ParisPhoto 2017 Ebbs And Flows – by Zoltan Alexander

ParisPhoto 2017

The Grand Palais always starts with the Mini Palais, the hidden corner café-bar-restaurant filled with friends, collectors, art lovers and the media. A double espresso and we were ready to enter the 21st edition of ParisPhoto on preview day, presenting more than 180 galleries and publishers. Florence Bourgeois, the director of the fair and the art director Christoph Wiesner, were our enthusiastic guides. The fair’s Guest of Honour, Karl Lagerfeld has picked over 100 images presented at the fair and produced a limited edition book with German publisher, Steidl.

Guest of Honour, Karl Lagerfeld has picked over 100 images presented at the fair

Despite the opening week of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the largest global event for cultural, geopolitical UAE, ParisPhoto counted on the participation of all major international galleries and museums. The fair highlighted the diversity and quality of the represented artists and works, also proposed satellite programmes, prizes, autograph sessions and discussions led by curators and art historians. It was a definite “liberté non négociable”.

Each year there are unspoken waves of visuals at ParisPhoto that give a second meaning and character to the fair. Apart from the strongly emerging African contemporary art and photography in recent years, it struck me how much juxtapositioning, overlaid structures, staged architecture, and geometric reflections were in focus in parallel with wild and often melancholic nature. After a fine selection, here are the key and most significant artists and galleries of this year.


GAGOSIAN / CURATED BY PATTI SMITH (from left to right) Roberto Bolano’s chair, Silver Baloon in New York, Sylvia Plath’s grave, Simon Weils’ grave, Robert Grave’s hat, Johann Bötger’s tools by Patti Smith / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+

Muse to Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, internationally acclaimed musician, writer and visual artist, collaborated with the Gagosian gallery, which has been given the honour of hosting the exhibition “Curated by Patti Smith”. The artist has selected some of her own photographic work as well as that of her favourite photographers, including Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Balthus, Peter Lindbergh, Vera Lutter, Sally Mann, Taryn Simon, Deborah Tuberville, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol.
Patti Smith has been capturing her every day since 1978, to produce a body of emotionally unfiltered work of solitary moments, death and loneliness. Modest in scale, the softly lit images are totemic mementoes, serving as a diaristic undercurrent to her writing, music, and performance.
Throughout her travels, Smith often made pilgrimages to significant sites, from the River Ouse where Virginia Woolf took her own life, to Frida Kahlo’s house and to Susan Sontag’s grave. These settings evoke the literary and artistic figures that Smith admires, and she affectionately photographs their homes, chairs, beds, and other personal objects.
“Curated by Patti Smith” provides a poetic and melancholic work, a glimpse of herself and her fellow travellers. The unlit black and white photographs were taken with a museum piece Polaroid camera. Smith’s photographs are thus symbolic portraits, the inanimate objects embodying the deep resonance of each encounter.


MELANIE RIO FLUENCY / EDGAR MARTINS The Sky is a veiled red, and the forest has a tinge of purpose in its sadness by Edgar Martins / Photo © Courtesy of Edgar Martins and Melanie Rio Fluency

Exhibitions, art venues and ephemeral installations describe the new direction of the Nantes based gallery, Melanie Rio Fluency. They came to ParisPhoto with a solo show of the photographer Edgar Martins’ latest work, “Siloquies” and “Soliloquies on death, life and other interludes”, on the role of photography in the representation of death. The series of the Portuguese artist was motivated by the traumatic murder of one of his close friends and was edited to make the viewer think about the role of photography in the representation of death.
The photo was shot with a red filter in the Azores islands and was presented at ParisPhoto with excerpts from The Washington Post by Sarah Kaplan about “Othalanga”, the suicide tree, which grows wild along the south coast of Kerala, in India. The thin-branched, flowering tree bears a deadly harvest. It is toxic enough to stop a heart.


POLKA / YVES MARCHAND & ROMAIN MEFFRE Aluminium Smelter by Yves Marchand et Romain Meffre / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+

Founded in 2007 by sister and brother, Adélie de Ipanema and Edouard Genestar, Polka Gallery brought to ParisPhoto Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre’s large-format prints. The photographers already gained an outstanding place in contemporary photography with their earlier work, the much-acclaimed series of “The Ruins of Detroit” and “Gunkanjima” photographed in Japan, both published by Steidl.

The duo is well-known for their images of abandoned, ruined architectural structures, buildings, city centres and far-away places. In the series of “The Ruins of Detroit” the photographers captured for posterity the desolate interiors that once made up a city’s infrastructure: courthouses, churches, police stations, jails, public libraries, swimming pools, all of which had most of their original fixtures and fittings intact. Cumulatively, it is a powerful and disturbing testament to the glory and the destructive cost of capitalism: the centre of a once-thriving metropolis in the most powerful nation on earth has become a ghost town of decaying buildings and streets.
The sense of loss is what Marchand and Meffre have captured, whether of vast downtown vistas where every tower block is boarded-up or ravaged interior landscapes where the baroque stonework, often made from marble, is slowly crumbling and collapsing.

The series of the Aluminium Smelter, the Gast Spinning Mill, the Aliaga Power Station are all the result of painstaking research, ruined, intact places at remote, hidden corners of the world. “Many times we would enter huge art deco buildings with once-beautiful chandeliers, ornate columns and extraordinary frescoes, and everything was crumbling and covered in dust, and the sense that you had entered a lost world was overwhelming. In a very real way a lost city, a lost space, where the magnificence of its past is everywhere evident.”


FLOWERS / NADAV KANDER Water I, part 1, 2, 3 (Shoeburyness towards the Isle of Grain) by Nadav Kander / Photo © Courtesy of Nadav Kander and Flowers Gallery

A few days ago Flowers gallery, which focuses on emerging and established British artists, publishes books and prints, opened a solo show of Nadev Kander in London, whose work was presented in a group show at ParisPhoto alongside with Edmund Clark, Julie Cockburn, Scarlett Hooft Graafland Simon Roberts and Edward Burtysky.

Kander’s triptyque work “Water” was shot at Shoeburyness towards the Isle of Grain, brought us back to his mysterious world and solitude. Kander’s increasingly abstracted photographs describe the landscape through minimal compositions and a painterly layering of tones that appear to stain or bleed through the photographic surface.
Looking at the sea as a metaphor for the perpetual cycle of change and renewal, lengthy exposures and layering evoke the sense of concealment; he experiences near expanses of dark water. Hanging vertically and low to the ground, the large size framed prints mirror bodily proportions. The horizon line offers a subjective and symbolic point of contact between the sky and the waves. One just cannot stop physically approaching them.
“When alone, there is nowhere to be than beside large bodies of slow-moving water. I feel myself, quiet and alive as emotions come and go” – he admits.


CATHARINE CLARK / FEMALE VOICES ForPlay and Potus by Deborah Oropallo / Photo © Courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery

One of the most significant galleries from San Francisco was Catharine Clark. Each year they present a small group of powerful contemporary artists and photographers. For the current edition, Catharine Clark brought female voices to ParisPhoto, Deborah Oropallo, Stacey Steers and Stephanie Syjuco.

Stephanie Syjuco exhibited her acclaimed series “Cargo Cults”, and photo-sculptures from “Raiders”. Syjuco’s black and white photographs interrogate historical tensions between race and photography by restyling “ethnic” patterned mass-produced goods purchased from American shopping malls as costumes that mimic and critique ethnographic portraiture. Stacey Steers’ gelatin silver photographs were stills from her most recent film “Edge of Alchemy”. The work was assembled from thousands of hand-worked photo collages, reminiscent of American silent film actors. Deborah Oropallo incorporated mixed media with traditional painting, printmaking, computer editing, juxtaposed found images from costume catalogues and military figures from historical paintings and layered them into intricate compositions that explore tensions between gender, power and representation. Three new video works complemented her photography by translating photomontage into animation, from nuclear missiles through dense layering of wartime photography.


GALLERIA CONTINUA / HANS OP DE BEECK Staged Exterior, Forest by Hans Op de Beeck / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+

The Galleria Continua opened in Italy in 1990, in China in 2005, in France in 2007 and in Cuba in 2015. They always look for unexpected projects, new dynamics with a will for sharing. In a group show, they presented the work of the much-acclaimed Ozzola Giovanni, Leila Alaoui, Hans Op de Beeck among other photographers.
The Belgian photographer Hans Op de Beeck exhibited his outstanding staged photographic work “Staged Exterior, Forest”. He questioned how we stage our surroundings and how these surroundings become the scenery of both festive and tragic moments, recurring home rituals, and lonely daydream. Using diverse media, installations, sculptures, video works, paintings, drawings, new media and stage design, Op de Beeck created deserted, beautiful and uncomfortable scenes that evoke both peacefulness and melancholia.


LES FILLES DU CALVAIRE / SMITH SATURNIUM Saturnium series, 2017 by Smith / Prix Swiss Life à Quatre Mains 2016-2017 Photo © Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+

Founded in a former industrial workshop in the Marais, in Paris, the Galerie Les Filles du Calvaire quickly widened its programming and artists in contemporary art and photography. This year they showcased a solo show with the work of SMITH.

Dorothée Smith, known as SMITH, is a young conceptual photographer, studied at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles. SMITH does not make mystery of her approach to the visible; the work is luminous and dark at the same time, and valid as an image of the uncertainty of gender roles. The gender issue, themed by philosophy holds a significant part in the intellectual development of her work. Her photographs have a significant echo of Renaissance paintings with a violent approach. Faces betray an inexpressible tenderness, and bodies surrendered in a heat-haze of intimacy sometimes crossed by melancholy and utopia. It is more of a question of metamorphosis than a metaphor.
Her current work “Saturnium” is a series of mesmerizing portraits, melancholic images, printed on aluminium sheets. A new chemical element baptized “Saturnium”, in reference to its possible Saturnian origin and to Saturn, God of time, figure of melancholy.
SMITH photographs people she has strong connection with, showing a generation of young men and women who try to find an identity that surpasses the standard. They go outside of borders in who they are as people, but also in their sexual identity. The results are stunning portraits of undetermined, dissolved identities.


TEMPLON / JAMES CASEBERE (left) Courtyard with Orange Wall and (right) Vestibule by James Casebere / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Templon

With over 600 exhibitions and 250 artists behind, the Galerie Templon has gained a solid international reputation among major players of the contemporary art scene. It was the first gallery to exhibit Helmut Newton besides other established photographers, such as William Eggleston, Robert Mapplethorpe, Ed Ruscha, Hiroshi Sugimoto.

At ParisPhoto the gallery presented James Casebere, an American visual artist, best known for photos of scenes constructed from paper, models, and other materials. His work established him at the forefront of artists working with constructed photography. His interest lies in recreating model versions of places, carefully constructing architectural scale models and reintroducing them into the world as photographs. For almost 40 years Casebere has devised both simple and complex table-top models, photographing them in his studio. Each photograph is the fruit of a painstaking working process. His early work is associated with the Pictures Generation of the 1980s, the title of the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which included artists such as Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Robert Longo and Barbara Kruger.


ACB / PECS WORKSHOP Door Opening by Ferenc Ficzek / Photo © Courtesy of ACB Gallery

Direct from Budapest, ACB gallery presented the outstanding laboratory work of Pécs Workshop, a Hungarian neo-avant-garde artist group between 1968-1980. The group considered the activity of the Bauhaus movement as exemplary, especially in its technical approach. László Moholy-Nagy, op-artist Victor Vasarely and other members of Bauhaus such as Marcel Breuer influenced them. After an early geometric period unfolding both in painting, graphic and enamel works, they experimented with land art and outdoor actions in the 70s. Besides documenting their own interventions, the artists of Pécs Workshop developed a conceptual photographic praxis. The group dedicated their work to the renewal of constructive and avant-garde traditions. The members of Pécs Workshop were Ferenc Ficzek, Károly Halász, Károly Kismányoky, Sándor Pinczehelyi and Kálmán Szíjártó.

For the first time, ACB Gallery presented Ferenc Ficzek’s “Door Opening “ at ParisPhoto. In Ficzek’s prolific photographic activity, he mainly focused on the contexts of lights and shadows, regularly using projection screens to study the change of geometric forms, organic shapes and female bodies under various light conditions in his compositions.


ANITA BACKERS / CHRISTIANE FESER Partition 80 by Christiane Feser / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+

The Frankfurt-based gallery brought Christiane Feser work to the fair who utilizes photographic techniques in her constructed, experimental arrangements by using the interplay of light and shadow to create new perceptions. At first sight repetitive, geometric forms suggest a constructed reality. Feser’s works are not obscured by aesthetic construction, but rather stand for what they are – theoretical and conceptual constructs.

Her series “Partitionen” shows an accumulation of respectively different models constructed from paper, arranged for the camera and illuminated. The photographs that develop from this process are printed in a large format. It is these prints that are the starting point for more, manual interventions by the artist through which the work is taken from two- to three dimensionalities. In Feser’s work, she presented with the paradox of photography as a representation of reality. The photographs do not differ between the real, corporeal objects on the wall and their portraiture. As well, she does not differ between the real shadow and the printed shadow on the two-dimensional surface. Consequently, the actual object and the illusion of the photographed image melt into one another and create a dizzying game out of depth and surface, reality and illusion. By creating various levels of her work, the viewer is not only put to the test, but also confronted with one of the classic themes from art history – the illusion.


CARTE BLANCHE AWARD / GEORGE SELLEY Vault 7 by George Selly / Photo © Courtesy of George Selley

ParisPhoto, Picto Foundation and SNCF Gares & Connexions joined forces to develop a discovery platform for young talents from more than 50 European masters and bachelor photography schools. As one of four finalists for the Carte Blanche Student Award 2017, the jury chose George Selley from UAL / London College of Communication, Photojournalism and Documentary Photography. He presented a Wikileaks related series, “Vault 7,” the largest ever publication on confidential documents on the CIA released in March 2017.
Following an emotional series of “Visualising Illness”, love, family, death, Selley’s staged photography in “Vault 7 “ was not only playing with the banal absurdity these documents revealed but challenged our conception of how such organisations are run. He also questioned its integrity and flung from our often idolised, Hollywood influenced perceptions. He photographed an actor in the role of a covert agent arriving in Frankfurt and presented each photograph with a caption from the leaked document.
“Gas stations are not recommended for fine dining” … “You might have to take the subway to the consulate.”


PRISMS / HUAWEI / LEICA / ESTEE LAUDER AWARD / THE PLATFORM /  Jing Jin City, Glass House by Andi Schmied at Trapez Gallery / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+

In addition to the exhibitors in the main hall, ParisPhoto provided several smaller sections for special editions such as PRISMS on the first floor, at the Salon d’Honneur for its third consecutive year, presenting 14 major projects, series, large formats, installations with the participation of the gallery Taik Pearson, Eric Firestone, Flowers Gallery, School Gallery and Jackson Fine Art.
On the same floor marking its seventh year as official partner of ParisPhoto, the private bank J.P. MORGAN showcased “Lucid Objects” of the Chase Art Collection, the diverse way that contemporary artists challenge photography’s traditions and boundaries.
On another level, the PLATFORM created an experimental forum on conversations and meetings and each day focused on the theme led by invited guests and collectors.

Downstairs, on both sides of the grand staircase, HUAWEI Photo Academy, LEICA Oskar Barnack Award, ESTÉE LAUDER Pink Ribbon Award and the publisher STEIDL created an exhibition space.
HUAWEI’s engagement was to reveal creative mobile photography by professionals, enthusiasts and their photo reporters. This year Swedish photographer Anton Renborg exhibited a series of work, a frontier between fashion and documentary.

ESTÉE LAUDER presented the Pink Ribbon Photo Award with Philipe Gassman of Picto Foundation to mobilise the public to raise awareness for the fight against breast cancer.
STEIDL, the German art publisher, organised a series of book signings in the heart of their book stand with the participation of artists, writers, actors including Keanu Reeves and Alexandra Grant for their book “Shadows”. Steidl also published a limited edition book with Guest of Honour, Karl Lagerfeld who put together a unique selection of photographic work from ParisPhoto.


BOOK SIGNINGS Ayana V Jackson at Boudoin Lebon Gallery by Zoltan Alexander / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+

During ParisPhoto over 250 Signature Sessions took place including Sophie Calle (Les Fanfares de Circumstance), David Lynch (Nudes), Martin Parr (The Martin Parr Coloring Book), Lise Sarfati (Oh Man), Ayana V. Jackson (MFON-Women Photographers of the American Diaspora).

(from left to right) Catherine Baba at Pace/McGill Gallery in front of Richard Avedon photograph of Stephanie Seymour and Yossi Milo at Yossi Milo Gallery New York with Alison Rositter’s work by Zoltan Alexander / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+

ParisPhoto was its upbeat best, and has never been more popular than this year. During five days over 65.000 people visited the fair. Down the aisles we spotted the French Minister of Culture, Françoise Nyssen, the celebrated photographer Ervin Olaf, the French First Lady, Brigitte Macron examining one of Youssef Nabil’s hand-painted photographs at the Galerie Nathalie Obadia and Patti Smith who after finishing curating her exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery gave a private concert later on to a small group of guests at Les Bains.

Top Photo: (from left to right) The terrace of Mini Palais at Grand Palais, and Catharine Clark of Catharine Clark Gallery San Francisco in a golden kimono at the opening night of ParisPhoto 2017 / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+

Text and photos courtesy of Zoltan Alexander © ZOLTAN+ London


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