained about it, but I loved it. Many people associate the sound of cicadas in the heat with Provence, but for me it’s the wind. The way it sounds, the way it makes everything come alive and dance – trees, flowers, scarves. The mistral is like an invisible spirit moving over the region’s rugged beauty.”
A hundred images from Rachel’s long-term project documenting the ‘devil mistral’ were published last year in her critically-acclaimed monograph: Mistral: The Legendary Wind of Provence (Damiani).
The book includes a personal essay by Rachel, who lives in New York, reflecting on how she became enraptured by wind and the challenges of trying to photograph the illusive mistral. She describes pursuing a shepherd on a nearby mountain whose sheep were scattered by the mistral, the sound of their bells dancing away.
Mistral also features an excerpt from writer Paul Auster’s Winter Journal about the months he spent enduring ‘the violence of the mistrals’ in Provence. In addition, Rachel draws from the writings of Émile Zola, Jean Giono, Frédéric Mistral, Lawrence Durrell and others whose work references the famous wind.
Folia Gallery in Rue de L’Abbaye, Paris is mounting an exhibition featuring large scale prints of images from the book which will open on 26 June and remain on view until 13 July, 2019.
An opening reception and book signing event is taking place on 26 June at 6.30pm.