The Annual gathering of the photographic art and publishing industry is drawing to a close in Paris as I write, Paris Photo runs over four days at the Carousel du Louvre and houses stands from most of the major photographic art dealers and publishers as well as the stands of photo agencies Magnum and Vu. This is not the place to see street photography but as I was heading home from a commission in Lyon I dropped in for a couple of days to see what was what.
Paris Photo is all about the photograph as commodity, its about editions and above all its about the red dots that signify a sale. A NY dealer I spoke to about a Simon Norfolk print knew how much it was and how big the edition was but not that it was a scene from Kabul, Afghanistan taken in 2004.
I recently purchased Simon Roberts We English so it was nice to see my favorite image of the Paragliders from the book as a large print. I also saw prints from Amy Steins Domesticated project which I still love despite finding out they are constructed using stuffed animals.
New discoveries for me were Evelyn Hoffer “the most famous ‘unknown’ photographer in America” as described in a 1987 professional photo journal, I was tempted to buy this beautiful image she made in Dublin but found myself 6000 euros short....Steidl have produced a beautiful book of her work.
From Japan I loved the work of Ken Kitano, black and white images from his editioned book Flow and Fusion that use long exposures to record the movement of people and objects, mostly in urban environments.
And finally the work that excited me most by its originality and beautiful referencing of ancient chinese scrolls was the composited images of Yao Lu at the 798 Photo Gallery stand. I encountered a slight language barrier in enquiring about the work but these tall images in the format of Chinese illustrated scrolls appeared to be commenting on the changes to the Chinese landscape brought about by the massive industrialisation of the country. The traditional beautiful vision of the Chinese landscape is replaced by piles of rubble, hills covered by weed inhibiting fabric and populated by uniformed solders walking in the snow.
Those of you who know me will be surprised by this last choice as I am generally pretty critical of composited images but that was probably the most enjoyable aspect of my visit to Paris Photo, it forced me to consider the work of photographers outside my own field and thereby reminded me of the wider photographic context within which street photography exists.
It has to be said that there was no street photography represented at all that was taken in the last forty years, there were lovely prints by the late Helen Levitt as well as all the collectable names, Erwitt, Frank, Bresson etc. But it was a stark reminder of the fact that street photography is very much excluded from both the art and publishing world.
Finally I wanted to mention the presence of documentary photographic agencies like Vu and Magnum at a photographic art festival, I found it a little uncomfortable to see images from the worlds trouble spots, where people are struggling and suffering on a fairly daily basis, hanging in a gallery environment with red dots under them. I think the jury is still out in my own mind on this one, and I would be interested to hear your opinions. I remember some years ago a debate about this arising from the 'beautiful' black and white images of famine made by Sebastiao Salgado. The Magnum photographer Antoine d Agata presents his documentary images in groups, they are in small black frames and heavily vignetted and the piece I saw at Paris Photo about Gaza was given a green/yellow color cast. To me this raises some interesting questions about the degree to which documentary photographers will 'package' their work for the art market, for print sales....is this really compatible with the responsibility they have to those their images portray? To what extent does this manipulation for aesthetic effect compromise them as documents of a real historical occurrence?
Certainly many traditional documentary photographers have taken up the 10x8 plate camera or sought other ways of engaging with an audience, Luc Delahayes History project is a good example of a photojournalist breaking the mould but retaining his documentary credibility. Delahayes huge prints were on sale for $15,000 each when they first went on sale in NYC and he now refers to himself as an artist...
"At the heart of the discussion was the financial and artistic crisis that photojournalism is currently going through.
On the financial side, few magazines any longer commission photographers to go off for several months and produce an "essay". So, to consolidate their careers, photojournalists are inevitably looking to book production and the galleries.
On the aesthetic side, many photographers are going through a soul-searching similar to that of painters in the late 1800s when, for some at least, photography made figurative, naturalistic work redundant"
Strangely this quote is from the facebook page for his History Project.