Paris Photo, the photography art fair on from Nov. 19th to 22nd, 2009)

Created in 1997, Paris Photo has established itself as the world’s most important photography fair. Eighty-nine galeries and thirteen publishers from 23 countries gather underneath I.M. Pei’s famous Louvre pyramid to display a selection of their best prints. Pictures spanning two centuries, from the early days in the 19th century up to the most recent shots, by some 500 photographers are shown.

To heighten the event’s interest, this year’s guest curator Catherine David – who was a curator at the Pompidou in the 80s, at the Jeu de Paume in the 90s and who directed the Witte de With center in Rotterdam from 2002 to 2004 – turns the spotlight on photographic work from the Arab countries and Iran. The “Statement” section thus presents work by a number of emerging talents from the region such as Walid Raad (The Atlas Group) and Akram Zaatari represented by gallery Sfeir-Semler whose own history is intimately connected to the regions difficult past. Obliged to leave her warring homeland Lebanon behind Frau Dr. Andrée Sfeir-Semler, married to a German, opens her gallery in Hamburg, north Germany, in 1985 and is able to open another space in Beirut 2005, thirty years after the outbreak of  the war.

Another interesting institution presented at this year’s Paris Photo is the non-profit Arab Image Foundation (AIF) created in 1997 by a group of Arab photographers, video-artists and curators to promote photoculture in the region. They actively locate, collect, preserve and present the photographic heritage of the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab Diaspora and make numerous efforts to diffuse them as widely as possible. Next to the exhibition of some 40 images from the AIF shown in the central section of the fair, visitors can also purchase a portfolio of 12 images chosen by British photographer Martin Parr (cost: 750€ or 1,100$) from AIF’s abounding archives.

Indeed, the AIF holds a total of 300,000 images, a hand-picked compilation taken from family albums, commercial studios and private collections donated or loaned. The styles and subjects depicted are vast and varied. Some touch upon personal stories that as dramatic and touching as the story behind the black and white portrait of a young woman shown below.

Apparently the wife of a particularly jealous man, she came to have her picture taken in secret by a commercial, studio photographer. The day her husband found out he demanded of the photographer that all her pictures be destroyed. The photographer, before the enraged man’s jealous eyes, scratched the surface of all existing prints made, rendering the images useless as a portraits.
Several years later, this same woman, driven to despair by her controlling husband, set fire to herself. She died. Her husband returned to see the photographer and asked whether he had any prints left of his deceased wife, hoping she may have had others taken in secret on which he would be able to see her beautiful face again, undamaged.

Strolling through the aisles of Paris Photo visitors have a chance to delve into worlds of beauty (architecture, interiors, landscapes, urban street scenes, portraits) and to occasionally stop in the face of tragedy (war, poverty, personal dramas). The fair is also a chance to view the finest vintage prints that dealers take out to woo potential buyers. Galleries Serge Plantureux and Françoise Paviot as well as gallery Thessa Herold, for example, show prints by Eugène Atget, the French early 20th century photographer who, like Brassaï (also shown) really gained his recognition thanks to the Surrealists interest in him. Henri-Cartier Bresson, Man Ray, Paul Strand, André Kertesz, Richard Avedon, Stephen Shore, Robert Frank and Weegee offer further examples of historic photographers that can be found at the fair.

At the same time, and it is this mix that makes the fair so interesting, Paris Photo is also an occasion to discover some rising stars such as Dutch photographer Karijn Kakebeeke, represented by TEQ (The Empty Quarter) Gallery from Dubai, who won this year’s BMW-Paris-Photo Prize for her a snapshot of the first Afghan women’s soccer team. Amateur photographer Marc Montméat won the mobile phone company SFR’s Young Talents award. Other contemporary artists worth noting are: Hannah Collins and Tania Mouraud (both at gallery Dominique Fiat), Andres Serrano at Juana de Aizpuro from Madrid, Antoine d’Agata who shows both at gallery Les Filles du Calvaire, Paris, and at the international press agency Magnum of which he is a recent member.

Many other photography events are taking place in Paris at the same time including the following that are not to be missed:

– the most excellent exhibiton of surrealist photography at the Centre Pompidou: “The Subversion of Images” (Sept. 23rd – Jan. 11th, 2010)

– the very interesting Fellini retrospective at the Jeu de Paume which gives a good insight into the Italian filmmakers sources of inspiration (Oct. 20th – Jan. 17th, 2010)

– black and white portaits and landscapes from the 1920s and 30s by German photographer August Sander at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson (Sept. 9th – April 18th 2010)


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