Paris Photo, in its 20th anniversary year, was an inspiring, mesmerising and hectic celebration of all things photography. It was wonderful to experience the fair and all the participating events, galleries and museums around the city in such a vibrant atmosphere after the horrific attacks and tragedy of last year.
The fair included over 180 galleries and publishers in the most beautiful of spaces, the Grand Palais. On entering one is in no doubt that one is at the largest, most prestigious and important photography fair internationally. Amongst my favourite galleries Gagosian, Flowers, Purdy Hicks, Hamiltons and East Wing stood out. The fair showcased work by the most established galleries and masters of photography as well as smaller and more emerging galleries and photographers. Walking and negotiating yourself through the very busy isles and stumbling across photographs by Cecil Beaton, Edward Weston, Man Ray, Weegee and Sally Mann, to name but a few, was such a treat. The fair was a hotbed of the very best in photography old and new.
Paris Photo 2016
As well as the commercial galleries Paris Photo offers so much more and ‘The Pencil of Culture’ exhibition was a highlight. The exhibition included 100 remarkable works drawn from the Centre Pompidou designed to tell the story of its acquisitions. The institution has over 400,000 prints in its collections, one of the most important photography centres in the world. Andreas Gursky, Sherrie Levine, August Sander and Allan Sekula were amongst those on display. The title of the exhibition ‘Pencil of Culture’ refers to the progression of photography from Fox Talbot’s Pencil of Nature and remarks on photography’s progression to become an indicator of culture.
The fair, the participating galleries, curated spaces and the photo books space, which was a hive of activity, were a significant reflection on the changes in photography, photography consumption and audience engagement.
On venturing outside the fair and to three of my favourite spaces for photography I visited Le Bal, Jeu De Paume and Maison Europeene de la Photographie, all of which had the most stunning, unique and fascinating exhibitions.
Le Bal was hosting ‘Provoke’ an exhibition of Japanese photography from the 1960s which took the audience through political and social change and tensions via documentary photography and the back lash from art photography at that time. The exhibition was dynamic in its curation and mixed media and a feast for the eyes and senses informing us so much about Japanese society at that time. Jeu De Paume had the equally provocative and extraordinary ‘Uprisings’. This exhibition asked the audience member, what makes us rise up? The exhibition explored upheaval, tension, burden, unrest, insurrections and condemnations without scenes of aggression and violence. Both exhibitions showed people in solidarity through times of conflict and the essential role that photography plays as document and vehicle for change.
Maison Europeenne de la Photographie had five remarkable exhibitions, too many to see in one visit. Focussing on two solo exhibitions in the museum, the photographs of Andreas Serrano celebrated his portraiture and the way in which he depicts our troubled times through the people he chooses to photograph. His America series featured portraits of Ku Klux Klan members, beauty queens and many individuals of post 9/11 American politics and society including Donald Trump. The series made in his native Cuba were portraits of the beautiful, eccentric and bizaar. All were contemporary, loud and troubled portraits and yet evocative of the oil paintings of portraits by old masters. Works from his ‘Sign of the Times’ were also exhibited, a series of large scale portraits of homeless people, also exhibited were their signs as messages for help.
In huge contrast was Harry Callahan’s ‘Aix-en-Provence’. This exhibition featured the photographer’s black and white photographs from the late 1950s when he secured a sabbatical from his teaching at the Institute of Design in Chicago and settled in Provence. He photographed figures moving through the lights and shadows of the old town reminiscent of a scene from a Hitchcock film.
Paris Photo will never disappoint but 2017 was a remarkable year and befitting of an anniversary.