Fotograf Magazine

Month of photography in Paris and Paris photo 2006

The Month of Photography in Paris was formerly the world’s largest and the most important photography festival, whose program regularly featured essential exhibitions, often setting milestones in presentation of both older and contemporary photography. In the last ten years it has been somewhat overshadowed by the Paris Photo fair. Even so, every other autumn, the rich cultural life of the French capital is further enriched by a number of excellent photography exhibitions. Last November, an official program of 64 exhibitions appeared in various museums, galleries, foreign cultural centers and town halls, This time the program focused above all on photography in print media.

The revelations included an exhibition in the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie, showing the use of photography in the illustrated magazine Vu during the years 1928-1940. The magazine played a similar role in the evolution of modern French photojournalism as its German counterparts, the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung and MOnchner Illustrierte Presse. Outstanding in terms of its structure, the exhibition used authentic pages of the magazine divided in sections by themes, presenting a generous space for the display of various visual essays on everyday life, sports, culture, dramatic images from various wars (it was Vu magazine, for instance, which first published Cape’s famous photograph Falling Soldier), photographs of celebrities as well as images warning of the advance of the Nazi movement in Germany. The exhibition The Odyssey of an Icon: Three Photographs by Andre Kertesz was a curator’s dream, showing a number of variations of the triad of famous works by the Hungarian legend of modern photography as well as dozens of the various books, catalogues and magazines in which they were published. Both well-known and obscure works featured in the exhibition of Soviet photomontage, focusing on the theme of the Army from the period between 1917-1953. The exhibition traced the gradual degeneration of avant-garde Constructivist art into dull agit-prop in the style of Socialist Realism. Another type of aggressive political photomontage, directed chiefly against Hitler’s regime were the works of John Heartfield, many of them created during his 5-year-long exile in Czechoslovakia. The Bibliotheque Nationale hosted an exhibition of the golden era of photojournalism from the 1940s to the 1960s – entitled Humanist Photography- which included optimistic images with a clear composition, perhaps slightly archaic today, by lzis, Boubat, Doisneau, Ronis, and other French photojournalists of the time. The anniversary of the Budapest anti-Communist uprising of 1956 was commemorated with a presentation of the images of the Austrian photo-reporter Erich Lessing; alongside the display in Paris, they were also presented at a number of other photography festivals last year. Among the real revelations was the exhibition of the photographic scrapbooks of Henri Cartier-Bresson, which featured a number of little-known works. More recent developments of press photography were shown in an excellent and extensive exhibition Things as They Are, put together by Christian Caujolle from both original photographs and their reproductions in a plethora of magazines. This imaginative exhibition, tracking the major political and public events of several decades and their reflection in photography, convincingly showed the tremendous transformations that photojournalism has undergone in the last fifty years, abandoning certain positions due to the massive spread of television reportage while discovering a new niche in the form of exhibitions and books instead. The retrospective of French advertising photography from Man Ray to Jean-Paul Goude was presented at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs.

The Month of Photography also featured a number of solo exhibitions. The largest of those presented the work of American documentary photographer Lee Friedlander at the new photography center, at Le Jeu de Paume near the Louvre. Friend!ander was presented here as the foremost pioneer of subjective documentary and new topography, but also as the author of nudes of striking rawness. Among other retrospectives one should mention above all that dedicated to Joel Meyerowitz and his color documentary and portrait images from the 197❑s and 1980s. In keeping with tradition, photography from the countries of the former Soviet Block was represented only marginally at the Mois de la Photo. Apart from the above-mentioned exhibition of Soviet photomontage there were two provocative exhibitions by the Polish artist Zbigniew Libera, and Laszlo Lugo Lugosi’s Budapest 1900- -2000, working with the much-exploited approach of confronting old images with new photographs of the same settings.

In the middle of November, the Paris Photo Fair ran parallel to the Month of Photography for five days. In spite of the tremendously high rent prices of booths (the basic renting of a standard booth alone ranges between eight to ten thousand Euro, and one must factor in also the not inconsiderable costs of transport. accommodation and insurance), gallery owners, dealers and publishers last year showed so much interest in participating that the selection committee had to turn down two thirds of the applicants. Last year they allowed through the selection process 88 galleries, 18 publishing houses and bookshops from 21 countries. Their ambition to represent as great a geographical variety as possible was perhaps slightly at the expense of overall quality, for while the foremost American galleries [Chicago’s Stephen Daiter, and San Francisco’s Robert Koch), or the Galerie Paviot from Paris were rejected, the unknown Hamburg-based gallery Sfeir-Semler was accepted, presenting new prints of portraits from a Lebanese photo-studio. This time, the focus was on Scandinavian countries, to which the central exhibition was dedicated, as well as a number of presentations.

In contrast to the New York AIPAD fair, Paris Photo is ever more distinctly focused on contemporary photography, even though among the exhibitors were also specialists in 19″‘ century photography, and many galleries offered rare original prints by the representatives of the avant-garde such as Man Ray, Raoul Hausmann, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Leszle Moholy-Nagy, Andre Kertesz, Alexander Rodchenko and others, still works of contemporary artists prevailed by far. Naturally. this was with the exception of the most expensive among their ranks, such as Andreas Gursky or Cindy Sherman, who are represented by art galleries instead of photo-galleries, and whose work is sold at exorbitant prices at art fairs such as Art Basel, Art Cologne or Art Basel Miami Beach, instead of photo-fairs like Paris Photo, Photo London or AIPAD New York. But even with their absence, Paris displayed an extraordinarily wide range of current creative trends from various parts of the world. One could see how Paris contributes to the establishment of many artists: the previous year Loretta Lux and her spectral portraits of children with unnaturally large heads was a revelation, while a year later she already ranked among the international stars, and her new work sold at 15 to 20 thousand Euro. In 2006 this success was repeated by the Dutch photographer Alex ten Napel• with his similarly computer-adjusted portraits of children in water The fair indicated the continuing popularity of the piercingly sharp definition of large-format blow-ups of details of stereotypical urban landscapes (most frequently represented recently being Shanghai, Hong Kong, and other Chinese cities), various types of staged photography, distinctly subjective documentaries, modern portraits, nudes and photographs featuring the motif of the body, or conceptual works exploring the metamorphoses of identity or the passage of time. Peking’s 798 Photo Gallery exploited the vogue for all things Chinese. exhibiting and in some cases also selling new prints of 1960s socialist-realist photographs at circa 2000 Euro apiece: color images of fanatic crowds hailing Chairman Mao were on offer for as much as 20 000 Euro. Today’s photography market sometimes brings the most unexpected surprises.

Vladimír Birgus