Sunday Worship at the MEP

Sunday morning when Linda went to the culte at the Temple de l’Oratoire du Louvre I took the Metro instead to St Paul to worship at the  Maison Européenne de la Photographie, although my service started half an hour after hers.

The MEP is a great place, and I’ve never visited it without finding at least something of great interest. But this time as I went in I noticed that it is about the only place I found in Paris where photography is forbidden, so there are none of my pictures in this post. Of course there are links to pictures elsewhere.

The MEP is also the driving force behind the Mois de la Photo and many other photographic events in Paris, and this year they were making good use of their fine collection of photographs. I think I heard that there were pictures from it currently on display in 50 (or was it only 15) other venues. Plenty still remained to fill most of its large exhibition space with its major show, ‘Autour de l’Extrême, perhaps indeed a few too many. Their collection includes over 15,000 photographs, including in depth sets of works by a number of great photographers and covering a wide range of photography. As well as many gifts from photographers, they also have benefited from several major sponsors, particularly in adding Japanese photography and the work of young photographers to the collection.

I think an important part of the success of the MEP is that it charges for admission, which encourages regular visitors to take out an annual subscription (at 28 Euros, the price of four visits.) Anyone unable to afford the entrance fee can come and see the shows free from 5pm Wednesday, and entry is free at all times to those with a press card etc.

Autour de l’Extrême
proposed to show images that in various ways approached the extreme, the kind of limits on expression, pictures that perhaps altered the limits of what is acceptable to show. The curators “see one of the recurrent themes of contemporary art” as the constant endeavour “to roll back its own social, political, aesthetic and scientific limits.”

Although there were pictures that clearly illustrated this – what claims to be the first male nude used in advertising, an image by Jean-François Bauret used in 1964 – there were relatively few such clear examples, and the inclusion of some images – including many I was delighted to view – seemed inexplicable. Quite what is extreme for example about Tony Ray Jones’s image (and they had an excellent print of it) of picnickers at Glyndebourne?  And of course, as they state, many things that were at the time controversial are now commonplace – such as male nudes in advertising.

But it was an exhibition I enjoyed, more as a kind of lucky dip into the MEP collection than anything else, with some find work on display, as well as a number of pictures I would be happy never to see again – including a whole incredibly tedious kind of landscape section which seemed a total waste of space.

Not all of the pictures were by well-known names, and there were a few interesting works I’d not seen before or at least did not remember as well as some old favourites. You can get some idea of the range from the list of photographers included:

25/34 Photographes, Ansel Adams, Claude Alexandre, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Claudia Andujar, Diane Arbus, Neil Amstrong, Richard Avedon, Roger Ballen, Martine Barrat, Gabriele Basilico, Jean-François Bauret, Valérie Belin, Rosella Bellusci, Philip Blenkinsop, Rodrigo Braga, Bill Brandt, George Robert Caron, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jean-Philippe Charbonnier, Martial Cherrier, Larry Clark, Raphaël Dallaporta, Bruce Davidson, Jean Depara, Raymond Depardon, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Doctor T, George Dureau, Gilles Ehrmann, Fouad Elkoury, Touhami Ennadre, Elliott Erwitt, Bernard Faucon, Alberto Ferreira, Giorgia Fiorio, Robert Frank, Mario Giacomelli, Nan Goldin, Gotscho, Emmet Gowin, Seymour Jacobs, Claudia Jaguaribe, Michel Journiac, Jürgen Klauke, Les Krims, Oumar Ly, Robert Mapplethorpe, Don McCullin, Duane Michals, Pierre Molinier, Vik Muniz, Ikko Narahara, David Nebreda, Helmut Newton, Pierre Notte, ORLAN, Martin Parr, Irving Penn, Pierre & Gilles, Tony Ray-Jones, Rogerio Reis, Bettina Rheims, Marc Riboud, Miguel Rio Branco, Sebastiao Salgado, Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman, Jeanloup Sieff, Christine Spengler, Shomei Tomatsu, Pierre Verger, Alain Volut, Weegee, Edward Weston, Joel-Peter Witkin and Bernard-Pierre Wolff.

It’s a list of more than 70 names that includes around 20 phtoographers unfamiliar to me (as well as one spaceman and at least one other who isn’t really a photographer.)

Some of the work was perhaps too obvious and work I’ve seen too often before – such as Helmut Newton‘s giant images of fashion models clothed and unclothed which occupied a vast area of wall space. Frankly a magazine spread of the two would have done as well and  made room for other work – it would have been nice to have more than the three pictures for Bruce Davidson‘s East 100th St or by Roger Ballen. I could also have done without an unfamiliar series of large portraits showing Michael Jackson.

I enjoyed seeing a couple of Les Krims‘s fantastic tableaux, packed with little things including bad taste jokes in both image and text – a bitter comment on the American Dream in his A Marxist View (1984) – and Mary’s Middle Class.

There were some rightly familiar icons – Elliot Erwitts’s washing facilities for Whites and Coloureds which speak strongly about apartheid, Marc Riboud’s Flower Child, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Denunciation of a Gestapo informer, Robert Frank’s New Orleans Trolley among them, but also images I’d not seen before such as a Seymour Jacobs portrait from Brighton Beach, one of a small selection of pictures on show in the various shows currently at the MEP you can see on Picasa.

Elsewhere around the show were many images or small groups of images predictable but still of interest, such as Larry Clark’s pictures of  young addicts from Tulsa, Manuel Alvaro Bravo’s assasinated worker, the Hiroshima mushroom cloud taken from Enola Gay alongside the invevitable Shomei Tomatsu watch and Don McCullin’s shell-shocked marine.

One of the few small sections which for me showed some curatorial added value were a small series of images of a shattered Beirut, with three pictures each by Gabriele Basilico, Fouad Elkoury and, in rather muted colour, Raymond Depardon.

In the basement of the MEP was the rather curious ‘Trans-apparence‘ the work of Rodolpe von Gombergh, which aparently uses ultrasound, electomagnetic waves and X-rays to produce images displaying the interior as well as the exterior of artifacts. The display using “holograms, 3D screens and cold light diodes” I found odd but not particularly gripping. I was rather reminded of the kind of graphics sequences found at the start of some TV programmes, but here there was nothing to follow.

Miguel Angel Rios’s twin-screen film ‘Mécha‘ uses the bizarre Colombian sport of that name, in which metal disks are thrown at a mud-filled inclined surface containing triangular pink targets filled with gunpowder which explode when hit, as a metaphor about the urban guerilla warfare between drug traffickers in Mexico and Colombia. With lots of slow motion, rolling cable drums, close-ups of running feet and noises off he creates an atmosphere of tension, but left me feeling I would rather have seen a more straightforward documentary about either the sport or drug trafficking.

The MEP has a gallery ‘La Vitrine’ with windows that look out onto the neighbouring main street and in this the 16th Grand Prix Paris Match for photojournalism was on display. The winner was Olivier Laban-Mattei of AFP with a series of colour images from the earthquake in Haiti, which included a couple of great images, (one apparently but not credibly taken with a Leica M9 at f1.0)  – it appears on his Photoshelter site in black and white.

All the work from the 20 or so photographers on display had a very similar look, with rather bright and slightly ugly colour reproduction, which for me made the show less interesting.

All too soon it was time to meet Linda and have a quick lunch before visiting a few more shows.



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