"Extremely pleased with the strong attendance and the robust sales." That's what most exhibitors reported to me as the 22nd edition Paris Photo drew to its close. There was even more to see this year than last, altogether 168 dealers and galleries, 31 book publishers, plus all the special exhibitions, including the McEvoy Family Collection, the JP Morgan Chase Art Collection and the New York Times "Hard Truths". Attendance was reportedly up by nearly 7% to just under 69,000 visitors.
But it wasn't just the international photography world that descended on Paris that week. The last day of the fair saw the commemorations of the armistice of the First World War, the guns falling silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Some 70 heads of state, including Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, attended and needless to say, the demonstrators against Trump were out in full force. The police decided to close several Metro stations around 10 am, including those close to the Grand Palais. When I reached the Metro Station République, it was being evacuated and the first thing I saw when I came up on Place de la République was the "Baby Trump Inflatable", gently rocking in the wind while the demonstrators and the police were preparing for the day.
As for the man himself? Well, as the Guardian put it, "He came, He Sulked, He Tweeted". And managed to offend just about everyone.
The fair organizers hadn't taken the commemorations into account it seemed, and realized their error only very late in the day, sending out emails on the 9th, changing the opening hours on the 11th from 10.30 to noon. Not everyone got message, leaving a great number of visitors more than a little disgruntled. The closed Metro stations and the blocked-off roads didn't help. And the rain was pouring down.
There was a certain amount of debate how this year's fair compared to previous editions. Some felt it was the best yet, others that last year's was better. As for myself, I felt that it kept the same high standard as it has for a good couple of years now.
Howard Greenberg commented, "Being on the committee, I can tell you that we really do work hard to keep the standards high and that means a combination of quality work and quality presentation. It's a work in progress and we're always critical of this or the other thing but the fair has evolved in a really positive way. And it shows. I feel good when I walk around the fair and look at the booths. Great diversity of work and presentation and for the most part it's of high quality. Good galleries bring their best. We always take chances on some galleries but the vetting process has worked well to increase the quality year by year. This year's fair seemed more eventful than any other and certainly more crowded than ever. I thought they did a great job on the special exhibitions and the programming. I would like to see it perhaps a little less congested in the future but it's good for the exhibitors that there is so much good going on. The Grand Palais continues to be the best possible venue for the fair. I'm not looking forward to 2020 when we have to move out, even though we will do our best possible to make the alternative venue acceptable."
With regards to sales, Greenberg told me, "Obviously I can't speak for other exhibitors, but most of the ones I talked to who have not always been happy in the past were happy this year. We didn't sell as many pictures this year as I have been accustomed to. The dollar rate was solid but not quite as high as the last two years but still good. Our installation of the Bruce Davidson gang pictures drew a lot of comments. It's one of the greatest photo essays ever made and no one has ever seen prints of the entire book. We sold an important photogram by László Moholy-Nagy, and there were a number of individual pieces that we could probably have sold ten times over. Among them, an inexpensive but very strong Paul Himmel and a series of six pictures by Dave Heath. There was strong interest in Heath's work because of the show at Le Bal in Paris."
I always enjoy the Montreuil-based gallery Lumière des Roses' stand. The gallery is all about unique pieces, whether by big names or anonymous photographers. They have built up a loyal following who make a dash straight to the stand after the doors have opened. Philippe Jacquier told me, "That's the game for us and those are the rules. So there's no time to think about it, they have to buy immediately. We have had a great fair and have sold around 75 % of the booth."
There was intriguing material here. I was particularly impressed by an ambrotype of a man in top hat with a dog and a snapshot of Egon Schiele. Jacquier told me, "The ambrotype is incredible. I found it a long time ago. It was taken in 1855 in Swindon in the UK. If I were a collector, I would keep it myself! The condition and tones are just wonderful, and I sold to a French collection."
The snapshot of Schiele caused some debate here and there. It had a series of cracks running across it and some felt that the price, 25000 euros, was more than high. Jacquier said, "I bought it from a collector who found it 40 years ago at a flea market in France. It was actually the very first thing we sold. Some have said, 'The condition is not very good', but I like this kind of condition, and the buyer feels the same. It's a real masterpiece, a really rare image."
Chicago-based gallery Stephen Daiter brought magnificent material, including works by Robert Frank, Lynne Cohen, William Eggleston, and a wonderful group of Aaron Siskind prints mounted on masonite board. Daiter told me, "I find it fairly unpredictable what's going to sell at an art fair. I thought the Eggleston prints had a currency in Europe. I wasn't sure about the Robert Franks. We regularly show Lynn Cohen's work, Aaron Siskind and other Institute of Design work. What's unusual is that we have brought landscape work as well, which we don't typically show. But we were offered a selection by Dawoud Bey, and they fit very well with our Siskinds. There was an excellent show with Dave Heath at Le Bal here in Paris, so it was a great opportunity to bring his work as well."
As for sales, Daiter told me, "We have sold a couple of Egglestons, several Robert Franks and Cohens, Sabine Weiss, at least one Alex Webb, and we have had a lot of interest in the Bey landscape work, and they will probably sell after the fair."
Performance-related photography from the '60s, '70s and '80s used to be a rarity at the fair, but there was plenty of it this year. I stopped by the Hungarian gallery ART+TEXT Budapest. The gallery who showed work by Miklos Erderly, Tibor Hajas, Csaba Koncz, Peter Timáer and others.
Director Gábor Rieder told me, "This is our first time at Paris Photo. The gallery is pretty young, founded four years ago, and we made our international debut at Photo London this year. The booth is about the Hungarian Avant Garde 1965-1984. During this period the scene was overshadowed by the communist ideological photojournalism, but there were a number of young progressive artists who started to work in different ways."
They had had real difficulties. Erderly said, "It was the end of an optimistic period during the end of '60s. It was stopped by the state party, and it increased the pressure, making life much harder. But they couldn't put the genie back in the bottle, so artists started to do something, and created an art space in an abandoned chapel and did shows as well performances there. It didn't last long and the space was closed down by the authorities. We are now working with those artists, and there aren't many vintage prints. There was no market to speak so they printed a few versions and exhibited in very small clubs and basements. We are very pleased with the interest we have had and we have sold many pieces by István Szerencés, Gábor Kerekes and Csaba Koncz."
In the next booth, Santa Monica-based Peter Fetterman was visibly pleased. He showed a large selection of French humanist photography and the booth was packed solid all the time. Fetterman told me, " I had this crazy idea that I would make a tribute to all the great French photographers that influenced me and enabled me to start and maintain my own gallery. I was a bit nervous about it. I feared that maybe it would be perceived as a bit of cliché, an American bringing images of Paris to Paris, but I have been totally overwhelmed by the response. We have made most of our sales to French people, and I think the show has touched a kind of core. We live in a very sad world. The humanity expressed by these great photographers has really warmed people. It's been phenomenal. So it was a big gamble, but it seems my gut instinct was right. It's our best Paris Photo ever, but I think it's all about timing. We have the worst human beings in the world, Putin and Trump, just two minutes from us, and people just revel in the humanity in these images, the humanity that doesn't seem to exist any more."
Fetterman had done more than well, "We have sold every Martine Franck print we had, and there's a lot of interest in her work now that Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson is opening in a new venue with a show of her work. She was such a wonderful person to me. We have also sold a lot of Willy Ronis, Boubat, Robert Doisneau, Riboud. Quite frankly I'm sorry it's over! I wish we could have a few more days here."
With regards to the market generally, Fetterman commented, "If it's great material and it touches people, then the market is strong. I think people are more sensitive now and can tell when an image has been created for a market rather than as a personal statement. All these photographers in my booth, back in the day they never sold anything. They did it, because they had to do it. Emotionally they had to express themselves through their photography. But a lot of the work created today is big prints about nothing, in an edition of three, and that's supposed to make it important? It's manufactured, and I think people are catching on to that. It's a lot of hype. I think the real artists will always be successful, and the here-today, gone tomorrow won't. It's Darwin basically, survival of the fittest and the most talented. And I think market corrections are good."
I stopped by New York-based Keith De Lellis' booth several times. Not just because of the excellent material on offer, including several studies by Edward Steichen and one of the very best early Irving Penn still life silver prints that I have ever seen, but also because the selection came across as a collection, put together with meticulous care by a true connoisseur.
De Lellis told me, "Some of the prints are from my personal collection because I wanted to show some really special work. I decided to put together an exhibition with pictures on a theme, which I don't usually do as I tend to do a cross section of material. It gave me an opportunity to exhibit works by photographers I don't usually show, such as examples of early color photography, Carbro prints by Hi Williams and Harold Haliday Costaine. It starts with pictures going back as far as 1916, platinum prints Bernard Shea Horne, and goes all the way through the history of photography. The latest photograph is by Bert Stern, a 1955 color photograph that was made to sell Smirnoff vodka, a martini glass with a pyramid in the background."
De Lellis had had some good sales, "The fair has a lot of energy and excitement. The crowds are unbelievable, an enormous turnout. We have sold a number of pictures, including a Brassaï of Picasso's studio, bought by the Picasso Museum, which was exciting. I have also met some new collectors, including a woman from Toronto who collects abstract photography. It's still a very undiscovered area in photography. Most people want to see people and photojournalism, so it's refreshing to meet somebody who collects in an area that's underappreciated."
Tucson-based Etherton Gallery's booth was equally impressive, with exquisite prints by Frederick Sommer, Harry Callahan and Emmet Gowin. Terry Etherton told me, "These are three of the giants of 20th-century American photography. There are overlaps and connections between these photographers, both in terms of subject matter and conceptually. Emmet Gowin was heavily influenced by both Sommer and Callahan. We chose to illustrate the influence that Sommer and Callahan had on Gowin, and to also show the similarities and differences between Callahan and Sommer. I have worked with this material for over three decades and saw Paris Photo as an opportunity to finally organize a booth that allowed me to show a range of material and to "curate" a booth that would serve to educate the public about these three great photographers. We were especially gratified to have ArtNet choose Etherton Gallery as on of the five "must see" booths at Paris Photo. We did not make a lot of sales at the show but have a number of prints on hold now for collectors and institutions. The sales that we did make were very good sales to important institutions and to collectors who we had not met previously."
Many curators are right now looking left, right and center for work by female photographers, classic as well as contemporary. Steven Kasher's booth was devoted to a single artist, Joan Lyons. It was highly interesting work, including a large size textile work. Director Cassandra Johnson told me, "Joan's work is quite different though because it falls into the category of contemporary art even though it's photo based. There's not a single silver gelatin print in the booth. She uses obscure photographic techniques and was an early pioneer. She was living and working in Rochester, NY, so she was in the hotbed of Eastman Kodak and Xerox, and the technologies they introduced in the 1970s. She had access to those machines and used them to make this work. She combined the new technology with pinhole photography, lithography and screen printing. Joan trained as a painter and print maker, so her approach to photography was that of a print maker. She calls the work, using Xerox technology, photographic drawings. The work addresses questions like, what a woman is, what a woman wants and how a woman can be a mother and also have a career, especially as an artist. These are conversations that are still going today. So it feels very fresh."
Lyons' work has never really been shown in Europe and not in the United States for quite some time. Johnson said, "She's more known for the Visual Studies Workshop, an artist book press that she ran with her husband Nathan for about 40 years. This is really exciting for us, as it has made it possible for us to cement her place in the art historical canon. We have had a great amount of press, and people have responded really well to the work. They think it's a great discovery, and we feel the same way. Our stand is really a preview of a much larger exhibition that opens the next week in our gallery. So it's a real push for Joan to get her back into the market. With regards to sales, it hasn't been a blockbuster but for us, it was really about getting her work in front of people, curators, collectors and the media."
The Stephen Kasher Gallery is ironically closing its doors at the end of the year, and both Kasher and Johnson are heading over to David Zwirner's mega gallery system to focus on photography for that gallery.
London-based dealer James Hyman presented more British photography than in previous years. He noted, "I have been doing a lot over the last few years to support British photography and promote it internationally, such as gifting work to Yale Center for British Art. And it still remains underappreciated, undervalued, under seen. So although the work is probably the least expensive in the entire fair, that is the emphasis of our stand because we wanted it to be seen, such as work by Paul Hill, Brian Griffin, Dafydd Jones--key people from the '70s and '80s. In the context of the art market it's still incredibly cheap. In addition to the black and white British, we also have a wall with color work by Anna Fox and Paul Reas, pioneering color work from the 80's. Incredibly respected in the UK, but not well enough known abroad. We do have other work as well: André Kertész, Diane Arbus, Bill Brandt and David Goldblatt, but the main focus is on the British."
Hyman also showed nine images from the British photographer Heather Agyepong's series "Blackamoor". Hyman told me, "Her work has been one of the successes for us. It's a series of self-portraits, imagining herself as Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a black woman at the court of Queen Victoria. What Heather is trying to explore is the place of black figures in British history. We know about the Windrush Generation, that is the immigrants from the Caribbean in 1950s and '60s, but she is tracing black figures throughout British history and reimagining their lives and their emotions. Apart from that, we have sold right across the board, and to private collectors as well as major museums, so we have had a very good fair."
The San Francisco-based gallery Fraenkel showed some impressive works by Richard Learoyd, Robert Adams Hiroshi Sugimoto, Diane Arbus and others, but the real showstopper here was a group of flower images by Adam Fuss. They were nothing short of incredible.
Frish Brandt told me, " I just had a colleague come by, and he said, 'I just saw your Instagram post.' He knows Adam's work really well and has lusted for it for years. He told me, 'I had no idea about this work.' And it's extremely new. Each piece is unique. They're roses, not just any roses, but particular roses that do what Adam wants them to do. He runs them through an etching press. They're then flattened and scanned immediately, and after that he works on the scans a bit. He then sends the files to Spain, and they're printed in a very particular way on Gesso coated aluminum, so there is no paper involved. What looks like paper is the photograph of the watercolor on which the roses were smashed. As Adam would say, 'The way it's made has nothing to do with what it is.' I think they're exceedingly visceral, which is the best part of his work. We have done really well with them, but we have sold right across the board, and Paris Photo is always good for us."
There were also Sugimoto prints at Hans Kraus' stand, two prints on either side of a Gustave Le Gray sunlight effect seascape, forming a triptych that drew a lot of very positive comments. Like last year, Kraus showed a selection of classic and contemporary work. And this meant that Paula and Robert Hershkowitz's stand was the only one devoted solely to 19th-century photography. Paula told me, "We had an important collection of Charles Leander Weed mammoth prints of Yosemite, and that was the starting point. Then we look at a lot of things we had in the bank vault, things we hadn't looked at for quite some time and decided to make a selection."
Robert continued, "We sold the best of the Weed prints to Rijksmuseum, which was nice. We sold a Hill and Adamson and an Emerson, both to European collectors and a number of industrial images to a European institution, so we are reasonably happy. We have had great response from everybody, and we are particularly pleased that we have had so many young people who have said how fantastic these works are. The prices are still out of reach for most people but all it takes is one young person to become well off and become a buyer."
After the fair, Robert confirmed what he told me earlier this year: that he will present a Roger Fenton exhibition at Photo London, May 16-19, 2019. While still a work in progress, it will present his personal perspective on Fenton and should not be missed.
Goodman, based in Johannesburg, had devoted the whole both to David Goldblatt. Damon Garstang told me, "We chose to do a solo booth with David's work because he had a major show at the Centre Pompidou earlier this year. Sadly David passed away in June this year so it was an apt moment to remember and celebrate him. David photographed South Africa, its people, landscapes and structures for 70 years, and it's a broad oeuvre to choose from. The booth is conceptualized around a theme, as opposed to slavishly presenting the work in a chronological fashion. We settled on the title "Inhabiting the silence" and the works have to do with the politics of space. It's been very successful fair in terms of sales. We are very pleased and we have sold to several private clients, and as well as institutions."
There are usually a number of booths each year presenting work by artists who have decided to break free of the flat surface. More often than not, I find these attempts more than a little labored. But there were some very fine examples this year. New York-based Yossi Milo showed "Interwoven", photographic prints by Kyle Meyer, who has worked between eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) and New York City since 2009. Meyer had combined digital photography with traditional Swazi crafts in woven portraits of members of the Swazi LGBT community, who are marginalized and forced to hide their queerness for basic survival.
I was also impressed with Paris-based Galerie Dix9 - Hélène Lachormoise's booth, with work by Sebastian Riemer and Leyla Gardenas--especially the latter's sculptural work and a work on textile of a crumbling building.
Lacharmoise told me, "I decided to show these two artists together, as both are interested in the layers of time. Leyla works in different media and she regards photography as a form of sculpture. These works are the result of her stay in Tbilisi, Georgia. She made this image by printing the work on textile, with vertical and horizontal threads. She then took out the horizontal threads and the image still exists, but it's fading, just as the building is crumbling. The piece is joined with thin bars of bronze and placed on stone. The sculpture-photographs are images of a quarry by a river near Tbilisi. The images were printed on Hahnemüle paper, the prints were then mounted on brass, which was bent into uneven shapes. Finally, she added real mortar at the bases, almost like a continuation of the river and the landscape. I just finished a show with Leyla at the gallery and when the collectors realized that I was showing at Paris Photo, they were quick to make decisions, so Paris Photo has worked well for me, even though I haven't sold these yet. But I'm pleased that I have had so much interest from curators."
I returned several time to Paris-based Françoise Paviot's booth. Paviot had combined vintage work with contemporary, and I particularly liked the series of 61 photographs, taken 1918-1968, put together by Alain Paviot. Françoise Paviot told me. "It's a little story, each image showing the lack of humanity. Some are by named photographers, some by unknowns. Some images are famous, like Thomas James Howard's photo of Ruth Snyder's execution in 1928 and the first woman to be electrocuted, and Robert Capa's "The Falling Soldier". We have sold well from this wall. And we believe in strong work that stands the test of time, often work that is difficult and makes you think, not decorative and no celebrities. For me, photography has to have soul and we like to exhibit our own choices and we don't chase photographers who have just had a show at a major museum."
Paviot sold a wonderful early album of images of Japan by Felice Beato, and had also done well with the contemporary work. "We sold work by Joan Fontcuberta, images of snails, and work by Juliette Agnel, who works in Greenland. It's not documentary work. It's about substance and humanity's place. We also sold work by Jürgen Nefzger, a great artist. He uses a large format camera, and the images are about nuclear energy. They are the result of his work with a group of anti-nuclear activists, who opposed the burial of nuclear waste in northern France."
Berlin-based Kicken's booth stopped me in my tracks the first time I went around with a series of 12 portraits by Helmer Lerski.
Ina Schmidit- Runke told me. "The prints are from his series "Metamorphosis through Light", which he made in 1935-36 in Tel Aviv. They are out of group of around 100 images that he made of the same model, on a rooftop, with sunlight and mirrors. The idea was to create psychological portraits, and they're also about the sculptural qualities of photography, as much as it's about film making. Lerski was also a cinematographer and had worked in Expressionist film in Berlin during the '20s and with Fritz Lang on "Metropolis", so the angles and the dramatic lighting reflects the mood of the time."
The rest of the booth was equally impressive, Schmidt-Runke told me, "We decided to bring a selection of highlights from the gallery's inventory, starting in the late 19th century, with Pictorialist images by Heinrich Kühn, and up to the performance-based work in the 1960s and '70s, including life-size body images by Floris Neusüss and Viennese Actionism by Günter Brus and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. Within that time span we also have two works by Moholy Nagy, a photogram of a profile, probably his then wife Lucia, and a collage, "In God's Earshot". We also have another collage I particularly like, by Hannah Höch. It's from the early 1940s and it's a statement on the state of humanity during the war, and she has turned the world upside down."
Sales had been steady at Kicken. "We have sold right across the board, both groups of prints and individual works, including Richard Avedon, East German photography, Abstract photography by Otto Steinert and Peter Keetman, and Japanese photographers who were active at the time, so it's been good."
There was no shortage of Japanese photography at the fair. There was a strong selection on offer in Tokyo-based Taka Ishili Gallery's booth. Elisa Uematsu told me, "Increasingly our gallery focuses on vintage rather than large-scale contemporary work. We are showing vintage work by Hiroshi Yamaya from the 1930s and a series from 1960s by Ikko Narahara called "Domains", which is about a women's prison and a trappist monastery in Kokaido hokaido. We have two vintage photos by Daido Moriyama; a series by Eikoh Hosoe, documenting performances by the doll-maker Yotsuya Simon; two works by Yoshitomo Nara, who is mostly known as a painter and ceramist; and works from the '60s that are like photo montage by Kunié Sugiura, a Japanese artist who attended the School of Art Institute in Chicago. He done well at the fair and the response has been great from both European and Asian collectors."
London-based gallery Huxley-Parlour exhibited for the first time at the fair and had landed itself a great stand close to the entrance. Giles Huxley-Parlour told me, "We were pleased to show a solo presentation of William Wegman, a retrospective selection from 1970s vintage conceptual photographs, his celebrated large Polaroids, and contemporary pieces. We also curated a back room of selected rare pieces by various masters, including Irving Penn, Terence Donovan and Arnold Newman.
"We were thrilled with our first Paris Photo, and were honored to be exhibiting alongside so many famous and esteemed colleagues. We sold 250k euros of pictures, from Wegman to Irving Penn, which is enough for us at any first outing at a fair and we made a profit! We also met some incredible collectors, who we hope to work with into the future. As ever, the rest of the fair presented a well balanced selection of extraordinary vintage material, alongside the best of cutting edge contemporary."
The current state of the photography market and its difficulties cropped up in several discussions I had during the fair. I asked Howard Greenberg to comment, "Yes, but it's been that way during the 35 years I have been at it! All I can say is that I wish the market was as strong as it was this week in Paris. If Paris Photo was all we had to go by, I'd say we're all in the right industry. But when we get back to our galleries, well, it's up and down. It's a tough market right now, no doubt about. And what does tough mean? Less predictable, less compelling for collectors. I think it's like that generally in the art market, not just photography. There are a lot things going on in the world right now that work against the financial and psychological freedom of people to collect to the fullest. With photography, there's the constant problem of too much supply and a lot people who don't understand vintage photography and are afraid of it. The auctions are a big, big problem for photo galleries because of the volume that are being sold. And competing with that is difficult. The other side of the coin is that the interest is growing and the market is spreading and becoming global. There are far more galleries and museums collecting photography around the world. There are more, perhaps not collectors, but buyers. It has become more diffused and has lost any kind of uniformity and predictability, like it had 25 years ago."
The 23rd edition of Paris Photo will be held at the Grand Palais on November 6-10, 2019.
Michael Diemar is a long-time writer about the photography scene, in addition to being a collector, curator, lecturer and ex-London gallerist (in 2009 opening Diemar/Noble Gallery). He has written extensively for several Scandinavian photography publications, as well as for the E-Photo Newsletter and I Photo Central.