Forced to cancel the fair in 2020, Paris Photo was back in the French capital from November 11 to 14, 2021 for a new edition on site (in the Grand Palais Ephémère) and online. With 150 galleries from 28 countries, 30 publishers from 9 countries, 58.000 visitors in 5 days, Paris Photo is, by far, the largest International Photography Fair. A market, a networking opportunity and a place to start an apprenticeship.
Le Grand Palais Éphémère © Collection Rmn - Grand Palais © Patrick Tourneboeuf - Tendance Floue
Some 3.2 billion images are shared every day on social media, according to data published in December 2019 by Brandwatch. These staggering figures invite reflection not only on the circulation, accumulation, consumption, memorization of images in our society, but also raise, with new strength, the problem of the Economy of Images.
What is the value of an image in an environment characterised by overproduction ?
This was the central question of the 2020 Jeu de Pomme exhibition Le Supermarché de l'image [if you missed the event, the exhibition book, in French, can still be purchased on the JdP Bookstore]. Why extravagant sums of money should be paid to possess art photography ? Or, as Louise Buck and Philipp Dodd put it, in Relative Values: "How can we justify the commitment and passion lavished on objects which look insubstantial and seem to be of no practical use?".
The Grand Palais Ephémère stands as a potent, articulated argument against the idea that digital and 16.8 billion smartphones are devaluating art (photography).
If you have missed the opportunity to meet the largest organised resistance to Walter Benjamin's critical theory [technological reproducibility emancipates the work of art from its parasitic subservience to ritual], you will have a second chance in this Workbook.
In this space I will collect materials which can support an apprenticeship in art photography: classic art history readings, elements of the contemporary art debate, practical exercises to develop skills (for art producers and consumers), art market data and issues, links on collecting ("as play, creativity and aesthetic practice"), and a review of "Best of Show" from Paris Photo and other events.
In very short curatorial highlights (often with "deep dive" links for those who can afford the time needed by serious readings) I'll propose "ways of seeing" and present key claims of value. Let's get started with a first selection of six works presented in November in Paris.
Tania Mouraud / Claire Gastaud (www.claire-gastaud.com) Bordeland 0269 (43x63 pigmentaire on fine art) - this work is part of the eponymous series produced between 2007 and 2010. The picture is a landscape reflection on plastic used to cover hay/straw balls. There is intelligent opportunism here (it's uncommon to find straw balls covered with this kind of material) and a wise balance in the framing (the landscape is readable and oniric at the same time).
Now aged 79, Mouraud acknowledges with Borderland a quote to the work of Joseph Mallord William Turner (this is Turner's "Snow Storm", 1842, oil on canvas, 91 cm × 122 cm - Tate Britain, London)
Kim Boske / Flatland www.flatlandgallery.com Natural Amagoi No Taki #11 (163x110) - Cunning use of double exposure, subtly balanced, to keep the image readable. Boske (1979 - NL) challenges himself to use this technique on already loaded scenes - his versions of Netherlandish gold age classics really deserve to be seen.
Edgar Martins / www.rio-fluency.com Lipograph Studies, 2020 (40x30, unique) - there is great technical excellence here, and sense of colour. These are not drops of fat suspended in a coloured liquid, but rather a camera oscura "paint process", where chemistry and a subtle RVB light mix generates artist controlled effects. Check the artist web site to discover the wealth of cultural references explored by Martins (he is also referenced by Artsy).
In a similar vein, this is Wolfgang Tillmans, the German blue-chip artist which made £605.0k at Phillips, (2017) and which Christies has proposed at affordable prices in 2018. Idealart suggests that he "exposes photosensitive paper directly to light and uses chemicals to fix the image. During the process he folds the paper, a sculptural gesture that results in a three-dimensional object. The combination of the chemical process and the folding results in a unique aesthetic position". Tillmans is alternating realist and abstract works this selection at the Galerie Buscholz in 2020 is an eloquent illustration of his capacity to move between sublime and horrid.
This tryptic of Borys Andriyovych Mykhailov (1938 - UA) it's worth of notice - it's not part of the usual set of reference pictures of the artist that can now be found in many introductory books on art photography. It's less literal, and because of this, more evocative. Born in the Soviet Union, most known for his documentary work on marginalised communities in ethylic coma, Mykhailov is now fully bankable. In the 70's Mykhailov was leading in his native Kharkiv a small group called Vremya. A persistent market interest on Mykhailov has generated curatorial work on his old accolites and the new generation of Kharkiv artists. Interestingly, through the action of the Ukrainian Institute (affiliated to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) the Kharkiv School of Photography site, which offers a comprehensive curatorial experience on 28 artists and 50 years of photography, has now become a tool for cultural diplomacy.
Omar Victor Diop / MAGNIN-A Gallery has produced with this series (Allegoria, 2021) one of the most quoted images of the 2021 show in Paris. Diop (1980 - SN) is a graduate of Sup de Commerce in Paris, and emerged through the the Rencontres de Bamako, biennial of African photography, in 2011.
As you can see, the image is produced on Canson Infinity Arches 88 paper by superposing two layers: one is a drawing, the other is a portrait meant to "re-enact portraits of African notables who have marked history". A Malick Sidibé quote, says the Gallery blurb.
But there is more. Diop's series (worth to be explored in full) is anchored in two traditions.
The first is ancient art: the Renaissance tondi portraiture, but also, as shown above, the Japanese lesson of Ogata Korin (1658 – 1716) [this is "Irises at Yatsuhashi (Eight Bridges)"].
The second is the contemporary "Black Lives Matter" cultural and political movement. Check out for example the glass works of Kehinde Wiley, presented in the BOZAR in Brussels in 2018.