Photo Saint-Germain

Created in 2010 Photo Saint-Germain is an annual festival that takes place in November in Paris.  It sees small galleries, studios, institutions and book shops collaborating to create more than 40 photography exhibitions and events.  There is no theme just a celebration of photography and lens based media.  In this small area of Paris, a network of picturesque streets, there are photographs in almost every window and on every corner.  From the Musee d’Orsay to La Petite Galerie the exhibitions are broad in range, histories, genres and curation.

‘Enter as Fiction’ work by Kourtney Roy at the Galerie Catherine & Andre Hug was a well conceived exhibition.  The self-portraits create an imaginary world, with her alone like a silver screen heroine.  She becomes part of her surroundings, here route 66, embedded in the landscape and under the glowing sunshine.

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In contrast, and as good as it should be, was a small exhibition of photographs by Mario Giacomelli, at Galerie Berthet-Aittouares.  Mainly known for the Seminarians playing in the snow or the famous Scanno Boy, considered as one of the most important pictures in the history of the medium, here were examples of his personal ‘theatre’.  Here are fables and a made up world of symbols.

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‘California California’ another exhibition, just around the corner featured the work of British artist and photographer Chris Shaw, exhibiting alongside Nicholas Silberfaden, curated by Inès de Bordas & Laure Flammarion.   Shaw captures a dark and spectacular vision of the Californian desert during the summer of 2013 while on a residency in Joshua Tree National Park.  In this bold and striking series of photographs, the joshua trees and various desert cacti are transformed into haunting anthropomorphic figures and dancing icons. The prints themselves bear the marks of the ad-hoc printing process, with bleeding edges, fingerprints, off-kilter frames and Shaw’s signature hand-written titles.

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At Galerie Antoine Laurentin there was an intriguing and beautiful exhibition of works by Benjamin Renoux that with reflections and icons associated with the mythological and historical dimension of photography.  Here there was a range of media as the artist explored his own relationship with the image.  Playing with effects of absence  the photographs, videos and sculptures are troubling, constantly engendering the double movement of mirroring reality and transforming this reality at the same time. His works deal with our relationship to photography through a critique of the fetish that the photographic object or image represent.

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Paris Photo

Paris Photo, in its 19th year and presented at the atmospheric and prestigious Grand Palais, was as we know cut short by the most horrific attacks that took place in November 2015 in Paris.  As with many of the guests and visitors I attended the fair for one day and spent the remaining two days deeply moved by the solidarity and bravery of the French people.

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Paris Photo is the most significant gathering of key players, photographers, curators, gallerists and collectors.   Over 147 galleries from 34 countries exhibited at the fair showing historical and contemporary photography.  To spend at the Gagosian, Little Big Man, Flowers, East Wing and Ben Brown galleries is always a treat as was seeing the London galleries James Hyman, featuring works by John Blakemore, Paul Hill, Martin Parr, Ken Grant and other British notaries; and Richard Saltoun featuring Jo Spence and Helen Chadwick.  Another strong area was the photo books space with publishers and dealers displaying and selling rare and iconic books and launching new publications.

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Paris Photo also provided the opportunity to see magnificent works by the masters including Stephen Shore and Bernd and Hilla Becher.  To see these photographs in the melting pot and hustle and bustle of Paris Photo and alongside the most contemporary works adds another important dynamic.

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Two galleries that impressed with their curated spaces of contemporary photography were Galerie Christophe Gaillard and Galerie Suzanne Tarasieve.   Both relatively young Paris based galleries they made statements at the fair with the works they chose to show and the presentation of their stands.  The former shows critically engaged fine art, has a strong reputation for its women artists and supports emerging practitioners.  I particularly liked the work and presentation of Rachel De Joode’s photo sculptures.  These are works that question form and content in the making of the image.

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Galerie Suzanne Tarasieve showed intriguing and exciting series including by Delphine Balley from ‘L Album de Famille’.  Her own family is the subject of this series of photographs, a continuation of a family saga.  It shows her parents, her friends and relations and her own self in pictures recording the blue-ribbon events of a family circle: baptisms, weddings, get-together, funerals. The scenes are meticulously organised, taking place in confined settings where everything is  symbolic, suggesting a world of obscure events known only to the protagonists.

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Looking for America: Diffusion International Festival of Photography, Cardiff

Diffusion offered multiple perspectives on America and American society through a range of lens based media, photography and film.   The festival showed America as a divided, fascinating and contradictory country at odds with itself.   Exhibitions showed uncertainties, inequality, neglect, social and economic deprivation, extreme politics and lifestyles and reactions to the norm.   The festival does not criticise but interrogates and celebrates the layers of America and lays them bare.

And Now Its Dark
And Now Its Dark

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘And Now its Dark’, curated by Mark Rawlins, included works by Todd Hido, Will Steacy and Jeff Brouws and explores America, its cities, highways and estates, at night, empty, sparsely populated and remote.  As with many of the exhibitions the work here looks at the American dream in relation to contemporary experiences and reality.

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Hidden Presence

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographer Julian Germain was awarded a new commission for Diffusion and in his exhibition ‘Hidden Presence’ he looks at the relationship between Cardiff and St Kitts and the years of immigration between Wales and the Caribbean.   In a rich and unsettling series of photographs, exhibited appropriately in the dilapidated and atmospheric Customs House, he tells the story of Nathaniel Wells, a mixed-race illegitimate son of a Welsh slave owner, who progressed from the sugar plantations of St Kitts to high office and social standing in 19th century Wales.

Other highlights that reveal the truths, humour and aspirations of America included the sightly creepy ‘Purity’, where Swedish artist David Magnusson has photographed and interviewed young girls and their fathers in Louisiana, Colorado and Arizona.  The girls have pledged to remain virgins until they marry and here attend the Purity Balls with their fathers.

Purity
Purity

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work by Stacy Kranitz explores the former mining communities of Appalachia.  Her ‘As It was Give(n) to Me’ is shocking, honest and textured and through photographs, folk artefacts, maps and found objects provides an insight into the communities living post-industrial decline.   Another celebrated work by an American woman photographer is Jona Frank’s ‘Right’.   Here she speaks about American politics and society through portraiture.  Her portraits from the elite Patrick Henry College, a university for Evangelical Republican students are not judgemental but allow the audience member to draw their own conclusions about a school and a youth movement with the potential to create future world leaders.

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Right

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Symposium on the final weekend was a great accompaniment to the festival exhibitions offering an opportunity to hear from a number of the exhibiting photographers and to explore themes and context in more detail.   The highlight was hearing from Hillerbrand + Magsamen about their collaborative domestic practice.  Husband and wife, and often involving their two children and pets, they draw upon the contents of their home and the American suburban lifestyle.  Often purchasing their ‘art materials’ from Walmart they comment on life in Houston, consumer access in America and they re-contextualise their objects, family, culture and home for exhibitions and commissions.  ‘Higher Ground’, shown at Diffusion, is a work consisting of video, sculpture and photography where the family construct a rocket ship to travel to the moon in their suburban home.

Hillerbrand+Magsamen
Hillerbrand+Magsamen at Diffusion