Fotograf Magazine

Galerie Vu´ in Prague

One of the Czech Republic’s most prominent galleries recently hosted an exhibit from the largest private photography gallery in Paris, Galerie VU’. The exhibit at Prague’s Langhans Gallery was prepared by Galerie VU’ art director Christian Cajolle and its director Gilou Le Gruiec. Cajolle came to Prague to open the exhibit, using the occasion to present the gallery’s history and its current direction. He also gave visitors a tour of the exhibit. Galerie VU’ was established as an exhibit space for the agency of the same name, which was founded in 1986. Its name refers to the historical weekly magazine Libération, which was published in the 1920s and ’30s and which was among the first to publish art photography at an adequate quality. The gallery occupies a large industrial space in the Marais neighbourhood near the Bastille in the centre of Paris. Besides organising regular exhibits, collecting photographic works and seeking emerging talent, the gallery also facilitates ”its“ artists’ cooperation with the press, publishers, advertising agencies and cultural institutions. It generates its income by selling ”objects“, Cajolle’s expression for photographic works being exhibited.
The selection of artists is not limited by any particular themes; the only criterion is the presence of a consistent and original style and above all a specific photographic vision – that is, the ability to see and capture reality in a new way. Looking at the gallery’s collections, it is evident that indeed the main gauge is artistic quality. What is more, it seems to have the ability to detect emerging talent very early on. The gallery’s collection includes works by Swiss photographer Gotthard Schuh (1897-1969), a legend of documentary photography who, after being temporarily forgotten, was rediscovered at the ”International Meeting of Photography“ in Arles in 1999. Besides his ability to spot intriguing compositions, Schuh is also known as the first photographer to present his works on an aluminium mat with a wooden underlay, which set them away from the wall (at his retrospective in 1967). The gallery is very particular about its exhibiting style; the preparation and exhibiting of ”objects“ is always based on an agreement between the artist and the curator. Cajolle mentioned in his presentation that interest in gallery presentation is a fairly recent development, as the method of exhibiting photography had always been viewed as something marginal and additional. Until recently, the 30×40 cm format prevailed, along with white background and a wooden frame. Another legend is Anita Conti, a French scientist whose scientific interest and her love for the sea blend with her interest in photography. Although (or possibly because) she was a total photographic amateur, it is her special vision that makes her works so intriguing. This oceanographer created her photographic works over the period of several decades, her photographs were published in the media and in books and the prices of the few original images still available have soared. The third artist featured in the selection exhibited in the basement space is the recently deceased Christer Strömholm, a representative of classic Swedish photography whose original approach to documentary photography influenced generations of (not only) Scandinavian photographers to come – among his followers is Anders Petersen, whose works were recently presented at a solo exhibit in Langhans and who is also represented in this selection. Looking at the portrait shots from Paris’ Pigalle square, we come to realise that the most fascinating thing about his works is the special stubbornness with which he somehow captures extreme situations and events.Among the most important artists discovered by the gallery are Michael Ackerman, Laurence Leblanc, Mathieu Pernot, Hiroto Fujimoto and J.H. Engström. Ackerman’s work is given a whole separate exhibition room. Christian Caujolle described his first encounter with this American artist (b. 1967) in a catalogue focusing on his photographs from Benares, India (End Time City, Scalo Zurich – Berlin – NY, 1999), which was published by Galerie VU’. Caujolle describes how the very first Ackerman photo he saw immediately drew his interest, thanks to its strange panoramic “eccentricity” which was entirely free of the formalism typical for many photographers of that time and which betrayed the artist’s exceptional ability to adjust the form to his own way of seeing things. Ackerman is indeed a radical in his working with form – he does not hesitate to blur his photographs to the point where they are barely discernible, he radically incorporates motion into his shots by shifting the camera in all directions and thus creating his own clearly recognisable world of emotional visual poetry. We can see his complete works thanks to a DVD at the exhibit showing all his photographs to musical accompaniment. The photographs by Laurence Leblanc (b. in France 1967) produce a simi- lar, yet more disencumbered impression. The exhibited series on Cambodia excels in showing the dissolving silhouettes of slightly backlit figures, mainly those of children, which despite their poetic character still communicate about the cruelties which the children have experienced. These two artists show that a specific and visually distinct vision can co-exist with the depiction of scenes of cruelty without slipping into awkward formalism. The defor- mation, however, has to be explicit and sufficiently justified, not shrou- ded in layers of vague ideas of the artist’s ”true“ personal expression.
Less space is dedicated to the other authors. Spain’s Isabel Munoz (b. 1951) focuses on themes of the body and dance and the important role these play in Spanish life. Munoz depicts sensuous details of the intertwined bodies of tango dancers and of women in dance poses. She shows how subtle meanings that are otherwise impossible to capture can be communicated through the body. Spanish grace emanates also from the works by her compatriot Cristina García Roder (b. 1949), who documents landscape rituals. Her photograph from the series Hidden Spain shows a theatrically secret gathering of people during harvest; the image’s meaning goes far beyond a mere depiction of village customs. The exhibit’s third Spanish photographer is presented purely through his portrait works; Virxilio Vieitez (b. 1930) draws on the tradition of travelling photographers, roaming the whole of Spain with his ”gear“ and capturing many of its inhabitants, who usually pose in landscapes with abundant vegetation. Vieitez’s style is another example of the ”amateur“ approach currently (and rightfully) appreciated for its unusual artistic value. The portraits by French artist Richard Dumas (b. 1959) excel in their meticulous work with light. His series of small square-format images gives us an insight into his work with models; Dumas creates slightly mysterious, seductive visual images of arts personalities that sometimes become their iconic image.
The colour photos on the gallery’s ground floor showed a host of different approaches to colour in photography. A large-format print by the young French artist Léa Crespi (b. 1978), which was used on the exhibit posters and invitations, captures a slightly blurred female figure passing through an industrial interior. The figure is the artist herself, confronting her body with large industrial spaces and other sites in a state of constant change. Compared with the rest of the exhibit, this section makes a somewhat awkward impression. One reason may be that, after seeking out images that in one way or another work with a documentary theme (however much they may be challenging it as a category or significantly blurring its boundaries), the diversity of colour photographs appears to hover in a vacuum. It occurs to me that this could be because they break the exhibition’s unifying line – a particular way of balancing between a specific photographic vision and an effort to tell something about reality – which I subconsciously constructed on my way through the exhibit. Precisely such a unifying line (which does not have to be too obvious) is essential for exhibits that present such a large number of artists; it keeps the diversity from being too distracting. I do think, however, that the curators were successful in that their selection provides us with an insight into the exciting workings of a gallery with significant influence on the world of contemporary photography and which cultivates our understanding of our world.

lenka dolanová