"A great edition of the fair and fantastic classic photography on offer". That was the opinion of most of the exhibitors, collectors and curators I spoke to as the 21st edition of Paris Photo drew to its close on the 12th of November. The fair also set a new attendance record with 64,542 visitors over five days, up 4.1 % from last year.
There was also a much better atmosphere this year. Last year saw the commemorations of the attacks the year before and some six hours before the fair opened the results of the American election came in. Trump's victory stunned most people, especially Americans, who largely refrained from buying. According to some reports I have had from stateside dealers, some still haven't entirely snapped out of it. Nevertheless, the Americans were buying this year at Paris Photo, and many exhibitors noted new collectors coming on board, not just from the US, but also from Europe and Asia.
Equally important for the exhibitors were the increased numbers of curators who came to the fair, well over a hundred this year, from Europe, North and South America, the Middle East and Asia, which proves the fair's stature within the photography world.
While the quality of the works on offer at the fair is always high (with a few exceptions), the emphasis changes slightly from year to year. Last year, the contemporary work was more prominent, while this year it was the vintage work that stood out. Not that there wasn't some very good contemporary work on show--and there was--but there was no new star to emerge, seemingly out of nowhere.
Paris Photo grows ever so slightly every year. In addition to the 189 exhibitors from 30 different countries, there was also a range of special exhibits, including "Prismes", the J P Morgan Art Collection, and The Leica Oscar Barnack Award, among others.
Also, a new film section was added this year. As director Florence Bourgeois told The Art Newspaper, "There was a desire to open up to films for a long time and the Grand Palais is lucky enough to have a gorgeous cinema on its grounds that belongs to MK2". The program included nine films, plus video works by Vanessa Beecroft and Laura Henno.
While all this was good and interesting, a number of exhibitors and visitors told me that they felt that the fair had become too big, with simply too much to take in. That it could do with a haircut of some 20-30 exhibitors. It's anyone's guess if the size of the fair had an adverse effect on sales for some exhibitors. But many could report extremely strong sales this year, including Howard Greenberg. The sale of the FSA Archive by Greenberg may have been the biggest sale of the fair.
Greenberg told me, "I have had the archive in the gallery for about six years, but I haven't really pushed very hard to sell it. I always try to have something exciting on the sidewall of the stand. I was thinking about Walker Evans following on from the Pompidou show, but it's really hard to gather Evans prints of the highest quality. Then the FSA archive became more timely, simply because Steidl was republishing Hank O'Neal's book "A Vision Shared", the first really great book on the FSA. Hank is a great friend of mine, and I purchased the archive from him some years ago. We were really pleased with the display. I was kind of surprised that it didn't sell to an institution but to a private client."
Greenberg was pleased with this year's edition. "I thought it was terrific, just about the best fair we've ever had, both in terms of the quality and the variety of exhibitors. I'm biased of course, since I'm on the committee. Being on the selection committee is an imperfect science but I think that each year we hone it down a little bit better. Everybody I spoke to was very thrilled with it. There was a lot of energy and it was especially nice as there was a tremendous amount of business going on. The programming seems to improve. I think the "Prismes" section needs a little work, to figure out how to get more people up there to see the exhibitions. But the quality was high. What else? I think the food could be better! But we talk about that every year! Apart from that, I think we have peaked with the number of exhibitors and it might not be a bad idea to have fewer."
Some exhibitors were more than pleasantly surprised by amount of sales they had achieved this year and Greenberg commented, "I think there's a little bit of a perfect storm going on in Europe right now, particularly in France because of Macron. The economy, for people with money, seems to be really good, the stock market being up and all that. I think photography continues to grow in stature in Europe. It's much more a growth market in Europe than in the US right now. We had a great fair, but we had a great fair last year also. The gross total was slightly higher, and we always do well in Paris. We have great clients in Paris and across Europe. I stick to my mission of showing primarily vintage photography and a few contemporary photographers I believe in, and the formula seems to work well in Europe."
Chicago-based Stephen Daiter Gallery showed an impressive selection of works by Aaron Siskind, Robert Frank, Kenneth Josephson, Josef Sudek among others, plus a wall with prints by Martin Parr. Daiter told me, "It's been a good fair for us. We had a number of new clients, French and Belgian, and that's pretty new for us. We sell mainly to Americans and we had our usual clients coming to us. Usually the buyers are people that we know who have travelled from the States. This time it's mostly been new people, even new people from Chicago. Our sales are usually around a third to non-Americans, this time it's been roughly 60% Europeans. We sold a Brassaï, a large Kertesz, an important Minor White, a nice Siskind on masonite mount, a range of good, museum quality pieces. The Martin Parr wall gathered a lot of interest and we sold three prints, so yes, we're pleased."
Augusta Edwards also noticed some changes this year, "I get the impression that many leading American collectors have reached their capacity or willingness to acquire more works. They seem content to be looking and in some cases they're selling off their collections. I think there's something of a generational shift going on right now because there are new collectors entering the market"
Edwards had had a good fair, " Paris is the most important fair for collectors and curators and we've been happy to see that again this year. We have sold to both new and old clients. People are a bit more willing to spend quickly, not go away and think about it and that's different from last year. The Americans weren't buying last year, largely because of election result it seemed. They have buying this year but not in the same numbers. The mood here is optimistic and upbeat despite the economic and political climate in the world. We have done particularly well with social documentary work this time, Chris Killip, Tom Wood and Graham Smith but also with fashion work by Norman Parkinson and Cecil Beaton, as well as Cartier-Bresson."
I returned to Françoise Paviot's stand several times to see the wonderful works on display, a mix of classic and contemporary. Paviot told me, "We have sold works by Charles Nègre and a cliché verre by Corot, which surprised us as they are very precise and very intimate things. We have also done really well with the contemporary work, including works by Bogdan Konopka, Anna & Bernhard Blume and Benjamin Deroche's series of two photographs, produced especially for the fair this year, sold out completely."
Paviot is on the fair committee and observed some changes this year, "One thing I noticed that there were more images that weren't photographs as such, but made with newspapers for instance, or in the form of tapestries. I saw about 12 such works, this because I wonder deeply about the future of silver gelatin photographs. As for the overall quality of the fair, well, it's the greatest for photographs. As Alex Novak said the other evening, not all people who come to the fair are that well educated in the history of photography, but it's also the case that some people who come are very well educated but don't have the money to buy prints, so they buy books instead. Some, but certainly not all of those who have a lot of money, tend to focus on more decorative works."
Michael Hoppen showed an impressive collection of works, by Lucas Foglia, Masahisa Fukase, Eamonn Doyle and others. The works by Juana Gòmez, photographs with embroidered blood vessels reminded me of Meret Oppenheim's glove designs from the 1930's. Thomas Mailaender, a new addition to the gallery, was represented with photographic works and objects.
Hoppen told me, "I think it's interesting that technology is moving so very fast right now but we don't see it in photography for some reason. I mean there's no booth here where you step in, put on a headset to experience virtual reality. It seems that we have retrenched into a much more traditional environment, with people wanting to use their hands, as is the case on our stand. Harley Weir makes her own analogue wet prints, and Juana Gòmez spends months embroidering her work. And I think it's interesting that the process of making a photograph can extend across the chemistry and the paper."
About the fair as a whole Hoppen said, "Paris Photo is always a wonderful event. People here love photography, and the UK is somewhat deserted in that aspect. Last year was very contemporary driven. This year it's completely the opposite. No new contemporary but fantastic vintage, especially 19th-century. I think Hans Kraus and Robert Hershkowitz have just killed the fair with two amazing stands."
The exhibitors of 19th-century works drew an awful lot of praise this year, not only from the diehard collectors of the period but also from many others who usually focus on 20th century and contemporary works.
Robert and Paula Hershkowitz presented a great selection of works, including Gustave Le Gray, Samuel Bourne and Charles Marville, as well as a whole wall with studies from Mécanisme de la Physionomie Humaine" by Duchenne de Boulogne and Adrien Tournachon. Paula Hershkowitz said they were extremely pleased with the results and that they had had some surprises as well.
"On the whole, we tend to sell to the usual suspects and that includes American museums. This year we had a new French client, the first in a very long time. And we sold to an English collector who bought something from us previously at Photo London. And those were very nice surprises. We have had very good sales, including several by Duchenne de Boulogne and Marville. It's been a real contrast to last year when the Americans were panicking over Trump. Plus, last year we had a great deal of competition from the auctions. There wasn't much interesting 19th-century material this year, and that has been a benefit to us."
Hans Kraus Jr.'s stand was equally impressive. In between and juxtaposed with 19th-century works by Lewis Carroll, Julia Margaret Cameron, Gustave Le Gray, Nadar and Hill & Adamson, were more recent works, including Weegee and Steichen.
Kraus Jr told me. "We were offered a new and bigger stand this year and decided to take it. It caused a few concerns about direct sunlight, but we have managed to solve it, with a screen and some cloths for the works on the outside of the booth. This year we decided to do a portrait show, and we have mixed it up a little and that has worked really well. We have sold a dozen great pieces by Cameron, Fox Talbot, Fenton, de Villeneuve, Weegee, Steichen and a few other things, so we are really pleased with the results."
Lumière des Roses has a devoted collector base. Founded in 2005, the emphasis is on great images by largely unknown photographers. In recent years however, they have included more and more works by recognized masters. This year, alongside works "photographe anonyme", they also showed a Man Ray, a Roger Mayne, a Jean Painlevé and an exquisite seascape by Gustave Le Gray at 220,000 euros. It was impressive, but my favorite here was a small salt print, an 1854 portrait of Mariane Beumillev by Viktor Stribeck.
Philippe Jacquier told me, "We have done really well and have managed to sell 60% of the booth. And they are for the most part unique pieces. We have interest in the Le Gray, but it hasn't sold yet. Paris Photo is great for us. People here are in tune with what we are doing and I don't think that we could achieve the same results at AIPAD. I think the exhibitors have done well this year. You can tell by the smiles."
But it wasn't all smiles and smooth sailing this year. Immediately after I had entered the Grand Palais, I was approached by somebody who told me that Fraenkel Gallery were showing six works of nude children, that other exhibitors had protested, leading to an emergency meeting by the show committee, but that the works had been allowed to remain. As it turned out there had been no such meeting. The works were by Ellen Brooks, from her series of images of 10-15 year olds, standing nude in front of a cloth, made 1973-1976. I had only come across two of these images before, in the 1989 auction of the Robert Mapplethorpe Collection.
Many exhibitors expressed their dismay to me, but declined to go on record. Not so Michael Hoppen who told me. "I just think it's completely wrong, totally wrong and I don't think there's any justification for it at all. I'm very surprised it was done. I think we have a duty to not show work like this in an environment like this. It's just too dangerous. I'm not talking about taste. This is simply about morality. They should have been taken down. I have spoken to Frish Brandt. She has her point of view, I have mine."
When I spoke to Frish Brandt she defended the works: "We understand that it has created, not a dialogue but some very strong monologues. I realise that it's challenging but the fair management has been very supportive of it. But it has proven to me more challenging than I thought it would be. Paris Photo is not unfamiliar with nude pictures, not always good ones but that is in the eye of the beholder. There have been mages of fornicating over the years. That is the stuff of life, and adolescence is the stuff of life. I understand that people are having a different reaction to a nude child. The work was made 40 years ago, by a woman who was just 10 years older than the adolescents. And photography is uniquely qualified to capture the contemporaneous. Adolescence is this moment of transformation, which people here have gone through, and it's a moment of transformation that can barely be photographed. If these works were in marble we wouldn't be having this discussion."
Later on, Françoise Paviot told me, "I was astonished to see the pictures because I did an exhibition some years ago. It included a mother with small children, both nude. TV and radio turned up and I had to remove the picture. Previously at the fair, there has been controversy about Jock Sturges and Sally Mann, but if the works on Fraenkel Gallery's stand had been taken down, it would have become an event. But at least 12 people have now spoken to me about the pictures. It's obvious that there is a problem, and I shall discuss it with the committee."
Also on the committee is Howard Greenberg who told me, "I knew of Ellen Brooks from back in the 70's, so personally I wasn't surprised or shocked by the images. I was however, surprised that Fraenkel Gallery hadn't anticipated a strong, negative reaction from people in general. There was no question about censuring it or asking them to take it down. That would have been inappropriate, and nobody was thinking about doing that, at least not from the Paris Photo side. In the current climate, to put that large print up, in the center of the stand, a photograph of a nude adolescent child, that's going to provoke a lot reactions, and a lot of those are going to be negative."
So should the committee have the authority to remove work I asked Greenberg? "That's a good question. Basel does it from time to time, I believe, but their guidelines aren't aesthetic, but in case of posthumous prints or fakes. Pictures like those by Ellen Brooks could take the fair committee's work to a new place but it didn't. I don't think that's our role. If the management wanted to, in case of serious political pressure, well, that's another story I think."
Last year there were a lot stands showing photography relating to conceptual art and performance art from the 1960s and '70s. There were fewer this year. London-based Richard Saltoun is one of the key players in the field, but this year he focused more on Russian photography, Rochenko and the Vkhutemas workshop, and female photographers, including Eleanor Antin, Helena Almeida and Annegret Soltau.
Saltoun told me, "We have done really well with just about everything we brought. We have mainly sold to private collectors. In terms of sales, it's about the same as last year. Overall I think the fair is much better this year, and the quality of the stands is much higher."
At just about every fair I attend I hear complaints from somebody about the lack of images relating to the big, bad world out there. Well, there was work on offer on this year. The 2nd of November, a week before Paris Photo opened, marked the centenary of The Balfour Declaration. Tel Aviv-based Chelouche Gallery presented a solo show with the Israeli artist Miki Kratsman, and it cropped up in a lot of conversations I had at the fair.
Kratsman has photographed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for 33 years and has just published a new book, "The Resolution of The Suspect" which brings together five separate projects that range across that time frame. Kratsman told me. "I'm a photographer and an activist. These images are all from my project "Targeted Killings". The images were taken on my way to work at The Bezalil Academy of Arts or from my office window. I used a special long-range lens that the Israeli army uses. The project is part political, part about the transformative power of that lens. These are innocent people going about their business but the lens turns them into suspects, potential targets. You will notice that the prints have two folds. That's how photographs and maps are folded in the Israeli army, to be checked by a technician, for targets. It was a brave move by the gallery to show this work at a fair like this but we have sold and there is a lot of interest from curators."
There was more politics at stand C24, of a historical kind, Marcelo Brodsky's "1968 - The Fire of Ideas", a joint presentation by Rolf Art and Henrique Faria. These were images from the protests and uprisings of 1968, taken in Paris, London, Belgrade, Stockholm, Rio de Janeiro and other cities, hand colored and with handwritten texts executed by Brodsky in 2014.
On one of the walls of the stand he had written, "The ideas of 1968 are more interesting than what we are discussing today". As it turned out, Faria didn't agree. "I think that people are feeling the same feelings today, wanting freedom and justice, it's part of our DNA. I think this work helps younger generations understand that those feelings are collective. But Brodsky wanted to start a debate. Back then of course, it took days if not weeks to hear news of what was going on in other places. Now of course, it's instant. We have sold around 20 individual prints and have interest from museums to acquire complete sets."
As I left the stand I heard a cynical comment, "Ah, '68, Jean-Paul Sartre and all that". As it happens, it wasn't Sartre who supplied the ideological framework for the May uprising in Paris. It was Guy Debord and the Situationists. It would prove the highpoint of their activities. Debord put a shotgun to his head in 1994 but his notion of the modern world as "The Society of The Spectacle", the consumer society and the 24/7 news cycle, is very much alive in the current debate, albeit in modified form, in for instance "Bending The Frame", the book and the ongoing exhibition projects by Fred Ritchin, Dean at ICP.
There is usually a smattering of Swedish photography at Paris Photo, mostly by Christer Strömholm and Anders Petersen. J. H. Engström however, has often been in short supply. But not this year. Jean-Kenta Gauthier showed an installation with over 100 prints by Engström.
Gauthier told me, "The images are from his project "From Back Home", made 2001-2008. Engström went back to where he was born, searching for traces of his childhood so it's about memory. The set is unique and it's about to be sold. We have also done really well with the other works we have shown, by Daniel Blaufuchs, Alfredo Jar and Raphael Dellaporta."
I stopped by the Lisbon-based gallery Filomena Soares a number of times and was particularly taken with a series of works by João Penalva, including one of a beat-up textile. Angie Vandyke told me, "We have sold works by Rodrigo Oliveira, Helena Almeida and João Penalva, but saleswise it could be better. It's not always easy to raise interest in non-French or not famous artists."
That was also the experience at Tasveer, based in Bangalore. Anishaa Taraporvala told me, "This is the fifth time we're showing at Paris Photo and this year we decided to focus exclusively on Raghu Rai, vintage prints from the 1960s to the 1980s, and many are unique. It's exciting for us to show because Rai had a show here in Paris in '71. Cartier-Bresson took him under his wing, and he became one of the first Indian photographers to be associated with Magnum. So it's nice to bring him back to Paris. And it's nice to see how positively people have reacted to his work. As far as sales are concerned, it's not been bad, but not great either. He spent most of his time in India, is not that well known internationally and that's why many hesitate to buy."
Other exhibitors fared better, much better. I didn't get the chance to speak to all them but some were quoted in the press release sent out by the fair's press office after the fair.
Bruce Silverstein, New York, said, "We achieved remarkable sales, including those of Aaron Siskind s Leda de Brâncusi, Pleasures & Terrors of Levitation, several exceptional works by Man Ray that went to private collections and institutions, including his surreal masterpiece Portemanteau, and works by André Kertesz, Manuel Alvarez-Bravo and Harry Callahan. With regards to contemporary work, we sold pieces by Marjan Teeuwen, Michael Wolf, and Mishka Henner, among others."
Luisotti, Santa Monica, reported that "80% of the works in our stall were sold, with very good sales to collectors and institutions from different countries." And Pace/MacGill, New York, noted, "We have had a successful fair, selling works by Richard Avedon, Yto Barrada, Paul Graham, Richard Learoyd, Richard Misrach, Yoshitomo Nara and Irving Penn, and meeting new collectors."
Taik Persons, Berlin/Helsinki, said, "Paris Photo 2017 was a remarkable edition. We achieved very good sales in both the main section of the fair and the PRISMES section. We sold seven works by Ulla Jokisalo, several works by Anna Reivil worth between 1,500 and 2,500 euros and works by Grey Crawford worth around 5,000 euros."
Gregory Leroy & Charles Isaacs reported, "This was a very successful edition for our gallery, we sold almost 80% of the works presented this year. Our buyers include two American collectors, two French collectors, one Mexican collector and three American museums."
The 22nd edition of Paris Photo will be held at the Grand Palais, November 7-11, 2018.
Michael Diemar is a long-time writer about the photography scene, in addition to being a collector, curator, lecturer and ex-London gallerist (in 2009 opening Diemar/Noble Gallery). He has written extensively for several Scandinavian photography publications, as well as for the E-Photo Newsletter and I Photo Central.