Issue #163  8/3/2009
An American in Europe: a Very Rambling (Hopefully Interesting) Perspective On Photography, Part Two: France and Switzerland

By Alex Novak

Fleeing London on the speedy Eurostar in the early afternoon, I got back into Paris from London in the early evening and took a quick taxi to the apartment of a friend and former photo dealer, Pascale Jacquemin, who was renting her place in the Marais to me. The apartment is not far from the Hotel De Ville. I am not overly fond of the area, which is very touristy and subject to lots of demonstrations, although her apartment itself is very large, lovely, bright and sunny--and full of photographs. It also gives me my daily exercise since it is a French third-floor walkup (in other words on the fourth floor for my American readers).

More of a problem was that I like access to a good street market. I have been spoiled since most of my Parisian experience was formed living just off Rue Mouffetard, where Cartier-Bresson's famous image of a boy running with wine bottles was snapped. There you can find not one, but two wonderful markets--one at Place Monge and the other at the bottom of Mouffetard itself. My favorite wine store, La Fontaines au Vin (on 107 Rue Mouffetard), is straight down Mouffetard on the left. It was probably where Cartier-Bresson's little boy picked up those wine bottles in the photo. My friend Michelle runs it now, and her palate and knowledge is first-rate. If you are in Paris and want to buy a bottle or two, tell her that I sent you, but be nice and trust her judgment. While here, go next store to Fromagerie P. Veron for the best cheese in the area (and some of the best in Paris).

In any case though, this part of the Marais still has a few decent places to eat, but you have to really sniff them out, and most are down near or actually on Rue Saint Paul, which is quite a hike from this apartment. Because I need to lose a few pounds (ok, maybe about 20 pounds) and I didn't want to starve myself in Paris of all places, I didn't much mind the walk most nights, despite my bad hip.

The evening I got into Paris, my friend Pascale and I ate at L'Enoteca, which is a decent Italian restaurant on Rue Saint Paul (actually at the corner of St. Paul at 25 Rue Charles V). I have come to like the wines made from the Aglianico grape. Aglianico is a black grape grown in the Campania and Basilicata regions of Italy. It has bright acidity and is--when done right--a big, fresh, bold wine with a great bouquet. Its prices, while rising, are still reasonable for its general quality. We enjoyed a good bottle, a 2006 Montesolae Aglianico Sannio. It needed about a half hour to come around in the glass, but when it did, it was very fine indeed. By the way, this restaurant and many others in Paris are reviewed on the I Photo Central website at: http://www.iphotocentral.com/collecting/article_view.php/15/18/1 . The article will provide a great introduction to fine and casual eating in Paris. I am constantly updating the listings and ratings.

The following week I did the rounds of the dealers and some of the galleries here. I stopped by Galerie David Guiraud at 5 rue du Perche in the Marais. At the time he was showing Pascal Meunier's interesting color work, entitled "Les Derniers Bains du Caire". The gallery is small, but inviting. David, whom I have known for years, also has 20th-century vintage photographs available for sale, besides the contemporary work of several artists that he represents.

Another friend and art consultant, Marie Thevenin, took me to Fabien Breuvart's store on 35-37 rue Charlot. Breuvart specializes in vernacular pieces, particularly snapshots. His shop was recently featured in the New York Times, but the NYT reporter must have gotten a "deal of deals", because Breuvart's work starts at 40 euro, not the five euro reported. Still there are some interesting images here and the shop always seems to be quite busy. But bring cash. Breuvart doesn't take American Express OR Visa/MasterCard.

By the way, if you are looking to rent a nice studio apartment in the Marais by the week or month, you should contact Marie. You can see the details at: http://www.lestudio22.typepad.fr/chambre_dart/ .

Another gallery in the Marais that I visited was the attractive Galerie Thierry Marlat, which is near the historic and picturesque Place de Marche, Sainte Catherine, at 2 rue de Jarente. The gallery (http://www.galerie-marlat.fr ), which is run by Thierry Marlat and Christophe Lunn, had a great show up on Mongolia by photographer Hamid Sardar-Afkhami, whom I met while at the gallery. Hamid is a big, effusive guy with an equally big talent. His large platinum prints, which are produced in Belgium, were stunning. The show was entitled: "Dark Heavens: Shamans et Chasseurs de Mongolie". I am sure you will hear more of this photographer and his work in the future.

By the way, if Christophe Lunn's last name rings a bell, it's because he is the son of Harry Lunn, one of the most important and influential photography dealers in the trade until his untimely death in Paris in 1998. One of the founding members of AIPAD and Paris Photo, Harry Lunn was a true legend, nearly single-handedly pioneering and creating the modern market for photography. Chris, after some hesitation, becomes the first person in his family to follow in his father's footsteps. We hit it off well here, as I found Chris, Thierry and the gallery inviting and friendly. The gallery could become one of Paris' most important photography venues and should not be missed. It has been acquiring and will be showing some top work from the 20th century, as well as contemporary pieces.

I also went to the old Bibliotheque Nationale to see the show "Controverses", which was very controversial indeed. The exhibition had on display some of the grossest, sickest images out there to some of the most important, although often very disturbing. You can't really use the language to discuss much of this, because many internet services are set up to filter out emails with such words. I left feeling uneasy about the exhibition (especially when it related to children) and some of the lines that it crossed, although it tackled some important areas of censorship. One shot showed a severed hand from the 9/11 disaster that was blocked from publication. Others showed American dead from Iraq that the Bush administration had censured. Other times I was a bit disappointed with the easy choices that the curators made, such as "Piss Christ" (I tend to side with Sister Wendy on its boring aspects). With sensationalistic violence and sex most of its focus, I hope that there was a public forum for discussion and debate about this exhibition, but I don't know if that was or was not a part of the program.