Paris Photo 2012: Brett Rogers, Director of The Photographers’ Gallery

Paris Photo 2012. © Marc Domage

This year’s Paris Photo at the Grand Palais appeared even more frenzied than its predecessor in 2011, which marked the transfer of the fair from the cavernous spaces in the Carrousel du Louvre to this new destination. The larger, airier building has encouraged a growing number of events and galleries to be represented – a record 140 this year. Yet in terms of content, what still appears to be missing are galleries from beyond Europe and America.

As seems to have been the trend in recent years, the major international commercial players exhibited an impressive roster of big names with extremely strong stands from Gagosian, Pace/MacGill and Fraenkel.  Of these, Gagosian alone continues to rile everyone with their refusal either to put labels near their works or disclose prices.   But where are galleries representing the very best and most interesting work now emerging from Brazil, China, India, Russia and the Middle East – surely this is a prime opportunity to try and reflect these growth areas in terms of their representation at such an important event as Paris Photo?

The best news this year was the decision to abandon the idea of an overall theme for the event – while last year’s theme of Africa worked as a generic focus for the branding of the fair, it didn’t percolate down into the bowels of the Grand Palais. It was widely agreed that the very small show of highlights from Bamako should have been given more prominence than being relegated to a small space under the stairs (especially given the Bienale’s now precarious status due to civil conflict in Mali).

Paris Photo 2012. © Marc Domage

While last year Edward Burtynsky, Rinko Kawauchi and Roger Ballen reappeared on many different stands, this year it was Paul Graham’s new series The Present which caught my eye, appearing within at least three different stands. This tends to be the case with commercially viable work by an artist in huge demand.   Graham is also showing two bodies of work, distanced by an interval of two decades – his early Beyond Caring work (reprinted in large contemporary prints) is displayed alongside The Present in an impressive exhibition at Le Bal, a venue which despite its location has quickly become the capital’s most popular photo destination.

Back at the fair, the most outstanding and talked about presentation was the Archive of Modern Conflict’s exhibition of 200 works from their collection of over 4 million items!   Unknown to all except a small number of people who have managed to gain access to this hidden London gem, this archive has built up an impressive private collection of vernacular and contemporary photographic material under the directorship of Timothy Prus.  The Paris Photo display whets one’s appetite and leaves one wishing to see more. Inspired by his passion for the photo as both object and image, Prus’ eclectic hang juxtaposes diverse bodies of images –  ranging from hand-coloured portraits of royalty, vintage images of the Northern Lights and astronomy, to contemporary streetscapes of Hackney  and cyanotypes from all periods.

Surprised to have been provided with an additional space along the  outside of his booth, Prus made a surprising last minute decision to hang Bruce Gilden’s street portraits alongside some  19th century cyanotypes – explaining to me that he took Malevich’s “square philosophy” as the principle to guide this part of the hang.

Within the Paris Photo context which favours the promotion of contemporary art photography over anonymous work, AMC’s contribution forcefully reinstated the power of the vernacular and was complemented by JP Morgan’s selection of ‘treasures’ from their corporate collection of celebrated masters of European and American vernacular, all sensibly centered around Eggleston’ s great ode to the American South – Graceland.

Paris Photo 2012. © Marc Domage

Three other public institutions – Fotomuseum Winterthur, LACMA and Huis Marseille made brave and bold selections from their respective collections. This new platform for introducing the holdings of major international collections is beginning to shape up into something extraordinary within the context of the otherwise commercial imperative of Paris Photo.

Finally, worth noting as a nod towards the growing importance of incorporating genuine public programming into the fabric of the Fair, is the Talks programme, which has grown in stature  since the event relocated to the Grand Palais.  Previously this was not an area which would have warranted serious attention but with the decision to appoint an individual to curate the programme –Parachute editor Chantal Pontbriand last year and Roxana Marcoci this year – the quality and content of the talks programme has enabled an excellent range of artists and issues to be debated; one which is now proving so popular, it is often difficult to secure a seat.

Although it was difficult to find time to leave the Grand Palais, there are a growing number of offsite events worth tracking down.  AMC’s independent approach to curating was more closely aligned to the spirit of OFFPRINT, which served to bring together an array of energetic publishers – cooperatives and independents sitting cheek by jowl alongside major publishing houses, all united by their commitment to publishing interesting new work by artists/photographers working both within and outside the mainstream. There was much of interest to be found here and a very different spirit at play – a more informal, collaborative atmosphere which was a welcome change after the more cloistered, competitive mood at the Grand Palais.

Brett Rogers, Director, The Photographers’ Gallery


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