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Guest Blog by J. Sybylla Smith
The biannual celebration of photography, The Mois de Photo, will be held in Spring, 2018. Regardless there is always a substantial amount of photography being exhibited in Paris. Fotofever, Photo Saint Germaine, Polycopies and Offprint continue to augment Paris Photo and run concurrently. My preferred mode of transport between these outside events is the bike-sharing system, Velib; convenient, affordable and offering outstanding views. The image above was taken en route to Fotofever.
Fotofever is held in the Carrousel de Louvre, the former home of Paris Photo, and is geared towards collecting photography. All artwork is priced below €5000. This year the international fair has a special focus on Asia and Eastern Europe. My tour group attended the Vernissage and we were treated to artist talks by exhibiting LA-based photographers; Sarah Hadley, J.K. Lanvin and Erica Kelly Martin.
Photo Saint Germaine is a collaboration of over 40 arts organizations covering the Left Bank. Galleries, cultural centers, and museums exhibit and host educational programming over a two week period. I visited Laurence Esnol Gallery for the third consecutive year to view the ongoing evolution of the ethereal ambrotypes by Eric Antoine. HIs current series explores resilience. Commanding arctic landscapes in a series, Datazone 13, by Philippe Chancel, filled Galerie Catherine et André Hug. Tucked into a tiny warren of cobblestone streets atop a big hill is the Centre Cultural Irlandais. It was my first visit to this elegant space, home to the historic Irish College established in 1578. Exhibited is Dublin-based Yugoslavian photographer Dragana Juristic. My Own Unknown, is an intriguing multi-media exploration of identity and personal history, inspired by the mysterious disappearance of the artist’s exiled Aunt Gordana. Polycopies is the specialized bookseller occupying a three story barge on the Seine. There I had the good fortune to meet a Foam Talent winner, Weronika Gęsicka, and obtain the second to last copy of her new book, Traces. The lively open-air bar and grill draws a multi-lingual intellectual crowd late into the night, with a Velib post directly across from it’s dockside entrance.
The Marais neighborhood boasts many stellar galleries worthy of the hunt to discover them within hidden courtyards. I revisited the Galerie Azzedine Alaia in search of the English version of last year’s exhibit catalog, Between Art and Fashion. The tome, while hefty, fit in the basket of my bike. The galleries current exhibit, Maison Alaia, is an exploration into the creative process of this fashion design house. Photographer and sculptor, Richard Wentworth, creates intimate and textural images which he displayed unframed and secured with rough hewn iron spikes on haphazardly placed panels of raw plywood.
I sought out Xippas Gallery specifically to view the entirety of Bettina Rhiems’, naked war, a multi-media collaboration with novelist Serge Bramly and the Femen activists. A tour de force, Rheims continues to expose and document socio-political issues, here with a focus on the power of corporeality. I was fortunately alerted to a powerful exhibit at Galerie Eric Dupont and saw it an hour before heading to the airport. Pascal Convert utilized layered technologies to capture and recreate monumental images of the desecrated Buddhas of Bamiyan created during the 3rd – 7th centuries in Afghanistan. The photographer challenges the absence of the religious sculptures, destroyed on March 11, 2001 by the Taliban, by highlighting the towering dark and empty holes that remain. In the co-authored book on the exhibit, Georges Didi-Huberman notes,”It is so easy to demolish a body. So hard to erase a hole.” The highly-defined, toned, platinum prints line three walls of the gallery encompassing the viewer in the overwhelming barren landscape. One feels as if you are a soaring hawk when suddenly you begin to see like one and discern a dog, a satellite dish, a man sitting on a bench. In an accompanying video you witness and listen to the children and families who make this cliffside home.
Too far to bike, I took the Metro to the 18th arrondissement and the open warehouse space, Galleria Carla Sozzani, host to the current World Press Photo exhibit. An informative presentation introduced to me to the eclectic work of several Scandinavian photographers. Nancy Borowick and Donald Weber were interviewed about their epic projects, now also books, The Family Imprint and War Sand. Highly personal and idiosyncratic stories inspired by family life experience and told with deep respect and beauty. Lastly, I learned of another exceptional project of a floating camera obscura taking an international journey. We were shown a time-lapse video of it floating up the Seine. I encourage you to look on their website. Ubermut Project – https://ubermutproject.com/2boats/ Each visual story of this informative evening was full of curiosity, empathy and a call to be aware and act.
A standout exhibit for me was Women House, a collaboration between the Monnaire du Paris and the U.S.-based National Museum of Women in the Arts. An homage to the seminal exhibit, Womanhouse, by Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago held in Los Angeles in 1972, here 40 artists explore the intersection of gender and space, women and place. Divided into eight “chapters” including work in photography, sculpture, video, painting, and installation, it is poetic and political. An entire post could be dedicated to this one exhibit. My hope is it will travel to D.C.
Photography is a universal language which has revolutionized how we communicate, most especially in the past twenty years. Europe is on the forefront of exploring the future of photography. Led by Ecal, the University of Art and Design in Lausanne, Switzerland, a panel discussion was held at the Centre Cultural Suisse on their project, curriculum and book, Augmented Photography. Presently available for those with a fluency in French.
I appreciate the use of photography in public spaces throughout the city found on bike and in the Metro. These public work projects use striking portraiture to encourage awareness of our common human experience.
For a more in-depth look at photography in Paris please join us at the Griffin Museum of Photography on December 13th at 7pm for a slide presentation and discussion including members of my guided tour: 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 by J.Sybylla Smith, 2017.