In mid-November the focus of the Photo Art World, particularly this year, shifted to Paris. Paris Photo--the largest photography fair in Europe, three photo auctions, and some spectacular museum and gallery shows turned the spotlight on this otherwise cold and rainy city.
Paris Photo has matured and developed into one of the premier venues for this market in the world. In its first year (1997) the show took up only one wing of Le Carrousel du Louvre and had only 45 exhibitors. Last year it took over both wings and had 85 exhibitors. This year there were 80 booths, but exhibitors took bigger space, leaving some dealers on the waiting list.
Held this year from November 17 to November 21, Paris Photo was a sparkling combination of bustling dealer booths and two large-scale theme exhibits--this year focusing on fashion in photography.
While it is inevitable to draw parallels to AIPAD's February show in New York City, this show is quite different in tone, style and execution. It is frankly more exhilarating for an attendee, but perhaps less profitable for an exhibitor. Housed in the sky-lighted and much more spacious quarters of the Carousel area with its wonderful high ceilings, the show seems to soar in more ways than one over the more staid, claustrophobic (because of the low ceilings at the NY Hilton) and predictable New York event. Paris' noisy, more boisterous crowds also struck more of a note of a large party than the normal restrained flow in New York. Dealers were serving up champagne and dessert wines in the booths, as well as the main course on the walls. It was fun and people were truly enjoying themselves.
There is also little of the repetitious quality of the NYC show; after all, how many Sally Manns, Ansel Adams, Tom Barils, etc. does one really want to see--no matter how fine the photographer? While the emphasis is very much on the contemporary photography scene, Paris celebrates "Viva la Difference!" And much of the contemporary work is more experimental--closer to the cutting edge. I can't recall seeing the same contemporary work twice, although I saw relatively rare vintage material replicated several times--to the chagrin of several dealers. There were actually three Rudolf Koppitz Bewegungsstudie's at the show. Howard Greenberg's copy was perhaps the best of the three to this observer, but it was another copy that sold first. And two dealers (NY Gallery Michael Senft and Paris dealer Marion Meyer) both showed variants of Man Ray's Trompe l'oeuf and pictured the similar (but different) images in their Paris Photo catalogue listings.
There were a few booths that presented the work of only one photographer. Paris dealer Serge Plantureux exhibited extremely rare work by Raul Hausmann, French Dadaist extraordinaire, including two self-portraits. It was Hausmann who once remarked: "I am not a photographer, I am an abstract painter." Most of the work shown were nudes, but the important piece "The Wood Demon", a photo of the roots of a tree with the background painted in India ink, was a magical departure.
Meanwhile Karl Lagerfeld left his rather large ego for the TV cameras stalking him at the Fair and chose to show the photographic work of a relatively unknown Japanese modernist Iwao Yamawaki, an architect who left Japan in 1930 for the Bauhaus school in Germany. Some of the work was intriguing, but in typical Lagerfeld style, there were no prices to be had.
Zur Stockeregg assembled what they called "44 photographic masterpieces from 1900 to 1950" under the title "Essence", in order to celebrate the gallery's 20th anniversary. And it was a pretty impressive group. By the way, prices on those Herbert Bayer's that failed to go in Christie's NYC auction are now double the reserves (about a half million dollars a piece for the top ones).
I found myself intrigued by the work of Hiroshi Osaka at Picture Photo Space Inc.'s booth, whose eye-stopping large-scale nudes were some of the most successful new contemporary images at Paris Photo.
Rik Gadella, the show's director, kindly took time out of his insane schedule to talk about the show and its future. He feels the show has "confirmed photography is being taken seriously," noting "it is a landmark year for photography in general." And he pointed out that "the show is the only real European venue for photography."
Gadella also feels the show is finding its audience: "Many of the young people who hadn't bought anything in the past were back again--and this time buying! It's exciting for us to expose a whole new group of people to photography collecting. It's easier (meaning more reasonable) to start in photography than other fields of collecting, such as paintings."
Many of the dealers confirm this. London dealer Michael Hoppen praised the show as "the premier photography show in the world." Hoppen claimed with some reason, "If you have something on the walls that is truly unique, it will sell." To prove the point, he himself sold a full wall of variants of Robert Doisneau's "The Glance" and was doing well with a broad mix of vintage and contemporary prints.
American Edwynn Houk told me that it took him several shows to find the right mix for the show. He noted he sells mostly reasonably priced contemporary to the largely French audience, and when he does sell a more expensive vintage piece, it is usually to a German or American buyer, or to a museum. He said he's seen a major increase in attendance since the show began and agreed the show has had a significant effect on exposing and educating the French market to photography collecting.
Some of the Europeans who sold vintage material reported that other dealers often bought the images, with perhaps only 40% going to collectors.
AIPAD Executive Director and Washington DC Gallery Owner Kathleen Ewing said with an envious tone to her voice, "the space was spectacular." She noted that New York City had no equivalent venue unfortunately. Ewing said that the "quality of the audience is very high and I'm impressed with the attendance. We've sold just a little bit of everything--a few expensive items and a lot of less expensive ones." Ewing also noted that the market for photography was still growing here: "This seems a more educated audience than in past years."
New York Dealer Julie Saul told me she was extremely pleased with the response for her artists and had sold multiple images in both the low and mid-range of prices.
And Vickie Harris of NY's Lawrence Miller Gallery told me she had "a sense the fair has been good for us. The traffic has been constant since the opening reception." She gave the show's sometimes inadequate lighting a backwards compliment by noting that "the bad lighting actually works well with the particular artists and work that we're showing."
She was not the only one to note shortcomings that will clearly need to be addressed for the show to continue as Europe's key photographic venue. One London dealer told me booths and lighting were still being set up in some areas of the exhibition halls just hours before the show opened on Wednesday, throwing exhibitors' plans right out the window.
But such headaches are perhaps inevitable and Gadella is already planning bigger and better things. He is launching two other shows around the themes of food and design, which he thinks will help to complement the photography show. He promises to seek out ways of using the venues to bring even more new blood into photography collecting.
And he has already picked out next year's show theme: "The Self Portrait".
This year's theme: "Fashion & Photography" was beautifully represented in the large scale installations from the private collections of Pierre Berge, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Claude Deloffre and Lothar Shirmer shown in the Salon, as well as the exhibition on fashion put up by the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie (more about this institution later).
For me there was only one thing missing at Paris Photo: its greatest promoter--Harry Lunn, who is still listed as honorary member of the show's exhibitor committee. It was Lunn who pushed the event as much as Gadella himself. So despite the noisy crowds, the halls sometimes seemed silent without his gruff voice and commanding presence.