Paris Photo 2004, Nov. 11-14, 2004, at the Carrousel du Louvre, Paris, France.
This year Paris Photo was welcomed to town by an extended family of photo events, including the 50th anniversary of FNAC (the National Funds for Contemporary Art, which collects and exhibits art in a network of galleries) and the biennial Mois de la Photo, a festival that for the first time expanded to include Berlin and Vienna, transforming it into the European Month of Photography. All of Paris seemed to be participating, with over 75 photography shows in galleries and museums all over town.
With more contemporary work, more new galleries, more buyers, more sales and, after two years of marked absence, more Americans, this year's fair was better than ever. Among the 105 galleries, 31 were new to the fair and 70 hailed from outside France, the most since its inception, giving the show an undeniable international flair.
Two special shows
Two important shows had their premieres in conjunction with Paris Photo. "Images between History and Poetry," a selection of works from the FNAC photo collection, opened at the Concièrgerie (where Marie Antoinette was jailed during the Revolution). A visual voyage through a century of photographic thought and major events, the show included 300 images dating from 1903 to 2004. The photographers in this select group included Berenice Abbott, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Jan Koudelka and other masters, but there were also works by Wim Wenders, Allen Ginsberg and Pedro Almodovar -- tapas for the eyes.
It was breathtaking to experience these works in the 14th-century Gothic architecture of France's first prison. The show was obviously an enormous effort -- Paris boasted five other major exhibitions, including retrospectives of Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp -- all orchestrated by FNAC's photo director, Laura Serani. Give this woman a round of applause.
On Nov. 6, as Paris Photo was setting up, the California artist Cameron Jamie & The Melvins rocked Paris from a packed house at the Pompidou Center. The audience sat in chairs, theater-style, viewing Jamie's video trilogy, BB, Kranky Klaus and Spook House,while the Melvins, masters of 1990s "stoner rock," played in front of the screen. The Melvins are providing live accompaniment for a multi-city tour of the show, which ended in L.A. earlier this month.
Jamie -- who has recently moved to Paris, winning a "studio for life" in a special arts lottery -- has a large following in Europe for his video work, which explores bizarre and sometimes dangerous working-class rituals. BB exposes the strange phenomena of teenage kids acting out a mix of professional wrestling and stunt-performances in their backyards using non-breakaway materials like chairs or metal buckets, and engaging in Jackass-style activities like jumping out of trees or off roofs.
Watching this footage to the hypnotic, gut-level throb of music by the Melvins provokes a very physical reaction. Jamie's film takes place in L.A., but a similar subculture is arising in working class neighbourhoods in the U.K. as well, an interesting social blip to be sure. In Paris, Jamie's work has an avant-garde frisson that is certainly welcome here.
The Paris Photo prize
For the first time this year, Paris Photo awarded a special prize to a contemporary photographer represented by one of the participating galleries. The €12,000 prize (that would come close to $16,000 with the current state of the dollar) was based on the theme of "The Unique" and sponsored by BMW. The prize made a point of promoting "contemporary artists working in photography" -- a distinction that was to come up again and again at the fair, as Europe finally catches on to the money gap between old-fashioned art photography and contemporary photo-based art.
Awarded by unanimous decision of the jury, and announced by star art-world photog Martin Parr, the prize went to Jules Spinatsch (pronounced shpin-ahtch, and not spinach, as most people were calling the happy winner) for a piece from his series "Snow Management, 2004." Spinatsch was represented by ausstellungsraum25, a gallery that hails from this year's guest country, Switzerland.
The 35 finalists from 68 entries had the privileged open mezzanine for exhibition space, with the VIP area taking a smaller and more discreet section off to one side. The small but top-notch jury included Paris Photo artistic director Rik Gadella, Didier Maitret and Octave Manset of BMW France, Parr, Belgian collector Sylvio Perlstein, Phaidon Press president Richard Schlagman and Thomas Seelig, curator of the Fotomuseum Winterthur.
Special exhibitions and projects Fotomuseum Winterthur, a photography museum near Zurich that has developed into a respected and cutting edge guardian of international photography in just over a decade since its founding in 1993, organized Paris Photo's "central exhibition" this year, showing work ranging from Robert Frank to Thomas Ruff and Vanessa Beecroft.
The project room showed three chronological sequences of films and videos covering a wide variety of Swiss artists and styles, curated by Nicolas Trembley. Unfortunately, the second film of the first sequence, Jean Otth's Perturbation II: Strip Tease TV (1972), with its 14 minutes and 40 long seconds of static and interrupted humming meant to upset our conventional ideas about television, did just that -- and cleared out over half the room. A little patience and those people would have been rewarded.
Important historical works by Dieter Roth (DOTS, 1956/1962) and Fischli & Weiss (The Least Resistance, 1981) were shown along with the hysterical I'm Not the Girl Who Misses Much (1986) by Pipilotti Rist, and Beauty Case (1995) by Sylvie Fleury. The audience loved Christian Marclay's 1997 film Telephones, which patches together a series of shots sampled from classic films -- a myriad of telephones ring, people answer, listen in silence, say good-bye and hang up. A more serious work by Jean-Damien Fleury, Task Force Training #7 (999-2003), of someone contaminating water and milk on grocery store shelves with hypodermic needles, ended the viewing on a more somber note.
Contemporary at Paris Photo
While you could easily find exceptional vintage, modern and documentary photographs, the fair's real momentum was forward-moving and contemporary. A fun example was Evelyn Hofer at Galerie m Bochum, with Phoenix Park on a Sunday, Dublin, 1966, a clear-eyed color image of weekend footballers during a break in play.
Big themes seemed to be kids, beauty, fantasy, and more real-life reflection. The emphasis was on the search to soothe and contemplate, with less beat-you-over-the-head political pieces, violence and war. People want to feel good again.
One couldn't help noticing what might be called the "Loretta Lux effect" throughout the fair. Suddenly, portraits of "Children of the Corn" were everywhere, sexily styled, smiling in the midst of natural disasters, up to Grimm's-style questionable activities in the woods. The compliments were there for a reason, as Lux portrait sales have skyrocketed. Dealer Yossi Milo, who introduced her work at his Chelsea gallery in New York, told me that he had sold out entire editions of her work before they were even unpacked. Not bad for his first time at Paris Photo.
Milo shares representation of Lux with the Torch Gallery in Amserdam, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary. Milo also represents Alec Soth, whose "Sleeping by the Mississippi" series is a hit, and is also represented by Magnum in Paris.
One children's portrait photographer that was not part of the LL following was Achim Lippoth at Galerie Priska Pasquer from Cologne. Starting as a commercial photographer years ago, he now has a children's magazine/catalogue called Kid's Wear, which won the Art Director's Club Award from both New York and Germany in 2004.
Flowers and fictional wonderlands
There were flowers by Carole Fékété at Baudoin Lebon, Paris, forests and fog by Norman Maier at Galerie Trabant, Austria, giant rock guardians to another world by David Parker at Michael Hoppen, and plenty of fantasy, fun and film stills at Obsis from Gennevilliers, France, and Virginia Green & Associates from New York City.
Obsis in particular was doing out-of-this world business with its stock of unique photomontages by Koji Shima, made in Japan in 1956 for the film Warning from Space. At around €1,300, they were certainly affordable. As for Virginia Green, she was finding a ready audience for video stills from Wanderland, a work by Leora Laor.
Fictional wonderlands by Ilkka Halso were showing at Taik Gallery (Helsinki), who was doing exceptionally well. The large photo on view, Kitka River, took up an entire wall, luring in buyers who also fell for Possibility of the Universal Movement, a photo of blurry badminton birdies by Nanna Hánninen. They sold out the last three of an edition of five at €6,500; the Halso's strange landscapes as theme park were going for €9,000. Taik sold more than 30 prints in total.
Izima Kaoru, with Büro für Fotos from Cologne, snagged the catalogue cover and was also up for the BMW prize. Fashion kills? With this body of work, "Landscapes with a Corpse", Kaoru kills off well-known Japanese actresses, but not without first dressing them in haute couture.
Oh no, I thought, not another photographer doing "dead women in the landscape." But what sets these pictures apart is their beauty, their familiarity with the classic Hitchcockian tracking shot and their pointed titles. Though these are still images, Kaoru takes the viewer in quickly from long shot to close up in three to four photos. This peaceful landscape becomes the scene of a crime. It gives the viewer an awkward jolt; one wants to move slower and digest the meaning.
Add to this the discord of titles such as Fukasawa Wears John Galliano, and you have a smart and complex body of work. However, the dissonance between the focus on fashion and the visual evidence of a supposed body belies Kaoru's statements that he wants to bring the subject of death more out in the open. "Why can't a corpse be beautiful?" he asks. Maybe a corpse can be beautiful, but these women are all too beautiful to be corpses.
Old favorites and new faces
It was good to see some favorites from last year's fair doing even better today. Fifty One Fine Art Photography (Anvers), which for the past six months has been under the sole proprietorship of Roger Szmulewicz, has signed two hot new artists. Kimiko Yoshida, a smart up-and-comer, was showing work from her "Brides" series at Paris Photo, and unveiled a new body of work in the group show "La Photo Ecrite" (the written photograph) at Passage de Retz in the Marais district.
Her monochromatic images, which were taken from the Brides color scheme, had ephemeral phrases embedded in them, phrases that seemed to disappear even as you were reading them. Her work was aptly placed across the room from Hiroshi Sugimoto's cinema screens, a brilliant move by Jean-Michel Ribettes, who organized the show. She was at the center of a circle of handsome collectors from at least four countries when I last saw her.
Kerry Skarbakka, also with Fifty One Fine Art, does self-portraits in a type of photographic cartoon crash that reminds me (at least in spirit) of Cameron Jamie's video, BB. You can see him stair-diving or falling from ladders and trees in large C-prints on aluminium.
TZRGalerie from Bochum was also back with some of those creepy kids in the woods by Ruud van Empel, and Tobias Trutwin's Alpha 2004, an iconic start on a series of color photos based on the letters of the alphabet.
Galerie Van Kranendonk had many interesting artists, one, Maarten Wetsema was showing pet dogs in the many uncomfortable positions of modern life with humans.
Susan Derges, acting as part field-scientist, part artist, was showing unique cameraless and camera-based combination pieces that she makes a night in a process so labor-intensive and complicated that it in itself inspires respect. Her photos of natural forms and night skies at Ingleby Gallery from Edinburgh were up for the BMW prize.
A fun new gallery is Scout from London, which was showing strange and beautiful works, including archival iris prints from the Wong kar-wai film In the Mood for Love, made by by Christopher Doyle, and fantasy rooms from the series Love Hotels by Kyoichi Tsuzuki. Not only featuring a fantasy love nest, these hotels also offer the luxury of space to young Japanese often living at home in cramped quarters.
Jackson Fine Art was also in attendance for the first time. Massachusetts artist David Hilliard was showing work from a series Fathers and Sons. Hilliard makes work that slows you down, creating a calm where you attempt to process all the complexities, emotions and unanswered questions inherent in a relationship, or a life. He somehow packs all this into brave triptychs that admit so much vulnerability along with their toughness. Good to see this work among the craziness.
Generational connections were nice to find, such as Idris Khan's large black and white photographs at The Photographers' Gallery, made by printing multiple exposures of Bernd and Hilla Becher's multiples, creating a photo that feels like a beautiful drawing that's been erased and redrawn many times.
As it happens, the Bechers have a major exhibition at the Pompidou Center as part of le Mois de la Photo. The straight-on perspective and repetition in the pieces perform a type of magic, becoming almost human-like. The more similar they are, the more they seem to assert their individualities from within the artifice of their grids.
Paris boasted many great shows coinciding with the fair, and though Paris Photo is over, the museum exhibitions live on. Many continue till January, so there's still time: The fantastic Alfred Stieglitz show at the Musée d'Orsay, thanks to Françoise Heilbrun; the FNAC photo collection organized by Laura Serani; documentary photography at Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson; Sugimoto at Fondation Cartier; several shows at the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie; and the "Written Photograph" at Passage de Retz.
As for the photo publications, the Madrid-based, bilingual magazine EXIT is hotter than ever -- someone is dropping a bundle on quality printing -- and its director and editor, Rosa Olivares, is curating the invitations to galleries from Paris Photo's guest country, Spain, in 2005. And two small, fun mags from the U.K., stuffed with photos, news and reviews and easy to handle, are Hotshoe and pluk.
And sorry to the rest, but photography-now.com is still the best, now speaking in over six languages to more than 60 photo-loving countries.
ERIN COWGILL is an artist writing on art from Paris.