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Guest Blog by J. Sybylla Smith
This 21st Paris Photo was held for the 7th year in the majestic Grand Palais, where the infamous clearstory frames painterly skyscapes of magical Paris light. From the vantage point above the two-story marble staircase I am struck by a metaphor. The ceaseless play of light above is reflected in the limitless possibilities of the photographs displayed below. Over four days I wander the intricate grid of 190 exhibitors from 31 countries who frame images of vast imagination and boundless vision by 2500 photographers.
As above, so below – it is all about encountering light. Enchanting, confounding, exuberant, irreverent, ominous or witty in forms of narrative, fantasy, documentary, performance and conceptual imagery. Experiencing art can be transformative, having the capacity to alter our perception and expand our sight.
My guided tour included meetings with four Gallery Directors, illuminating the art work they chose to exhibit. Steve Harris is a Massachusetts native who has lived in Shanghai for over twenty years and exhibits mostly Chinese artists in his gallery, M97. He keenly investigates our emotional experience of his artwork and generously discusses the evolution of his artists, including their innovations and use of technical intricacies. A remarkable range is evident in the poetic silver gelatin series, Some Days by Wang Nindge, taken a decade prior to his beguiling photography installation series, Form of Light.
Sun Yanchu creates uniquely lyrical objects in his “developer paintings” where he literally paints with photo-chemistry.
Berlin’s Camera Work Gallery is known for delivering a seductive punch with it’s staggeringly lush collection. Jan Burghart detailed the handiwork within the creative practices of two of their featured artists. Italian/Swiss, Christian Tagliavini, considers himself “a photographic craftsman”, as he sources historic materials and creates every visible component within his highly stylized narratives. Contemporary and elegant, his portrait series, 1406, references renowned Renaissance painter Filippo Lippi.
The collaboration between photographer Michaelangelo Di Batista and artist Tina Berning begins with a photo and results in a unique object, visually marked with the process of experimentation. A graphic detail is made by scratching away the emulsion and adding the textural use of metal staples in Annalisa/Berlin, 2017.
Florencia Giordana Braun of Rolf Art in Argentina was the first gallerist to exhibit from Latin America. Now in her fifth year, she was chosen as a juror for the Aperture/Paris Photo Book Awards. She maintains a deep commitment to raising awareness of social justice issues and to heralding the power of photography to chronicle, and potentially accelerate, political and social change. Along with New York-based, Henrique Faria Gallery, they exhibited Marcelo Brodsky’s series, 1968, The Fire of Ideas, 2014-7.
I applaud the audacious decision of Julian Sander to exhibit a sole image accompanied by a Penn-inspired corner photo studio. The great grandson of August Sander he has unparalleled photo DNA and an exquisitely refined eye. Sander notes sensory overload is common at large fairs, as is the practice to seek out what is familiar. He circumvented both issues, enjoying the laughter emanating from the studio and observing pensive encounters with the moody portrait of the painter Heinrich Hoerle, Dar Maler, taken by August Sander in 1928. He invited our group backstage to witness a Paul McCarthy slide show and the outrageous mediation contraption, Meditationsmuhle, 1960’s, by Chargesheimer. Also available in his booth was a beautiful imprint outlining his highly selective offerings, accompanied by scholarly text written by his gallery staff.
Blowing the bounds of conceptual imagination and perhaps coming in as my favored image of the fair was the installation, Piercing, by Isabelle Le Minh at Galerie Christophe Guillard. An intelligent play on photo history, digital limitations and the evolution of semiotics. Le Minh “performs” coding by piercing a halftone screen with the likeness of the famed 1860 portrait of Countess Castiglione, layered with traditional backdrop materials. This #conceptqueen was most enamored with Le Minh’s compelling multi-entendre work.
Of note in the Prismes section were four galleries featuring the work of one chosen artist. Jackson Fine Art of Atlanta selected evocative images from the Mississippi series by John Chiara taken in 2016. Gowen of Switzerland exhibited the installation Inactinic by Aurelie Petrel. All about deconstructing the photographic process, she activates a laboratory, complete with the chemical odors of a darkroom. Paris-based gallery Sator created an elaborate multi-media experience in still images and videos by Evangelia Kranioti, titled, Obscure Barroco. Her narrative is an ethnographic and surreal dreamscape exploring metamorphosis. The subjects are a fictional introverted clown and a known transgender figure in Brazil, captured with the backdrop of the 2016 Olympic Games. A performance piece spanning several years is by the photographer and gallerist, Katsunoba Yaguchi. The Japanese artist, fictionally also known as Joe Onigiri, reanimated a dilapidated commercial space slated for demolition into a thriving community artistic hub, Washingtown. After chronicling the process of rebuilding in still images and video, the artist personally performed the demolition, excavating treasured objects and displaying hundreds of documentary images in a deliberately unfinished grid.
Patti Smith curated an erudite selection for Gagosian including her own photographs and herself as the subject in the breathtakingly beautiful Robert Mapplethorpe image, Patti Smith 1979. Fellow cultural icon and noted photographer, Karl Lagerfeld, was invited as Guest of Honour to curate his favored selections from the entire exhibition. While I was delighted that two of my artistic idols had a direct hand in the fair’s offerings, I unfortunately only encountered one of them in person. Following is a very limited overview of images that caught my eye and engaged my heart. A more in-depth slide presentation and panel including members of my guided tour will be held at the Griffin Museum of Photography on Wednesday, December 13th, 2017 at 7pm. For more information, go to: http://griffinmuseum.org/event/paris-photo-review-sybylla-smith-griffin-friends/
Independent curator, lecturer and consultant, J.Sybylla Smith, has exhibited over 80 international photographers in 25 solo and group exhibits in the U.S., Mexico and South America. Smith teaches and writes on her unique concept development curriculum, Concept Aware. She consults with photographers and arts institutions to create written content and produce exhibitions, related programming and events. As an adjunct professor, guest lecturer and thesis advisor, Smith has worked at SVANYC, Emmanuel College, SMFA, Harvard University and Wellesley College.
Feature Image courtesy of J. Sybylla Smith, 2017.