On Sunday, November 15, the aisles of the Grand Palais were absent of the usual crush of attendees eager to catch a final glimpse of the Paris Photo fair. Instead, the bright autumnal sun shone through the building's famous glass ceiling, and dealers, used to dismantling their stands long after the sun has set, rushed to pack up as quickly as possible, navigating massive packing crates and the remnants of a fair cut short by the tragic events that unfolded in Paris on the previous Friday evening.
Paris Photo, often hailed as THE international event for photography, opened its 19th edition on Wednesday the 11th of November to bustling VIP crowds and some noticeable changes, due in part to the new fair director, Florence Bourgeois and creative director Christoph Wiesner. There was a refreshing buzz around the fair in its opening days--and dealers exchanging niceties seemed to mean what they said: that this year, the cross-section of work on show was a bit more diverse than years past, and from a commercial perspective, that buyers were making their mind up quickly and buying on the spot.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks that struck the heart of Paris on the night of Friday the 13th, the fair was closed, as the Ministry of Culture suspended public events and the use of public spaces such as museums and athletic stadiums.
Bourgeois and Wiesner expressed the following sentiments in an email to the fair participants earlier this week:
"The entire Paris Photo team joins us in expressing again how sad we were to be forced to close the fair after only three days, which were to be announced as our most successful to date. This is due to our prestigious exhibitors and the quality of the projects presented for this year's edition."
Miraculously, exhibitors, their clients, and the photographic network of curators, photographers, writers and students in Paris to attend the fair seem to have been safe from Friday evening's attacks (though a handful experienced the lockdowns enforced on restaurants hotels, and galleries in the area surrounding the Bataclan). Alex Novak, the publisher of this newsletter, began a helpful thread using Facebook in which dealers could check in and confirm their safety. On Sunday morning, packing up the fair, the strong sense of community among the dealers was palpable--usually joking about sales made or sales lost, this year, everyone was hugging goodbye a little bit tighter.
Even in light of this abrupt end to opening hours, many dealers were pleased with the way sales and interest were developing in the first three days. This year's edition of the fair saw 147 exhibiting galleries, along with 27 art book dealers and publishers, making it the biggest to date (and as such, dealers and visitors experienced slightly narrower aisles and a very crowded book section, which seems to inch ever-closer to central café).
"This looked like a very promising fair," Robert Morat said on Sunday, sharing a sentiment that had actually been circulating since shortly after the day-long private view on Wednesday. Robert Voit's series The Alphabet of New Plants, which Morat noted had done very well earlier this year at Photo London, continued to be very popular in Paris.
"We love Paris Photo and there are really no words in this moment," Stephen Bulger, owner and director of the only Canadian gallery represented at the fair, said on Sunday morning. "We had a lot of interest, a few sales, and a few in progress. We had a lot of interest from the general public, who I thought would return Saturday and Sunday, and that didn't materialise, but I'm glad we didn't have to work--we enjoy selling, but only when appropriate," Bulger said.
Chicago dealer Stephen Daiter had one of the most impressive selections at the fair, with high quality vintage material, most notably a stunning (not too mention very erotic) Edward Weston nude of Charis that sold right off the bat. "We had a successful fair, and the beginning was a very nice experience this year," he said of the opening days.
In the first three days, Daiter also sold a Moholy-Nagy, two vintage Irving Penns from the Cuzco series, and a Gyorgy Kepes, and spoke enthusiastically about the Weston. "One of the highlights was our Weston nude of Charis on the beach, which was considered too erotic to publish during his lifetime," he said. "To our knowledge, it is one of two vintage prints, and the most uncommon of the variants."
India Dhargalkar, who was managing the always-popular Magnum stand (where book signing lines often extended down the aisle for most of the afternoons) also noticed a sense of urgency in the clients who were there for the early days.
"We did really well this year, and what was interesting is that we usually have people come to the opening, but say they'll reflect," Dhargalkar said. "This year, people bought on the day, and that's a really good sign."
Magnum's stand showed an eclectic mix of material, ranging from British photographer David Hurn's 1960s documentary to Jean Gaumy's images concerned with climate change, not to mention work by Paolo Pellegrin, Elliott Erwitt, and Bruce Gilden, among others.
"We can really play with our content," Dhargalkar said, referring to the broad stable of photographers, some of whom were back to work in the early hours of Saturday morning. "A lot of our photographers came over for Paris Photo, and then found themselves covering the 'war in Paris.'" The photographs of Peter Marlow, Alex Majoli, Patrick Zachman, Antoine d'Agata and Pellegrin, all of whom went to work in the area surrounding the Bataclan, were shared on Magnum's Instagram account and website throughout the weekend.
Back on site, Paris-based gallery Galerie Lumière des Roses admired year-in and year-out for their salon-style hangs of largely anonymous material, found success with both attributed and non-attributed photographs.
"We sold two masterpieces--Deburau by Adrien Tournachon, an 1854 salt varnish print, and la Nébuleuse by Raoul Ubac (from 1939), and also a large part of the anonymous photographs that we presented," gallery directors Marion and Philippe Jacquier noted. "But because of the closing of the fair, we have probably miss(ed) around 20 purchases--one third of our booth! Every year we have new collectors interested in our eyes on photography. It's a chance but now our boxes are empty and we have to rebuild to be able to present a new selection (if possible better than this year) for next year in Grand Palais!"
First time exhibitor Keith De Lellis, of New York, was very pleased with his Paris Photo premiere. "The fair was very successful for me," he said of the first few days. "I sold pictures to important private collectors, famous photographers, art advisors as well as other dealers. We sold a range of material include a Luigi Ghirri and some very rare Kurt Schwitters photographs. There was no retail buying, impulse buying or beginning collectors. Perhaps the weekend would have been different. "
Having been familiar with Paris Photo as a visitor, De Lellis was also pleased with the direction the new team is taking the fair.
"I thought it was one of the most beautiful editions of Paris Photo," he said. "Florence and Christophe did a superb job. There were some missing faces that we usually see but enough new collectors to pick up the slack. Next year is the 20th anniversary of Paris Photo so we have something special to look forward to."
But with the fair cut short and the 20th anniversary edition a year away, it is not surprising that the fair organizers are certainly trying to make up for the lost weekend as best they can, both 'offsite and online.'
Visitors to the Paris Photo website are able to take a virtual tour of the fair, made possible by the company Sisso, who provide a 360° view of the entire interior of the exhibitor section of the Grand Palais (under normal circumstances, a service available to galleries who pay a fee).
It's a slightly strange Google maps experience – sort of like a hi-definition game of 'spot the dealer with their early morning coffee,' but after a bit of navigation practice, it is possible to track down the stand you're after. (Notable visual pleasures include the giant, paper-flower covered hole in the wall of Taka Ishii, an unusually bright rendering of the normally sexy interior at Hamiltons, or the face-off down the central aisle between Fraenkel Gallery's looming Adam Fuss versus David Zwirner's giant Thomas Ruff soft porn nude).
But back in the real world, Paris Photo is helping to promote an open gallery weekend in an effort to get the photo crowds back into the galleries. On Wednesday November 18th, the organizers announced the gallery weekend via email, set for November 28th and 29th in Paris. At the time of this writing, 33 participating galleries will recreate their fair exhibitions in their private gallery spaces throughout the city. An initiative begun by the gallery Alain Gutharc, and followed up with support from Les Filles du Calvaire and Francoise Paviot, the open weekend will hopefully see a show of support from those who missed out on the fair's usually overrun weekend hours.
The Jacquiers, whose gallery is located in Montreuil, are hopeful that the open weekend will demonstrate the resilience of the photographic community. "As you can imagine we are not in a mind of business. I think it's the same spirit with all the Parisian galleries. We'll open the gallery in order to present a selection of Paris Photo proposition to our friends and friends of friends who couldn't come in Grand Palais the last week-end, and to prove that photographs resist to the brutality of the world."
Also of note are the various photographic exhibitions around Paris that will continue running into 2016:
• A Handful of Dust, curated by David Campany, at Le Bal through 17 January 2016
• Lucien Clergue: Les premiers albums at the Grand Palais through 15 February 2016
• Alex Prager at Galerie de Galeries through 23 January 2016
• Who's Afraid of Women Photographers? An exhibition in two parts at the Musée d'Orsay and Musée de l'Orangerie through 24 January 2016
• Tom Wood: Paysages intimes at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, through 10 January 2016
• Bruno Barbey: Passages at the La maison Européenne de la Photographie through 17 January 2016
• Philippe Halsmann: Étonnez-moi! at Jeu de Paume through 24 January 2016
• Varda/Cuba at the Centre Pompidou, through 1 February 2016.