by Andrea DiCenzo
Each year Paris Photo grows greater and grander than the year before, ensuring that the 2012 show makes a decisive leap to the front of the line as the best art photography fair to date. Returning to the Grand Palais for the second year running, the show's venue was not the only spectacular aspect of the fair. Paris Photo 2012 incorporated discussions by notable artists Hilla Bechar, Thomas Ruff, Alec Soth, Taryn Simon and Martin Parr (to name a few), the year's first "Paris Photo—Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards," as well as four forms of David Lynch—the lectures by Lynch, the book he curated about the fair, the mobile application with selected works by Lynch, as well as a featured photograph of him by Nadav Kander. It would be safe to attest the fair was a little Lynch-centric, but, given his status as one of the most original and innovated image makers of our time, most of us were happy to have a little more Lynch in our lives.
All of these bells and whistles, respectfully, did not reduce the attention of the 137 galleries that brought with them the highest quality of photographic works. The fair represented the vast and varied tropes, themes, discussions and conflicts happening within art photography today. Genres from documentary and historical to fashion and commercial were touched upon, if not directly at least in reference, for their importance in the photography world and their entanglement with "Art Photography". At its core, Paris Photo is a celebration of both the diversity and unity of the photography world.
Based out of Berlin since 2003, Taik Gallery was originally founded in Helsinki. In the years since it has become the primary gallery for those selected photographic artists who now make up what is commonly known as the "Helsinki School". The show presented for Paris Photo comprises a diverse collection of 11 of the gallery's represented artists. From Nelli Palomaki's look ahead to the continuation of classical portrait work to Joakim Eskildsen's painterly and subtly eerie images of childhood, Taik once again positioned itself as one of the leading galleries for contemporary photography in Europe. Other artists displayed include Wilma Hurskainen, Tiina Itkonen, Sandra Kantanen, Eeva Karhu , Timo Kelaranta, Ola Kolehmainen, Niko Luoma, Jaana Maijala and Jorma Puranen.
The US has the second largest number of galleries being shown by country—behind France—and for good reason. Whether or not the artist working in the States was originally from there is irrelevant, but what does remain true today is the power of imagination and innovation artists ascribe onto the backdrop of America, notions of Americana and the American dream. One of the most interesting artists of the moment is Minnesota's Alec Soth. Soth's work continues to be frequently compared to the great American traditional photographers Stephan Shore, Robert Frank and Walker Evans. Soth presented a collection of smaller photographs of nude women as one piece for his installment, the disembodiment and unity of which proved extremely thoughtful. A slight deviation from Soth's usual large format prints, the piece marks a beautiful continuation of his archive of American life. Soth is represented by Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis.
New York's Von Lintel Gallery displayed beautiful images by American artist John Chiara. Using a self-built camera he describes as "the size of U-Haul truck," Chiara produces large photographic prints in which there is never a negative. The image is a direct positive image, meaning that when the shutter is released the light hits the paper and is treated with Chiara's own mixture of light sensitive material, the image that we see as a viewer appears. The paper is the negative process as well as the darkroom process creating one-off pieces of artwork. Chiara is playing with the notion of memory and truthfulness not only in our minds, but in the history of photography as well. As the light, and, thus, the image, burns its way onto the paper, so does "the psychological weight burns the visual into memory" says Chiara.
As part of the group exhibition of recent acquisitions presented by Giorgio Armani, Japanese artist Rinko Kawauchi's work stood out through its strange surrealist qualities and punchy use of color. With tight crops of sea turtles in what appears to be a swimming pool and dead flies covering the body of a child, Kawauchi draws lyrical parallels between nature and the man-made world.
Another artist in Armani's collection was Matthew Brandt, following the theme "Aqua" that tied together all the artworks. The American photographer plays with notions of landscape in a quite literal and humorous way. He uses the water from the location of each image to make another form of impression of the artwork, sometimes to the effect of having the water literally run the image off the page. The images give a sense of decay to the landscape, as well as the artwork itself, as though looking at one of Brandt's "Lakes" is looking at a world that exists hundreds of years ago, one that has passed without notice and will never be seen again—reminding us to take a second look while we still have the chance.
On the topic of worlds that have passed—one of the biggest highlights of the fair was the newly discovered world of Vivian Maier. Her prints and photographic book were on display by New York's Steven Kasher Gallery. Maier's story, both her narrative within her images as well as in real life, have seemingly taken the art world by storm, and the frenzy does not appear to be letting up. The new publication of her images, "Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows", is a beautifully lyrical collection of some of Maier's over 10,000 black and white images. Sensitive and thought-provoking, the collection as a whole gives us the hint that we will be seeing more exhibitions of Maier's work soon to come.
Young German photographer Sascha Weidner is another photographer we'll be seeing more of in the years to come. Represented by Galerie Conrads in Düsseldorf, Sascha blurs the line between documentary photography and surrealism, like his own mise-en-scene documentary of life. The car engulfed in flames, the body frozen in the moment just about to make contact with water—while documentation of his daily life, they are not snapshot.
The haunting images of Ken Kitano mark another example of photography's continuous referrals to its own shortcomings as a document of "truth". Within the photographic community, the idea of a photograph being a document of "truth" has long been considered false. However, exploring the "falseness" of images or image-making is still a relevant trope within photography widely visible at the fair. This is one of the topics Ken Kitano ponders in his portraits of farm village women in Bangladesh. Reproducing the images over and over on one piece of paper, as well as including the faces of others, Kitano blurs the concept of identifying, or learning something from this person from one shot of her face only—and begging the viewer to answer the question "which version is the most accurate depiction?"
Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
South African-born, London-based artist duo Adam Broomburg and Oliver Chanarin were all over this year's Paris Photo. They had works on display with Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery and Cologne-based Galerie Karsten Greve, as well as Paradise Row, MACK Books Ltd, and London's Oliver J Wood. Being that five separate establishments were showing their work, it is hard to pick out one of their many thoughtful projects to highlight. While shifting their lens on different particular subject matter, all their work consistently conveys the duo's high level of intellectual scrutiny and polemical agenda to documentary photography, as well as their delightfully cunning senses of humor. Their work "War Primer 2", a re-working of Bertolt Brecht's original War Primer, is of particular interest for its brevity and execution. Taking news photographs surrounding the current "war on terror" they found online and placing the images inside old copies of Brecht's book, Broomburg and Chanarin offer us their critique of images of contemporary conflicts, asking us to contemplate their usage, history, power and relevance.
Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards
The inclusion of the Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Award is coming at the end of one of the best years ever for the photo book. The photo book is having a mid-life renaissance with the help of self-publications and companies like Blurb and Self-Publish. This year's Tate Modern retrospectives of artists William Klein and Daido Moriyama are heavily influenced by their respective publications, offering clues as to how the artist envisioned their works being viewed as well as including many of their publications to browse through. It is no surprise that Paris Photo then decided to make more of a show of the works produced by artists in book form. The award contained two winners. Andres Petersen's book "City Diary (Volumes 1-2)" won the PhotoBook of the Year award, while David Galjaard's self-published "Concresco" took the prize in the First PhotoBook category (as well as $10,000). Both of these books are exquisite and well-deserving of the international attention.
As Paris Photo has now come to a close, the event only has a little time to breathe and reflect on its success before it packs up and ships out to LA for 2013. Being held in US for the first time, the exhibition is sure to raise even more engaging discussions about photography through its new venture in cross-cultural photographic pollination. Paris Photo Los Angeles will be held in the iconic Paramount Pictures Studio from 25-28 April 2013. For more information on shows past and upcoming visit the website.