Paris Photo 2003, Nov. 13-16, 2003, at Place Carrousel du Louvre, Quai des Tuileries, Paris, France
Paris Photo 2003, which was held at the Carrousel du Louvre, Nov. 13-16, 2003, was like catnip to collectors from the U.S., England, Germany and the Netherlands. Of the 103 galleries on hand, 64 were from outside France, an impressive percentage for the notoriously isolationist French art market. Now if the French collectors themselves would only begin to take advantage of the opportunities on their doorsteps. . . .
Mexico was the special "guest country" this year, with eight galleries selected by Paris Photo artistic director Rik Gadella and Mexican critic and curator Olivier Debroise exhibiting in the "Statement 2003" section. One exceptional find was Gonzalo Lebrija's ironic photographs of empty Walmart parking garages, their cold Minimalist contours enlivened by a stray dog or lonely decorated van, at Arena Mexico from Guadalajara. Lebrija has also made a comic video, not on view at the fair, of a contest on the roof of a law office to see who could throw a paper airplane the farthest.
Also good was Galeria Enrique Guerrero, where Mexico City artist Yoshua Okon presented his Parking Lotus from 2001, photos of Los Angeles security guards who follow Eastern religions and as a consequence meditate in the parking lots where they work. They look like uniformed Buddhas, and the images have all the incongruence (and social humanity) that any avant-gardist could want.
Another shutterbug who got everyone's attention was Enrique Metinides at the booth of the Photographers' Gallery from London. A well-known Mexican tabloid photographer, Metinides has spent over 50 years covering tragedies, accidents and disasters in and around Mexico City. His work is sensationalistic and exploitative while at the same time its intense sense of intimacy produces empathy by revealing human fragility and vulnerability. Particularly riveting is Metinides's Adela Legeratta Rivas Struck by a Datsun, 1979. In this image, it isn't a body or an event that stirs us, but that human being in it.
The photo fair's project room each day quietly illuminated a compilation of contemporary Mexican video works, along with the film Hay Tiempo by Eglantine Charbonnier, a beautiful and respectful 52-minute-long homage to Manuel Alvarez Bravo, who died in October 2002 after celebrating his 100th birthday earlier that year.
One odd video from the compilation was Cuentos Parria (The Multiplication of the Rams) by Francis Als. Quite captivating in its simplicity, the video shows a man leading a single sheep into Mexico City's main square, where they begin to circumnavigate the central flagpole. At each revolution, another sheep joins the queue, gradually forming a single file moving in circles.
In addition to Mexico, Paris Photo 2003 seemed to pay homage to every single great figure in photography, from the earliest innovators and the great photojournalists to landscape, fashion and portrait photographers and contemporary artists. Atget, Muybridge, Cartier Bresson, Walker Evans, August Sander, Helen Levitt, Kertesz, Weegee, O. Winston Link, William Eggleston, Lee Friedlander, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Lois Conner, Thomas Ruff, Olafur Eliasson were all there and more. It was enough to make your head spin.
Still, in the face of all this material, a handful of galleries seemed to be functioning as hubs of celebrity and sales. One such hub was the Torch Gallery from Amsterdam, run by the affable Adriaan van der Have. Along one wall of the booth was a series of practically iridescent portraits of beautiful but somehow off-looking children by Loretta Lux. Every portrait in the series had at least one red dot before the fair had barely got going. Also on view was a striking photo of a powerful African woman by Leni Riefenstahl, works by Yuk Lin Tang and Eldon Garret and a hypnotically respiratory Micha Klein video of his "ideal" models, delicately lifting and lowering their heads while they morphed into each other. A very sexy space.
Another hub was Fifty One Fine Art Photography from Antwerp, run by Roger Szmulewicz and Yves Trau. Only three years old and already definitely a star, the gallery handles several of the West African photographers, including Cornelius Azaglo and Philip Kwame Apagya as well as Seydou Keita, Malick Sidibe and J.D. Ojeikere. It also works with William Klein, Hanna Sahar (recently showing at the Passage de Retz exhibition space in Paris), Elinor Carucci (works from her "Family and Friends" series), Alvin Booth (whose nudes were flying out the door) and the rockin' Katy Grannan, whose photograph was installed diagonally across from the 1967 Diane Arbus image of twins, spookily recalling the Jerry Saltz article comparing the two.
But the fun didn't stop there, for former Artnet European sales rep Ulrich Lang was in town for the launch of his sexy, new, photography-inspired parfum, Anvers, at Galeries Lafayette. And guess whose handsome face is on the box? Yes, it's Szmulewicz himself. The perfume is for men, but don't tell the women who were wearing it. Go to www.ulrichlangnewyork.com if you want to see what the fuss is about.
People were crowding into the Flatland Gallery from Utrecht, where the photographic team of Daniel & Geo Fuchs was showing samples from their Famous Eyes series, a book of pictures of. . . famous artist's eyes. Very popular were the images of the orbs of Shirin Neshat, Paul McCarthy and William Wegman. Also notable was a video by Erwin Olaf called Separation, which shows your average S&M family going about its affairs, wearing the requisite yards of black leather.
Two German galleries who were really looking good were OMC and TZR. OMC's Rolf Goellnitz explained the pinhole-onto-Polaroid process of San Francisco artist Brooke Lydecker, whose blurry, saturated, color prints of monuments and models have a very Parisian-glam feel. Over at TZR were works from Marc Rder's Mallorca -- Island in Progress series. His style of turning the changing landscape into a magical toy world was enchanting German buyers, who know every inch of the island as one of their favorite holiday spots.
The booth of Magnum Photos, Paris, also had a big draw in the three giant color prints by Ren Burri, a photographer who has been a member of the prestigious agency since 1959. Graphic and architectural, the image of a fountain pool was a refresher. And in keeping with the pool theme, cool contemplation could also be found in the Karine Laval photos at Bonni Benrubi. This was a great space for calming down and recentering the soul.
Panoramic black and white prints of northern Russia made by the peripatetic Finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti were selling out at Paris' Galerie Camera Obscura for $900-$1,200 per print. His work offers a rare combination of pristine beauty and a sense of humor, often featuring a human or animal actor in a panoramic landscape. In the U.S., Sammallahti shows with Photo-Eye Gallery in Santa Fe, run by the charming Wendy Lewis.
On the book beat
Prizes were to be had for book lovers, too. One of the most striking was A Book of Books by the Cuban-American photographer Abelardo Morell, published by New York photo dealer Bonni Benrubi ($60). Morell's quietly haunting and poetic photographs -- of beautiful books, damaged books, decaying books -- create new stories within stories. In one striking photo of a book for the blind, I could feel the embossed Braille of the paper and the warmth of the sun on my hands as I touched it with my imagination.
The Cartier Foundation, which is currently presenting an impressive first-time-in-France retrospective of the notable Japanese black-and-white photographer Daido Moriyama (Oct. 13, 2003-Jan. 11, 2004), published a bilingual catalogue of the show that features an interview between Moriyama and Nobuyoshi Araki. It was in evidence in several booths at the fair. I luckily received a private tour of the Moriyama show by Cartier assistant curator Vanessa Critchell, who plans a return to New York this year after two years at the foundation.
On hand in person was photographer Nan Goldin, seen at Fifty One perusing her own new book, The Devil's Playground, just out this month from Phaidon ($95). It got a positive review in November's issue of Paris Voice magazine. Maybe one of the reasons she was looking so happy.
And in other media. . . Exit magazine managing editor Seve Penelas was at the fair, hawking his exquisitely made bilingual (Spanish/English) visual-culture publication, which is based in Madrid. I took advantage of the special fair price to scoop up several issues.
And the new URL on the block, Photography-now.com, is attempting the enormous task of compiling an international listing of current photo and video exhibitions in galleries and institutions around the globe. Claudia Stein, the creative director of this monster, is based in Berlin, where her team is already covering over 20 countries in four languages.
ERIN COWGILL is an artist writing on art from Paris.