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Photography has always challenged the traditional concept of time. A shutter click for a fraction of a second can create an image that tells a story or deepens a connection — well beyond that single moment in time.
This week’s Paris Photo — the world’s pre-eminent fine art photo fair — provides thousands of such time traveling moments.
The 26th edition of this photographic celebration takes place from Thursday November 9 through Sunday, November 12 at the Grand Palais Éphémère, bringing together a prestigious group of international galleries and publishers to pay tribute to the past, present, and future of the art of photography.
Visitors are treated to vintage images from 19th and 20th century photographers, such as Cartier-Bresson, Kertesz, Dorothea Lange, Mary Ellen Mark, Atget, Anna Atkins, Fox Talbott, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Lartigue, Doisneau, Brassaï, Julia Margaret Cameron, Sudek, Koudelka, Bill Brandt, Steiglitz, Steichen, and so many more.
Added to these treasures is work from contemporary photographers exploring personal and socially relevant questions while continuing to expand the boundaries of the medium. And this year’s addition of a “Digital” section gives us a glimpse into the future of an ever-changing medium.
As Paris Photo Director Florence Bourgeois says “Paris Photo offers new perceptions of photography without denying its history.”
The Women of Paris Photo
A focus for the past several years has been to increase the visibility of women artists, reaching 36% this year but still in need of significant growth. The Elles x Paris Photo is part of this focus on women photographers. Curator Fiona Rogers has chosen established and emerging photographers “who draw on their personal experiences and intricate identities as women, migrants, activists, gender-queer, mothers, daughters, and lovers, to create original artworks that reflect their lives and the lives of others.”
Visitors will discover, among others, Sarah Sense, whose weaving technique is informed by her Native American heritage, Zanele Muholi, whose bold self-portraits challenge prejudices in unique ways, and Laia Abril, whose “History of Misogyny” includes a focus on the healthcare and abortion rights of women.
Elles x Paris Photo is also launching a new book this year, featuring the work of 130 women artists from the past five years of its history, in collaboration with Women in Motion and the French Ministry of Culture.
Last year was the Paris Photo silver anniversary, but the 26th edition of this image-packed event is also a landmark. This will be the last time the fair is held in the Grand Palais Éphémère before moving back to the newly renovated Grand Palais in 2024.
How to Navigate the Fair
No matter what your photographic/artistic taste, something will speak to you among the thousands of photographs and the seemingly endless corridors of international galleries.
The range of subjects, styles, and techniques are an interesting reflection of photographic trends.
But . . . how does one navigate this multi-day event without total visual overload? The organizers have provided a solid road map.
Here are the main segments of the fair:
- The principal galleries (134 galleries offering solo, duo, and group exhibits).
- The Curiosa segment (16 projects selected by curator Anna Planas that feature emerging artists and experimental approaches).
- The Digital segment (new this year paying tribute to the continuing integration of art and technology, as imagemakers experiment with the many new paths that advancing technology and AI can provide. Artists offer work with titles such as “Smoke and Mirrors” and “Unhuman Composition,” and processes such as generative photography and real-time algorithmic animation.
- The Book section, with 35 publishers as well as exhibits of book competition submissions and award winners.
- Additional exhibits by Paris Photo partners, including the JP Morgan Chase Art Collection, the BMW Art Makers, Oppo, and the Carte Blanche platform for emerging photography.
Overwhelmed yet? In addition to the exhibits, there are also conversations, artist talks, online viewing rooms (which at the moment take forever to load), and book signings as part of each daily program.
Top Ten Galleries
If your time is limited, here are — in no particular order — 10 galleries, that should not be missed (IMHO):
1. Magnin-A in collaboration with Binome (B-28) brings us more unique work from Omar Victor Diop, this time in collaboration with photographer Lee Shulman. We look at the past in a surreal but hopeful way as we are presented with snapshots of family life in the U.S. in the 1950s. There is one significant change — a historical absence highlighted by a new presence. Omar Diop now appears in every scene as the lone black man. The lightness of tone does not prevent this series from being a brutal critique of that time of racism in America.
2. Polka Gallery (B-1) is always interesting at Paris Photo, with photographers who document the state of the world, but this year the theme of the precariousness of the planet is powerful.
The work of Sebastiao Salgado and Steve McCurry, as well as Nick Brandt’s new South Pacific Island series of people living underwater to dramatize the rising of ocean levels leaves visitors spellbound with the beauty of the planet and fearful of its degradation and demise.
3. Galerie Judith Andreae (C-9) presents a solo exhibit of German photographer Johannes Brus, whose painterly work takes on an added dimension of chemical experimentation and applied color and pigments. Such layered torture ultimately produces artistic treasures.
4. The Marshall Gallery (E-15) presents work by American Krista Svalbonas who photographed German buildings used for refugees after WWII.
Her Latvian/Lithuanian heritage inspired her use of folk art textile patterns, which she laser cuts into the photo. Her recent work also includes words in the laser cut—words that come from letters written by refugees seeking asylum.
5. Bruce Silverstein Gallery (B-11) offers many photographic treasures, but one particular artist is worth a special visit. Sarah Sense of Chitimacha and Choctaw heritage relives her ancestry through landscape photographs of her homeland woven with pieces of documents tracing past paths. She uses colonial maps, government allotment ownership documents, and even pages from Lewis and Clark journals. The weaving patterns come from her grandmother’s basket of sun and stars. The integration of past, present, and future brings a spirituality to the work that is felt, not seen.
Spend some time also with Pete Turner’s vivid colors that turn landscapes into jazz and Dakota Mace who integrates photography and textile design to explore the Diné culture.
6. Galerie Camera Obscura (B-33) is always on the not-to-be-missed list because it’s easy to be a fan of every artist Director Didier Brousse represents. An aesthetic of essence, elegance, and emotion is an underlying theme for artists Sarah Moon, Michael Kenna, Masao Yamamoto, Jungjin Lee, Ingar Krauss, and more.
The Curiosa and Digital sections offer several innovative projects that transcend artistic and geographic borders.
7. Ilanit Illouz of the Paris-based FishEye Gallery (SC-9) exhibits all-too-timely work that uses the minerals of the Dead Sea to connect the three landscapes of Israel, Palestine, and the West Bank. The salt applied to the surface of the photographs crystallizes over time creating a dimensional link from the photo to the unifying elements of the earth and sea.
8. Hoda Afshar of the Australian Milani Gallery (SC-10) explores the life of Iranian women living in Australia and observing the cultural evolution of their country from a distance.
9. Vivian Galban at the Rolf Art Gallery (SC-4) creates an installation that will evolve over the four days of the fair (En Temps reel), with photographs of passing visitors via an old-fashioned camera obscura, emphasizing the connection between artist and audience.
10. Manfred Mohr at the Verse X Nguyen Wahed Gallery (SD-5) creates a musical language all his own with algolrithmic animation.
Paris Photo is inspiring, thought-provoking, and exhausting, … and definitely worth several hours of time travel. Bon voyage!
Paris Photo is open Thursday through Sunday (November 9–12, 2023) from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. (7 p.m. on Sunday) at the Grand Palais Éphémère in the 7th arrondissement.
Lead photo credit : Women are Heroes, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. © JR. Courtesy of the Pace Gallery.