Paris Photo is the most important art fair in the world for photography. Now in its 20th year, the fair sees exhibitors from all over the world come together under the soaring glass roof of the Grand Palais.
It is an event which attracts museum curators, collectors and photo enthusiasts. Unlike Frieze and Art Basel, it has a very specific focus. Work by masters like Alfred Stieglitz and Richard Avedon are shown alongside work by younger artists, some of whom have not been exhibited before. This is a place to see the best of the old and the new, where work from American and European artists can be seen next to vintage and contemporary material from Latin America, Japan, Africa and the Middle East. What binds all this together is the medium. “Paris Photo has grown in stature year on year, and this year, despite the woes of the world, has been a triumph for the image makers,” says veteran dealer Michael Hoppen who has shown at the fair since its first year.
Photography is viewed as increasingly important in the art world, and it’s more visible in galleries and museums, and indeed more generalised art fairs. Most of the exhibitors at Paris Photo are not photo specialists, but contemporary art galleries. Major galleries like Pace and Gagosian both participate in Paris Photo. Gagosian brought work by Avedon, Cy Twombly and Sally Mann. Pace, who have a long history dealing in photography (showing artists like Sugimoto) brought work by Irving Penn and new pieces by Richard Misrach and Richard Learoyd who recently joined the gallery subsequent to his critically acclaimed show at the Victoria and Albert Museum earlier this year. The fact that these galleries are now a part of the fair is emblematic of the development of the photography market, as well as the growing importance of the fair itself. 20 years ago, when it started, Paris Photo was limited to the photography galleries and indeed dedicated collectors who focused on this. Today we have a crossover between the contemporary art and photography worlds. Some of the world’s biggest collectors now acquire work across disciplines and mediums.
This year’s fair was a reminder of how global the new art world geography is. Galerie MAGNIN-A brought hand coloured vintage prints by Seydou Keita. Keita is a major influence on Hamadou Maiga who recently enjoyed a solo show at MATE. Taka Ishii Gallery, based in Tokyo, had one of the most striking stands. Black and white images stood out against a foil backdrop design by the architect Tsuyoshi Tane. They showed a combination of Japanese and international work including vintage Araki prints from the early 80s as well as work by Sugimoto and the Mexican photographer Salas Portugal.
Howard Greenberg, one of the leading dealers in historic photography in America, brought an early print of one of Edward Weston’s most famous photographs, Nude on Sand, 1936. This iconic image is well known, yet seeing the work in person, in an early version signed by the artist, reminds us that when we see photographs in the flesh, as objects, they can have a more powerful effect than when reproduced in a book or rendered on a screen.
The upper floor of the fair is home to PRISMES, an impressive presentation with single works by 14 artists including Douglas Gordon. According to the fair’s new Artistic Director Christoph Wiesner, “the idea was to give a new key to understand what is photography today, and what it was before. With our Douglas Gordon installation, we have a totally immersive space. When you come in you’re in a chapel from the Renaissance.” A less commercial section of the fair, these installations remind us of the levels to which the presentation of photography can be taken. Next to PRISMES is the exhibition ‘The Pencil of Culture: 10 years of acquisitions from the Centre Pompidou’ which showcases some of the hundreds of photographs the Pompidou has acquired in the last decade including work by Wolfgang Tillmans and more historic work like Maurice Tabard’s Punu Mask, 1937.
Paris Photo is a must see for anyone who loves photography. With its talks program, its books section (which sees publishers debut new photo titles), its special presentations and its dozens of international exhibitors – the fair is the best place to get an overview of the nuanced potential of this exciting and important medium.
Oscar Humphries for Mira Mira