A year on from the tragic terror attacks that shook the world and brought the fair to a standstill, the world’s largest international photography fair returned for its 20th Anniversary Edition.
Within the magnificent glass-crowned Beaux-Arts architecture of the Grand Palais, over 180 galleries and publishers gathered to showcase the very best photographers from across the globe. From Man Ray and Cecil Beaton, to Andres Serrano and David LaChapelle, the labyrinth that is Paris Photo had us tangled amongst art history’s finest and the most challenging of the contemporary.
As with any art fair the overwhelming undercurrent is to do business; a celebration of the market's finest collections and wealthiest collectors. This year was no exception, with a strong commercial theme running throughout – we wondered if this was a reaction to the loss of trade after last year's turn of events or prompted by the special 20th year anniversary. Nevertheless, once we found our feet we were entranced. Here are our highlights from the weekend.
Andy Warhol and Candy Darling - Cecil Beaton Reflections by Daniel Blau Gallery
Immediately the most striking stand was the pink-walled and white-draped Daniel Blau Gallery. It showed Reflections; an exhibition that gave us an insight into American photojournalism in the context of the emerging atomic age. The work on show included NASA's portrait collection of Buzz Aldrin on the moon and rare colour photographs from the US army atomic test explosions, juxtaposed against vintage Cecil Beaton and recently discovered V-J Day images by Weegee and Edward Wallowitchs’ street photography. The boudoir theme alluded to an unseen treasure trove of links between popular artists, politics and the iconic image imprints left behind from the cold war era.
Alinka Echeverría, 2015 BMW Residency Winner
BMW France, Official sponsor of Paris Photo, showcased Nicephora by British-Mexican artist Alinka Echeverría. Working in the field of expanded photography, Echeverría developed a project during her three-month residency in Chalon-sur-Saone, which examines women’s representation in the history of art and photography. Taking inspiration from French inventor and founder of photography Nicéphore Niépce, Echeverría used her anthropological talents to explore historical, technical and philosophical links between museum collections and ceramics. The vase was a prominent icon of femininity within an exhibition that looked at how various image reproduction methods have determined the way society views women. Accompanied by a behind-the-scenes film of the residency and a concertina scrapbook, this rich presentation attracted a lot of attention.
Sally Mann, Karsten Gallery
Karsten Gallery presented Sally Mann’s atmospheric 1990’s Deep South landscapes. Unsurprisingly Mann’s ghostly images taken from Civil War battlefields and southern American woodland had collectors in a frenzy and were leaving the exhibition quicker than we could view them. Nevertheless we felt our hairs stand on end when faced with the rare opportunity to examine the imperfections in Mann’s work, created from the aging glass plates of her collodion photographic method. The uncontrolled mildew intrusion and misaligned lens elements that interfere in Mann’s wet-plate process expose dark spots and wash a melancholic haze over her subjects to create an effect that says more about the subjects' past than present.
Noémie Goudal in PRISME sector at Paris Photo 2016
Noémie Goudal’s enormous triptych Les Mechaniques explores new territories between photography, sculpture and performance within the context of a tropical forest. The piece is made up of multiple mirror facets assembled in a frame within the landscape and which have then been re-angled to reflect the surroundings and dissect the plant formations. Perplexing as it sounds Goudal’s work questions the proximities of fact and fiction. It is meant to trick the eyes as she tests our understanding of the photographic language through these landscape installations.
From the project Phenomena by Phenomena Collective
The Eyes Have It: Talk – Phenomena Collective We took some time out from the hustle and bustle of the main fair to listen to photographers Helles Eriksen, Tobias Selnaes Markussen and Sara Brincher talk about Phenomena: A photobook about UFO and alien encounters. Through their investigative journey in the states of New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, the Copenhagen collective documented what they described as an alternative religion - where neither God nor mankind are the centre of the universe. The photobook takes its reader on a journey through portraits of alien eyewitnesses, objects touched by extraterrestrials and compelling CIA evidence. The collective’s passionate presentation perfectly explained the motive behind the work as not an attempt to convince non-believers but as a project that seeks to understand the UFO phenomena from an unbiased perspective - on a deeper level, looking at humankind’s eternal desire to search for purpose, and fear of meaninglessness.
When it came to photobooks there were more than you could ever ask for. Drowning in the crowds of people rushing to get a signed copy from their favourite photographer; this section of the fair was almost impossible to navigate.
Photobook section at Paris Photo 2016
We got our book fix later in the evening when we took a trip over to Polycopies – a boat dedicated to the art of the photobook. Polycopies came with glowing recommendations for its more intimate atmosphere than the main fair. We got talking to Marco Tiberio from Defrost Studio about the project “Immo Refugee”. The zine looks at hand-made homes in refugee camps in Calais. A sensitive subject executed with an ironic twist. Tiberio uses crude typography and a cheap real-estate brochure aesthetic to advertise the Calais camp homes. A timely publication and a light-hearted approach that looks at humanity's ability to prevail in even the most impoverished circumstances.
Immo Refugee by Defrost Studio
We also managed to make a half-day trip to Offprint at the Beaux-Arts de Paris but could have easily spent a lot more time in here. The endless sea of bound and stitched publications had us both considering how the photobook had emerged as a keystone for the revival of the physical book itself, whilst the community atmosphere amongst the stalls championed the case for the artist’s integrity within the commercially driven art world.
On our final stop we bumped into Murray Ballard who was signing his recently published book “The Prospect of Immortality” by GOST, a fascinating look into the world of Cryonics – the process of freezing the human body after death in the hope that scientific advances might one day restore life.
Murray Ballard Patient Care Bay (Bigfoot dewar being filled with liquid nitrogen), Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA. October 2006.
Paris Photo continues to show the best in lens-based media, along with some thought-provoking talks. Expanding the field of photography was a topical subject. Overall we found the fair to be an honest reflection of how the photographic medium is continuously being pushed forward as an art form. But is there still a divide between art and photography?
By Katrina Houghton and Bryan Beresford.
The next Paris Photo will be from 9th - 12th November 2017. More information can be found here.