Thoughts on Paris Photo

There is no doubt that for a month every two years Paris is the centre of the world of photography, and at its centre is Paris Photo (PP), the largest annual trade fair for dealers and collectors, with this year over 38,000 visitors and some outstanding sales, particularly for work by photographers who were also showing in major galleries as a part of the Mois de la Photo (MdP). As well as the two Sudeks mentioned in my previous report, the PP press release also records a number of other large sales, with Edwynn Houk from NY selling a Moholy-Nagy print for 265,000 US dollars. Other work with a central European connection also sold well, with Budapest’s Vintage Gallery making sales of 22 prints with a total value of 58,000 Euros (€). Other high prices for older works included the entire (and rather boring) collection of images from a 1931 colonial exhibition held in Paris, bought by a Paris museum for more than €100,000 and a self-portrait by Man Ray which sold for €75,000. Hamiltons Gallery from London sold what I’ve always regarded as a spectacularly ugly image by Horst P Horst, his ‘Mainbocher Corset’ for 150,000 USD.

More recent work too seems to have sold well, although I think that some of the buyers may be regretting the high prices they paid for some of the pieces in a few years time. But there is certainly a lot of money around for a few people in photography, and New York’s Yossi Milo (one of the more interesting contemporary galleries) reported sales of 40 prints at €6-10,000 each. The gallery representing  Hungarian Gábor Ösz who was the winner of the 2010 BMW-Paris Photo Prize, Loevenbruck  from Paris, sold four of his pictures at €20,000 a time.

There were also good sales of some high priced collectors books, both rare vintage items and at least one of the kind of high price limited editions which I think are one aspect of the future of photographic publishing (when most more normally priced books switch to e-books and print on demand), ‘What Man is really like’ by Rachel Whiteread, (with story by Ingo Schulze and layout and case by Naoto Fukasawa) with 20 copies (half the edition) selling for €7,000 each though that does include 11 rather ordinary signed colour prints. It was a book that had it been remaindered at a tenner I would probably have looked at and put back on the pile. One gallery with some rather more desirable vintage books on its stand was rather less fortunate in that an expensive volume was stolen on the opening night.

Although PP is important, and it is an incredible treasure house for those of us with an interest in the history of photography as well as showing a considerable range of contemporary work, it is important to keep in mind that everything there represents a particular viewpoint on the medium. PP holds up a very distorted mirror to photography, and many great photographers of the past are missing simply because they made few prints, and most of those are already in museum collections. There are many from the more recent past, and many living photographers who have either chosen to work outside the galleries or, for various reasons, have not been taken up by them. And when it comes to contemporary work, the selection on view is very much a matter of current fashion.

This year it was particularly useful in the emphasis that it put on photography from Central Europe, but even this was a rather dim searchlight that only penetrated into a few shadows. Three years ago I was presented a book published by the Association of Polish  Art Photographers, ZPAF, ‘Polish Photography in the 20th Century‘ and including the work of around a hundred photographers, beginning with Edmund Osterloff, born in 1863 and ending with Pawel Zak, born in 1965. All seem from the one or two images in the book to have been as interesting as some more familiar names whose work was in PP, but I think only Stanislaw Ignacy Wietkiewicz, Jerzy Lewczynski, Zofia Rydet, Zofia Kulik and Bogdan Konopka were shown at PP, along with some younger Polish photographers, including those on the ZPAF i S-ka Gallery stand. There really is a great deal more to be found – and I think this is likely to be true of all Central European countries.

And of course not just those. Even for England – one of the two countries which saw the birth of the medium – the coverage is very patchy. I could have done a similar exercise with, for example, Photographers’ London, 1839-1945.

Any view of the history of photography will always be the product of a particular bias, and at the moment the two major aspects from which photography is viewed are those of academia and the art dealers. Both are very much centred in the USA, and both have over-emphasised the very considerable role of US photographers in twentieth century photography. We are still at the early stages so far as expanding both views, both with photography entering the art market world wide – and there were galleries from 26 countries at PP, 7 for the first time: Canada, Iceland, Luxembourg, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia, and only 16 of the 91 were actually from the USA (21 were from the host country, France) and photography gaining greater acceptance in the academic world of art around the globe.

Even in Paris, the real heart of photography isn’t in PP but in the many other shows scattered around the capital. Its at these, shows in the MdP, the Photo-OFF and many others that the real interest lies.

UPDATE:

PARIS PHOTO SUPPLEMENT is now on MY LONDON DIARY

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