Issue #84  1/17/2005
Paris Photo Crowds Impressive, as Market Goes Through Changes

Reed's show management for Paris Photo again claimed to have an even larger audience this time around. The number cited at 40,000-plus seems a little silly considering that show management had claimed 45,000 last year. Reed also claimed that a higher percentage of the visitors were coming from abroad. I am not sure that was the case, although I saw a number of "the usual suspects". But it did seem that attendance was up and again enthusiastic, even if not all were necessarily opening their wallets and purses to buy photographs. And there is certainly more people at this exposition than any other. It is simply an exciting venue.

If the audience was up a shade, the prices were up dramatically. European dealers that I used to buy from regularly put up prices that were double normal U.S. retail in many instances. Their rationale was that families and estates were demanding higher prices for their remaining prints and that supplies of good vintage photographs were running out. Of course, the high euro and pound also contributed over 20% to the impact from just the previous year.

This year's show had 105 exhibitors, including 92 galleries and 13 publishers based in 16 countries, with 31 first-time exhibitor galleries on the list, many from the U.S. This is still the most important photography fair in the world today. For most curators and collectors it has become the one that they must attend. Certainly with Paris as the venue, it is the one that they most WANT to attend. Collector groups, such as the San Francisco Fototour Forum, members of the International Center for Photography, the Aperture Foundation in New York and the Houston Fotofest, alongside affiliates of Le Cercle du Mamco from Geneva and the Amis du Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, made the trek to this Paris Photo.

Many European dealers reported mixed results, while many of the American dealers that I talked with had smiles on their faces. The material was fairly mixed, but the look was more professional than in some past years. French dealer Serge Plantureux may have hit it closest to the mark with his brief but insightful evaluation of the show: "less early and primitive, more art, less mistakes, less risks."

A common complaint heard from many of the dealers was echoed by English photography dealer Eric Franck, who told me, "Paris Photo is well organized and for me and my artists it is a very good platform. The problem with these fairs is that when you sell photos at an average sales price of US $1,500 you have to sell a lot of photographs just to break even." Other dealers also noted that it was primarily lower priced images that did well here. That means that making a profit here is made all the more difficult because bins and boxes (in view at least) are frowned upon at Paris Photo.

However, almost all the dealers (including Franck) that I spoke with for this article noted the high professionalism of the Reed organization.

Fellow French photography dealer Alain Paviot certainly put the whole show into humorous perspective (at least if you are not an exhibitor), when he emailed me that "Paris Photo has over 100 exhibitors, each with 50 or more prints in their booths. A collector, who typically comes for just two days, has 64,800 seconds to spend on the salon (that is if they look full time, without lunch or coffee time). They can't stay more than 13 seconds by each picture to have a chance to look at all of them in the salon. And, of course, this is just on the wall. There is no time for catalogues, boxes of prints, books or friends--or simply waiting for a sandwich at the bar!" Yes, it does seem like this is the schedule for some of us who attend the show. And, no, I did not check Alain's math.

Some of the action reported at the show for those of you who did not make it this past year to Paris and for those who did but blinked during their 13 seconds:

Helsinki’s Taik gallery reportedly sold 30 pieces by Finnish artists (Ikka Halso at 9,000 euros, Nanna Hanninen at 6,500 euros, Ola Kolehmainen at 8,600 euros). The German gallery Büro Für Fotos sold 20 photos by Izima Kaoru, including three large format works for 11,000-14,000 euros. Le Reverbère from Lyon sold 30 works from 700-1,700 euros, notably images by Philippe Pétremant and Alain Fleischer.

The Michael Hoppen gallery from London sold four pieces by Désiré Dolron (a young Dutch artist who broke through at Paris Photo 2002) for 20,000-30,000 euros, and eight by David Parker at 13,500 euros.

Fellow Londoner Eric Franck said that he has "done Paris Photo since the beginning and always do quite well. I sold 27 photos of which two were over 10,000 euros. My total sales are usually the same amount each year, and there are always after-sales: to date four photos with a potential Museum sale of another five. My most successful artists are Henri Cartier-Bresson, two estates Kiichi Asano of Japan and Geraldo de Barros of Brazil, plus two young German contemporary artists Beate Guetschow and Frauke Eigen. Joseph Koudelka, who I represent with MacGill, would be substantial business if he signed his photographs, which he has not done for four years now."

Similar successes were scored by the Cologne galleries Thomas Zander, who sold about 20 photos including a Larry Sultan at 16,000 euros to major French, British and German collectors, and Ulrich Fiedler, whose ten transactions included work by Hiroshi Sugimoto at 60,000 euros.

Yves Di Maria, who just last year split with his brother to open his own Paris gallery, Art 75, told me that "the great success of my gallery this year was the presentation of Flor Garduño with her splendid images of still lifes and nudes. This is the first time that this artist is represented in France, whereas she was rather well known through her books and has had many years of great success in the U.S. and Latin America. Between the sales at Paris Photo and the exhibition at the gallery, I sold more than 20 photographs by Flor Garduño." I have to admit that I was very impressed with the prints and images myself. Di Maria also sold a number of 19th-century pieces at the fair, including a beautiful Bisson Freres of Reims, Cathedral, Gate of the Saints, 1857, which was sold to Galerie Daniel Blau, who in turn sold the print almost immediately--all before the fair actually opened to the public!

Paris dealer Bernard Dudoignon felt that his most interesting image sold was a large portrait of Albert Dieudonne in Napoleon by Abel Gance. Part of his booth was focused on Clarence John Laughlin. He published an excellent catalogue (in French and English), which is for sale at The Historic New Orleans Collection Library (Contact: Diane Plauche at diane@hnoc.org ). He also had a vintage "Rittrato Postumo" by Alvarez Bravo, which remained available.

Paris book and print dealer Serge Plantureux reported that he did very well, selling about 50 prints from his annual catalogue, published for the show. He felt his best bargains were the image of a blue cat on the cover of the catalogue, scooped up by curator and author Robert Flynn Johnson, a pair of vintage Doisneau's, which I actually bought, and the Nacho Lopez. As Plantureux noted, "Many people regretted not buying these before they were sold. Still unsold, but in play, were a Delacroix/Durieu male nude at 9,000 euros and a Berthier image of a volcano at 12,000 euros.

Paris photo dealers Alain Paviot and his wife Francoise share the booth a Paris Photo. Francoise has typically focused on contemporary and Alain on vintage material. Alain reported, "We have sold many of our very strange images, duplicates from our exhibition ''Vision Magnetique'', as well as many copies of the recent published catalogue, available for 24 euros from the gallery. We also have sold, the exhibited Anna + Berhard Blume sequence, two Ray K. Metzker's, our Man Ray (on hold before the opening) and Germaine Krull, plus some anonymous prints." He also noted the 10 Guy Bourdin early vintage prints, (each for 10 000 euros), his Brassai and Brancusi were still available. "The most visited part of our booth, and maybe for the fair, was the portfolio-sequence of 12 prints by Otto Muehl, on hold at the fair, but in the end, not sold at 16,500 euros", Paviot further noted, "and now for sale at 18,000 euros."

Spanish print and book dealer Hubert de Wangen said, "I sold less than the previous years. Spanish photography did poorly; many American clients didn't buy this year. We sold four pieces by a young Canadian-German Joaquim Froese and three prints by Rafael Navarro. The price range was low, only 1,500 to 5,000 euros."

Austrian dealer Johannes Farber reported, "We sold a large vintage exhibition print by Josef Sudek for 15,000 euros, a Paul Strand vintage contact print of the New England series, and some photographs by Minor White, Drahomir Ruzicka and some others. We also sold an early color contact print of Marilyn Monroe by Richard Avedon. The most interesting pieces of our booth were an unknown Reclining Nude Study from 1927 by Anton Josef Trcka for 47,000 euros and a portrait of Jacques Prévert and Jacqueline Laurent (Paris 1937) by Wols for 18,400 euros. Both prints are still available."

Contemporary dealer Galerie Clairefontaine from tiny Luxemburg reported, "Our best seller was young French photographer Marie Taillefer, followed by Spanish Artist Aitor Ortiz from Bilbao who photographs modern architecture." The gallery did say that they were also very enthusiastic about Daniele Buetti's work, which received a lot of attention at the show.

First-time participants at this year's Paris Photo were the focus of much attention. The Scout gallery from London proclaimed its debut appearance “absolutely successful,” with 25 pieces by Steven Klein, Christopher Doyle and Ben Watts going for 1,500-7,000 euros.

At the stand of the Marvelli Gallery from New York, 14 photos by Ingar Krauss and Angela Strassheim went in the 3,000-4,500 euro price range, most of them acquired by collectors from Germany, Belgium, Italy and Holland.

The Brancolini Grimaldi gallery based in Florence sold four Mitch Epsteins at 10,000 euros, three small format Massimo Vitali at 14,000 euros and two Larry Sultans at 5,000 euros--among other prints.

The much-noticed Silk Road gallery from Teheran rang up purchases of some 20 pieces at 1,400-2,600 euros, with particular success for Shadi Ghadirian's veiled self-portraits.

The Charles Cowles gallery from New York’s Chelsea, which until now had attended only American fairs such as Art Basel Miami, was pleased by the results of its first time outing at a European event with at least six Edward Burtynsky pieces sold at $15,000 each, mainly to British collectors.

Many of the other American galleries represented were a little more reluctant to tempt the French customs officials with tales of their immediate successes, but most appeared to have good results from the fair, in part due to the weakness in the dollar and in part due to the very strong material brought by these dealers. Clearly, at least at this fair, American dealers had some of the best and most reasonably priced material.

I know that some of my readers may think that I am making this up, but New York dealers such as Howard Greenberg, Tom Gitterman, Bruce Silverstein, Bonni Benrubi, Virginia Green, Marla Hamburg Kennedy, Yossi Milo, Ricco/Maresca and Edwynn Houk exhibited pieces that were clearly the "buys" of this year's Paris Photo. Credit the poor dollar, credit early purchases and prices that have not quite caught up to overblown auction results, credit whatever, but this year's Paris Photo was a complete turnaround for the Americans, who are usually the most expensive of this fair. And the pieces that they brought to Paris were interesting and important.

Howard Greenberg had numerous juicy pieces up on the wall and in the boxes underneath. His prices stunned me--not because they were expensive, but because they were so downright reasonable. Let us be clear: Howard deals in top-end material, so his photos are not often low in price, but the prices I saw here were considerably under auction results and other prices at the show for similar levels of material. I particularly admired the Tina Modotti platinum print of Laundry on a Clothesline. It was truly magical. Reportedly the Georges Pompidou Center picked up this beauty for a song. To give you an idea, when I had asked another New York dealer what price he thought Greenberg had on the piece, he named a price that was 2-1/2 times the actual asking price. Howard also had several nice Edward Weston images. As Greenburg told me: "We sold several Bruce Davidson subway prints, Gordon Parks "Ali", three Sugimoto seascapes, the Mapplethorpe color flower, a Drtikol pigment, several Simon Chaput nudes, two Frank Gohlke grain elevators, a Stieglitz steerage, a vintage Martin Parr, about 20 William Klein modern prints, three vintage Robert Capa's, and I have a museum hold on the Bourke White of Gandhi. The Weston pots, although I was very close to selling it at the fair, was unsold. However it sold the first week I was back in the gallery. Unsold but not unloved are the incredible Lerski portraits at an average of $26,000 each."

Edwynn Houk had a great large Brassai nude from the 1950s that was also reasonably priced, especially when measured again the $45,000 Brassai that sold later at Sotheby's London that was pretty beat up. His Atget of Notre Dame, while somewhat expensive, wasn't out of line for such a fabulous print.

New York gallery owner Tom Gitterman exhibited for the first time (but, of course, he has been to Paris many times with the Howard Greenberg Gallery in the past). He had several "killer" prints sell. Tom told me, "We easily covered our expenses with our profit and got some great new clients and excellent press coverage. Most importantly, we were able to show who we are as a gallery--the type of work and high level of quality we want to stand for. We got a lot of attention on work of: teenagers in Long Island from the 70s and early 80s by Joseph Szabo; early 1970s work by Roswell Angier of the strip clubs and last remaining burlesque theater in the Boston area; British street work from London in the 1950s and early 1960s by Roger Mayne, contemporary work by Allen Frame and Joshua Lutz; and color work taken from the 1980s to the present by Charles H. Traub. Also we received a lot of attention to vintage work, such as the Drtikol nude, which was a mounted and signed pigment print, a Brancusi Bird in Space that was even signed and a large Kertesz distortion (almost 11 x 14 in.) warm toned matte paper early New York print.

Bill Hunt of New York's Ricco/Maresca Gallery gushed, "The Fair is outstanding. The best. That said it is very expensive, and my partner Sarah Hasted and I worked like dogs. The bulk of what we showed was my edit of vintage Lisette Model, a preview for our February show in New York. It was fabulous. As of this date we have sold three with outstanding interest; this means we will make a decent profit. This material had been exposed to the Paris audience but we knew that ahead of time. Also it is common wisdom that ironically the French don't seem to be the actual buyers, but rather the American, Italian, German, Swiss and Spanish clients. If we had had a booth of vintage Joel-Peter Witkin, it would have sold out twice over (note: the gallery had a show of Witkin's recent work on view through the end of the year). As it was, we sold the two we had for $10,000 each. This was in retrospect a bargain."

Some of the regular 19th-century dealers took a pass on this year's show. Hans Kraus Jr. had the upper level almost to himself. It even looked like there was less vintage 20th century material. Virginia Green and other dealers voiced the same concern to me: "I think Paris Photo was the best photography fair worldwide, as it combined 19th century, vintage, contemporary and a very good selection of rare book dealers and publishers. This past fair seemed much more heavily weighted towards contemporary. I am not sure if that is the direction the organizers have decided to take or the result of the dealers who wish to participate."

Virginia had also brought contemporary work that seemed to sell well here. Green told me: "I had a one-woman show of work by the Israeli photographer Leora Laor. I was exhibiting two of her series, "Image of Light" and "Wanderland", the latter being photos taken in the religious section of Jerusalem (Mea Shearim). She does an edition of five in a 30 x 40 in format and an edition of five of the same print in a 60 x 40 inch format. I sold 26 of her prints; two images sold out in the smaller format. I have never sold work by a contemporary photographer before, but I am told I did quite well. A work of hers from 1983 was selected to be in the BMW contest for the most "unique" photo in the show. She was a semi-finalist and I sold that print also. The price of her photos in the smaller format is $1,800 and in the larger $2,700 (both prices are for unframed works."

Dutch dealer Ton Peek also noted the trend away from vintage towards contemporary at this fair. He said, " I am a little disappointed in the number of 19th-century galleries at the fair this year--less than ever. And I guess there was a little too much of the same contemporary material. I think the number of contemporary galleries should be a bit less too." Peek did say he had one of his best fairs since 1998. He showed work by the founder of the World Press Photo wire service, Kees Scherer for the first time outside of the Netherlands "and it was a big success!" Peek reported that he sold 23 prints, "not bad I guess, but prices were not so high. The prints are all from the 50s and are all vintage and in marvelous condition." Peek went on to say, "I did also sell a lot of 19th and 20th century prints this year, such as Clifford, Naya, Atget, Braun and many Beato' s and even the young Dutch artist Elsbeth Struijk van Bergen did well."

Expect the pendulum to swing back a bit towards the vintage side next year, although it is clear that Reed's show management has been pushing contemporary more and more for this show. Show management also has looked to the U.S. for many of its new exhibitors. I think these two trends may be serious mistakes, because the vitality of this show, as Green points out, greatly depends on its diversity and difference from other photography shows, especially AIPAD's New York Photography Show. I hope that diversity is nurtured rather than destroyed in the move towards the contemporary market.

(Next Newsletter: November London and French auctions)