Issue #52  1/13/2003
Paris Photo: Part One

Perhaps I am getting jaded after all this time, but I felt that some aspects of Paris Photo were getting a bit "mature." I was not as excited by the material as in past years, especially the vintage items, which were largely very expensive by today's market standards.

But then maybe I am getting a bit weary, because when I met Christie's Amanda Doenitz, she just about bubbled over with enthusiasm for Paris Photo and the work on exhibit. Perspective is very important.

I suspect that there was indeed a similar amount of exciting material--even if at very stiff prices. The dollar's drop from its high of last year made everything look 20% more expensive even if there was no increase (a rarity unfortunately) in the "real" price of an item. I find myself selling much more to Europeans now than at any time previously, because my prices are now usually well under European dealer prices.

When I had visited Amsterdam the previous week for Sotheby's auction there, a taxi driver told me how a little gas station had hiked their coffee during the guilder-to-euro conversion from a half guilder to one and a half euros (about triple the cost). He may be lucky. I have seen plenty of cafes in Paris now selling small cups of café for 2-1/2 to 3 euros. They call it euro-inflation or euro-creep. The governments say it only amounts to an overall increase of 2%; everyone else says it has had at least an 8-15% impact.

Likewise some of my most reasonable sources were selling the same identical image this year for 2-1/2 times the cost of last year's price. Fortunately most dealers realize that this will not fly, although there was one notorious try at this at auction (more on this in the next newsletter). Part of the problem is the drop in the dollar and rounding up in the conversion to euros. And part of the problem is simply a dearth of good material being available. Some of the problem is greed at the source as families, estates and originating dealers see higher prices at auctions and elsewhere as a cause to raise prices to gallery or higher levels. And some is a lack of understanding of the changing dynamics of the marketplace. Business has slowed down in the U.S. but some of the European sources have not quite got the message yet, although the last set of auctions in Paris should have been a wake-up call.

Perhaps the other cause of my jaded view was the numbers game that Paris Photo continues to maintain. It seems to get more and more ridiculous each year. Clearly the show's attendance appears to have dropped off slightly post-9/11 in 2001 and 2002 (as has most shows), but the show organizers say that attendance is soaring--going up another 5,000 this year to over 40,000 people. But they count people going through each day multiple times. If you go out to lunch and come back, you are counted again. It is a silly game that serves little purpose except one-upsmanship. It is clear, however, that Paris Photo gets more attendance (not necessarily buyers) than any other photography show.

Certainly Americans were in short supply again this year, but the Europeans were filling in, and--for once--actually buying a little. Most dealers that I talked to did pretty well, especially if they kept their prices in line.

The Polaroid collection exhibit of Ansel Adams' work, mostly unique Polaroids that he made from the 1950s through the late 1970s, was an interesting take on Adams as an "experimenter," although the primary reason for the exhibit might have been to help market the collection for the company.

On the show floor itself, exhibitors displayed a broad array of material--both contemporary and vintage.

Several Americans were back exhibiting, including NYC gallery owner Julie Saul. Saul exhibited large color work by Didier Massard.

Alain Paviot displayed a good copy of Charles Marville's Bois de Boulogne album, as well as some interesting Brassai's.

Csaba Morocz actually put up two different exhibits during the show. The first was Austrian between-the-wars photography and the second was Rene Groebil's sensuous and yet intelligent "OEuvres," a series of studies of his wife on their honeymoon.

Lawrence Miller Gallery exhibited work by Helen Levitt, including a 1944 film by Levitt and James Agee called "In the Street."

Krisal Galerie displayed the work of Philippe Pache, which largely consisted of incredibly expensive life-size crotch shots in full color.

Hans Kraus exhibited a number of paper negatives, as well as a fine display of images attributed to Ross & Thomson. One fantasy scene I particularly liked.

Spanish bookseller and gallery Kowasa Gallery showed some very rare fressons by Jose Ortiz Echague, as well as a very scarce group of Middle Eastern material, including some James Graham. Thanks again, Hubert, for bringing me a copy of the Clifford book. Kowasa's bookstore can be found on-line at: www.kowasa.com .

I didn't quite know what to make of Edwynn Houk Gallery's exhibition of Francesca Woodman, one of my favorite contemporary photographers. Woodman committed suicide and her work is quite scarce and expensive. It was a shock to see a whole booth devoted to Woodman, but then a second shock hit me when I learned that all of the haunting images were being made now, well after her death.

Michael Hoppen Gallery had the photograph that truly tempted me, but I was a bit late (I only asked about it the day before the show opened). The image in question was a fabulous vintage print by Robert Frank, which Hoppen claimed to be the first printing of that image. It had great presence and a price tag to match, and was sold with three back-up buyers to boot. Who says there's a recession? Not when it comes to such images. Hoppen had a number of photos that provided eye candy, including the Gjon Mili image of Dancers that he featured in the Paris Photo catalogue, perhaps the most interesting Mili photograph that I have seen. Again with a price tag to match.

Gallerie Laurent Herschtritt had a great exhibition that was out of this world--literally. His displays of the Moon sold out quickly, as did the images of lightning. I just wish he could get Lewis Morris Rutherford's name right.

Howard Greenberg Gallery just keeps putting up walls with killer images. It is always a pleasure to see what they have brought. Likewise David Fleiss of Galerie 1900-2000 always puts up some stunning between-the-wars material. The father of this father-son team Marcel Fleiss says they will probably not change the name considering that they mostly sell vintage material. I bought a wonderful ethereal Man Ray of the Eiffel Tower from 1925, which just cleared licensing. The booth was very active. David had a great buy in the closet of all places: a very reasonably priced Manuel Bravo, Obrero en Huelga, Asesinado, perhaps the most reasonably priced important Bravo I have seen since he died. It was not a vintage print, and so David relegated it to the closet.

Michele Chomette may have had the top 19th-century images at the fair. But which one? She had two stunning Paul Emile Miot's, plus several other major pieces. Her 20th-century material was also pretty good. I didn't see any 150-euro pictures this year.

In my estimation, Hypnos Gallery showed some of the most reasonably priced 19th-century (and early 20th-century) work of the fair, and this material included some big names, such as Le Gray (possibly a unique view), Baldus, Watkins and others.

German dealer Daniel Blau had some nice salt prints up on his walls. Blau is producing a series of small catalogues.

The Di Maria brothers had some nice Misonnes and an American pictorialist by the name of R. L. Sleeth, who produced some very interesting work of NYC. But prices seemed higher than in NYC for both.

Outside of Paris Photo, there was some interesting action. The Orsay devoted the first permanent space to photography with the first exhibit drawing from its own collection. The two Henri Victor Regnault images were marvelous, as, of course, was the Charles Negre of the Stryge. The Atget that was chosen left me a little confused, considering that the museum undoubtedly has many other superior images.

Also during Paris Photo, Bruno Tartarin and Galerie Zero, l'Infiniti opened their new joint gallery space just off the Place d'Italie. The space is clean and the show was eclectic. Each dealer will alternate shows in the space, which is a nice idea.

Marc Pagneux had a fine 19th and 20th-century exhibition in his gallery near Drouot. I particularly liked his Imogen Cunningham of a Japanese Artist and Emmanuel Mangel du Mesnil's Pifferari with Repast.

Finally, there was a lot of buzz around Didier Dezandre's exhibition of an 1850s album put together by Roger Comte du Manoir, who was one of the many founders of the S.F.P. I had actually purchased two images from this album last June at Bievres that were by Comte Aguado. But Didier rebuffed other deals so that he could put together a show that would "put him on the map" so to speak. He researched the album and produced a very good catalogue of the work, and showed it at a friend's Paris antique furniture and glass gallery before and during Paris Photo. The material was quite erratic in quality, ranging from important and rich to washed out and boring. The best work was clearly by Aguado. Du Manoir himself came across as an average amateur that occasionally lucked out. He did not appear to be a very good technician, but that was the appeal to some. The material was rare, but, then again, you could say that about a lot of photography.

The best of the lot were very fine images, but Didier had put price tags on the work that were aggressive to the extreme. I reviewed the material just before the show opened with collector Michael Sachs, who had a problem seeing what all the fuss was about. Frankly, except for one or two images, so did I. German dealer Daniel Blau scooped up the two best images of the show by making a deal with Dezandre, who broke his own promise not to sell before the opening (although he had apparently already done so even before the exhibition).

In typical fashion, not to be outdone, other dealers and collectors rushed over to the shop during Paris Photo to make small purchases. In the end, Dezandre did very well on his album that he had bought out in the French countryside at a very steep price. My congratulations to him on a job well done.