Despite closing early this year, Paris Photo continues to show why it remains one of the best photography fairs in the world.
For the past 20 years, November has been the ‘Month of the Photo’ in the French capital with Paris Photo, located in the immense and majestic Grand Palais, as its focal point. This is the biggest photography salon in the world, presenting the best of every genre – from rare vintage prints to photo-journalism, to the photograph as fine art. This year, over 140 galleries from 33 countries were selected from a total of 300 submissions. Thirty galleries exhibited for the first time. Yet while the event was scheduled to run from November 11–17, all museums and public buildings in Paris were shut down on Saturday 14 in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the city.
“Everyone was shocked by the course of events but difficult times also bring out solidarity,” said co-director, Florence Bourgeois. “This feeling is shared by all those who supported the Fair: staff, exhibitors, curators, collectors, visitors as well as the city of Paris.”
As with last year’s fair, a partnership with agency Sisso enabled Paris Photo to create a ‘virtual’ version of the entire salon which can be visited online. “[It] documents what we were able to achieve, gives visibility to our exhibitors and allows those that missed the fair a 3D tour,” added Bourgeois.
This 19th edition of Paris Photo was curated by a new team of directors, Bourgeois and Christoph Wiesner. Bourgeois is an art historian who previously directed the Pavilion of Art and Design (PAD) fairs in Paris and London; Wiesner is a curator, art historian and co-founder of an experimental space for young creators in Berlin. Paris Photo saw their inauguration of a new sector, Prismes, devoted to projects outside the norm, either by scope or scale, and displayed in the Salon d’Honneur.
Of all the art forms, photography transcends international limits through its reach. From Finnish photographer Santeri Tuori’s images of ‘time’, to the work of the late Chen Shun-Chu of Taiwan (who claimed to foresee death through the medium); from Cy Twombly’s ability to turn it into fine art and the work of ‘cameraless’ photographers Garry Fabian Miller and Susan Derges – the work on show in Paris was staggering. Pride of place by the entrance to the Prismes section was given to Nobuyoshi Araki’s Flower Love, a work comprised of 2,000 Polaroids. This led into a serial work on public view for the first time from one of Italy’s most important private collections, La Collezione Enea Righi, with a selection of major works from Hans-Peter Feldmann, Nan Goldin, Sanja Ivekovic, alongside Twombly’s Peonies series.
The Salon d’Honneur’s four-metre high walls enabled the M Bochum gallery to present Stephan Schenk’s series, Kreuzweg (Way of the Cross) in this vast space. Schenk travelled to former First World War battlefields to document the surface of the ground where hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives. Six black and white images are reproduced as large-scale tapestries, imposing in their dimensions and bird’s-eye-view. Nothing about the tightly cropped close-ups of leaves, twigs, grass and soil betrays anything out of the ordinary, while the place name titles are highly evocative: Verdun, Somme, Marne.
Santeri Tuori exhibited prints from his current Sky series where he explores the concept of time through the imagery of clouds with a result reminiscent of Turner’s skyscapes. Tuori attempts to “show the sky as a valuable landscape on its own” without any visual reference to the ground. In his image-making process, some parts of the images are enhanced, some erased. “Some layers are given more weight, while others remain just as a gentle touch,” he says. “The works are clearly photographs but they move on the thin border of painting and photography. In the end it is not so important that the images are photographs, they appear just as images.”
In the main hall the work of Chen Shun-Chu was displayed. His Through Beauty a Salute to Death series highlights his unique point of view (the apparent ability to foretell death) as well as bringing a dignity and benediction to the deceased. Some of Chen’s most recent and definitive works were exhibited, including his last work created in partnership with ‘The Xindian Boys’ – Tsong Pu, Wu Tung-Lung and Su Hui-Yu – before his own death in 2014. At the Galerie Lelong Paris the work of a single photographer, Jean-Baptiste Huynh, represented his first appearance at Paris Photo. Born in Châteauroux in 1966 to a French mother and a Vietnamese father, Huynh is self-taught and mastered printing and lighting to develop a pure, minimalist personal style. He explored the twin theme of nudes and plants from France and Vietnam.
Other stand-out projects included Daniele Buetti’s hypnotic and immersive new Flags series which explores art and perception. The inspiration for his dazzling colour prints of national flags came from an earlier sound installation, It’s All in the Mind, shown at the 2014 Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt. Buetti’s over-saturated colours intensify these national symbols out of recognition. A different kind of national representation was present among the work of American photographers Gregory Bojorquez, Arlene Gottfried, Joseph Rodriguez, Jamel Shabazz and German photographer Miron Zownir, whose work over the last 40 years documenting gritty scenes of urban life was brought to Paris by the Hardhitta Gallery.
In the Stills Gallery area, three contemporary Australian artists presented work – Patrick Pound, Justine Varga and Trent Parke, each with expansive approaches to the medium. Parke – the only Australian to become a full member of Magnum – exhibited the hauntingly luminous portrait, Dash. Works by more familiar names, such as Horst P Horst, Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Leibovitz and Jean-Loup Sieff, were shown at a rich thematically-curated show from Bernheimer Fine Art Photography; while a small retrospective of French photographer Lucien Clergue, the first photographer to be elected to the Académie des Beaux Arts in Paris displayed images from several periods of his career from 1953 until 2007, including early prints and Polaroids.
This year’s salon got off to a great start. Visitor attendance increased by 15% and more photographers, it seems, are gaining public recognition, as evident in the turnout for book signings by some of the greatest names in photography – Martin Parr, Bettina Rheims, Agnès Varda and Elliott Erwitt. The amount and quality of new talent at the show was encouraging and the new Prismes sector perfectly illustrated the power of negative space in displaying large installations to their best advantage.
With the show closing prematurely on Friday night, 30,000 visitors had been expected to attend over the weekend. Bourgeois called on the public to visit Paris Photo Gallery Weekend on November 28 and 29 – where 54 galleries and publishers recreated the exhibitions that were on show at the Fair. “We hope that the public will take advantage of this opportunity to see what they missed and show their solidarity for the fair, for our exhibitors and for photography,” she said in the week before the openings. “We cannot let such tragic events deprive us of our most important cultural events.”
Jean Grogan is a writer and editor based in Paris. The virtual tour of this year’s Paris Photo is online at parisphoto.com/fr/paris/visite-virtuelle-2015#/intersection_13/.
On the weekend of November 28-29, at the invitation of Alain Gutharc, Les Filles
du Calvaire and Françoise Paviot, 54 international and Parisian galleries displayed work that had been exhibited at Paris Photo before its premature closure on November 13. The 20th anniversary edition of the salon will take place at the Grand Palais in Paris during November 10-13, 2016, while the fourth US edition will open in Los Angeles on April 29 next year. More details at parisphoto.com