Webmag Emilio Brizzi
 
Paris Photo 2003: Sneaking in on the latest cross-overs and much history. 

93 galleries and 11 international publishers are showing their wares. A place to see beautiful things and buy them, says the slogan, pointing the finger at one obvious difference between a trade show and a museum. You can’t buy the Monna Lisa from the Louvre, while everything here is for sale. Appeals to the acquisitive kind of person, in short, the collector.
       
How to get there: in an age when supersonic flight is not an option any more for the commercial passenger, as Concorde is at last grounded, super fast trains could easily snatch the palm of exclusiveness and luxury. Well, so far they haven’t. Even a first class ticket will not assure your safety from the hazards of poorly educated fellow passengers and their crimes and misdemeanours, ranging from the unsociable use of mobile phones to the unsavoury and foul smelling applying of nail polish in public. As the powerful machine sucks you backwards into the French countryside, there is only speed on your side. And to be fair, Paris is reached in a whisk. The Carousel du Louvre is a square between the wings of the Louvre Museum. The grand exposition complex and shopping mall is actually built underground, but doesn’t feel like it. An inverted piramid of glass under a huge skylight above the entrance hall seems to challenge natural perspective, as if we were all standing upside down, and there is plenty of light and space. The scale and design of the walls echoes the ancient Egyptian theme, and one feels oddly dwarfed by the shere size of it, but hardly oppressed for exactly the same reason, which makes it clever architecture. It’s a big place.

 
 
  How to get in: stand in line at one of the cash registers, placed in a stone and crystal stronghold in the middle of the hall, for an hour at least. Then go through some safety check and a forbidding sign that prevents anyone from entering with a portfolio under his arm. All portfolios must be checked in at the wardrobe. Probably this is meant to prevent one from hiding stolen goods easily, if you so wished, but also implies that you are not welcome to show your work to the different galleries at this location and time.

As my favourite print was a photo of a group of elefants, three meters wide by one and a half high, I sadly couldn’t resort to deceit and theft on this occasion.
 
Once inside: there is much to see. Galleries seem randomly placed about the three large halls centered around a middle show of ‘Lomographie’ and a black BMW X3 car oddly parked there.
There is a lot of historic old photography, all the classics and some modern. Somehow the modern feels a minority, to be honest, as if most galleries were betting rather on well established names than new talents. Also the cross-over phenomenon is too evident to be ignored. There is no clear distinction between fashion and editorial glossy photography and art photography, it would seem, as having reached a quasi godlike status in the big international magazines automatically leads some authors to having the same work being printed and marketed through the fine art channels, a few years later.

Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and also earlier masters like Horst, Beaton and so on had a great career working for the big publishers like Condè Nast and Harper’s which eventually lead to a later interest in retrospective books and monographies and now to the sale of photographic prints. A Helmut Newton period fashion shot, with pencil drawn instructions for the retoucher, is now on sale as fine art work. It can’t get much better than this, I would think, for the makers and the dealers. Also classic LIFE photographers, like Andreas Feininger, go for staggering high prices, probably due to their charming nostalgic ‘americana’ appeal.
More recently other fashion guru’s went into cross-overing, but I didn’t find any of them in PP. Maybe next year?

Cross over also means that some galleries are selling old family snapshots, or ancient pass photo style portraits as art, provided they include some element of interest or exoticism. Another thing: small in size doesn’t necessarily mean cheap or less valuable, I was happy to observe.
Strangely, classic and beautiful work like a portrait of Charles Darwin by Julia Margareth Cameron, rare carbon print made by the master herself, can be bought for a fraction of a large but modern and quasi industrially produced print signed by Feininger (Euro 5.500 for the Cameron against 50.000 dollars for a New York view by F.). Man Ray is well represented, with top prices up to 70.000 (!) US$ and many of his truly artistic famous images. Inkjet prints of one type or another, usually on pigment based dyes, are fancily called ‘tirage pigmatique’ and sell for high prices even though they are really quite machinal in their making (Sara Moon, 11.000 E). Then a few polaroids, not only the large 20x24 inches but smaller 8x10 mismatched sepias by Paolo Roversi go as unique prints for 8000 euros. Roversi makes pretty pictures of very pretty girls, often naked: it is a winning formula. The market likes nudes, it would seem, as there are many on offer. Taste is in these matters very individual. The range on offer includes not only the old proverbial ‘frontal’ but also the newly accepted ‘genital’ nudity, leaving us to wonder at the next frontier.

There is a lot to take in, and at last on the verge of collapsing by exhaustion it is time to pay a visit to the canteen, conveniently placed in front of the Lomography exhibition and the parked BMW afore mentioned. In need of relaxation as well as nourishment there is nothing like the brainless quality of lomographies to refresh one’s spirit. I would call it Lobotomography, as it is so obviously devoid of any content other than the automatic and shameless courting of the casual snapshot, ideally produced by a carelessly held and allegedly legendary LOMO LC-A camera designed by a misterious professor Radinov (?). I was always suspicious of the Lomo hype but, all in favour of helping the families of Leningrad factory workers, I bought mine many years ago from one of those shady polish tradesmen that were first to cross the at the time crumbling iron curtain on terminally rusting old coaches.
After three ‘lomographs’ the camera jammed never to function again, and is now part of my sad collection of eastern rip offs, together with a few from China and other such places. But this time you can take part to an international competition and win a very western BMW X3, exactly like the one parked in the coffee and sandwiches area, provided you send in lots of snaps and pass a quick but proficient selection by experts. Ten golden rules are given to obey or ignore and the stage is set for the next few months. SO if you call me between now and May next year, I will be lomographing! The golden rules? Get them yourself at Lomography.com. The X3?
I would only drive it if they gave it away. Which, in a way, they are…
Seriously: I took to Lomography straight away and spent the rest of my visit to the trade show and to Paris shooting Lomo style with my own compacts, a japanese and a german one. It’s not in the camera, it’s in the attitude. And it is fun!

What to buy? Please don’t buy these big fashion names… You can get very good reproductions of all the famous icons of the different periods in the neighbourhood of les Halles, any format you like and really not very different from these fiber based ‘originals’ that they have had printed for them by some unknown corean born black and white master working in a backstreet of Paris or New York. You already bought the magazine, you bought the coffee table book… well, if you must, buy the poster at a print shop but don’t fall for this fine art new marketing jacket of the same product.

If you can afford it buy old, sincere and authentic work that you love looking at. Choose a print that has more intrinsic qualities, something that you know cannot be reproduced. I loved the Cameron portrait of Darwin, or a great print of a photo of hands by Albert Rudomine, whom I didn’t even know. The gallery agent was so confident and kind as to allow me to photograph the original on show with my own camera. There was hardly any light available due to the dramatic darkroomlike atmosphere inside the stand, all black and warm spotlights on each print, but I tried it anyway to have at least a memory. He knew that I could not replace the original print, no way. A New York dealer was even giving away great looking reproduction cards.
Or better still, buy modern work by new authors. Trust your own feelings and buy what you personally like, possibly directly from the photographers. Visit the studios and talk to the people who made them, if possible. Scan the internet and learn a few things about photography in the process. There is much to gain: new work is a lot cheaper, ranging around a few hundred euros for very interesting things that you will enjoy, along with the pleasure of discovering and promoting new talent. Be a patron, not a sucker.

On leaving this big show, very tired, I was satisfied at having seen so many operators active in the sector. It is important that they are there promoting, wheeling and dealing. Still, there were very few british galleries and no south europeans present, but very good things from eastern Europe, like a gallery from Prague. There were also very interesting and good editors from all over, with enough magazines and books to make your head spin. I won’t even begin to name a few.

A little foot note: I would like to see art more differentiated from commercial imagery. Is it really possible that the same super models should be the all around muses of the age? Can they be equally so unashamedly and commercially successfull as well as culturally challenging? Does cross over mean that the average is totally in tune with the intelligentsia or are we succumbing to global blissfull dementia? Germaine Greer’s observation about PR being at the very core of modern art comes to mind but don’t be alarmed: you can still make a difference, at least on your walls: make your own choices.

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