Paris Photo, Photo Saint Germain, Biennale Des Photographes du Monde Arabe Contemporain, exhibitions, book launches, signatures and more. My photography cup runneth over.
This week in Paris there have been many, many photographic events and while I haven’t made it to all, I have attended a great number, interviewed various photographers from around the world, caught up with old friends and made new acquaintances. It has been a wonderful experience that will not be marred by the horrific terrorist events of Friday 13th, although it is an enormous shame that the Fair had to close two days early. Paris is truly one of the world’s great international cities, its people are open and welcoming and I have been blessed with messages of hope and help.
And so, to my photographic journey. Where to begin? The opening night of Paris Photo seems like a good place to start. What an amazing event. Hundreds of people – photographers, collectors, journalists, photography enthusiasts, curators, artists and more – descended on the Grand Palais on a perfect autumn evening to celebrate the 19th edition of the world’s largest and most prestigious photographic fair.
It was somewhat overwhelming to see nearly 150 exhibits from galleries all over the world laid out under the exquisite dome of the 120-year-old Grand Palais. Here fine photography is presented at the highest echelon. There are some extraordinary works by the masters as well as contemporary artists. It was wonderful to see Australian artists – Murray Fredericks and Bill Henson in particular – on the world’s stage.
Opening night isn’t just about previewing the work. It is also about socialising and I spent a busy few hours meeting friends and making contact with many I’ve interviewed remotely, but never met in person. I had the good fortune to run into John G. Morris and his partner Patricia Trocmé. I interviewed John last year about his book Somewhere in France: The Summer of ’44. John will be 99 years old in December and he’s currently working on his next book!
Good friends Sandro Miller and his lovely wife Claudie were also at the opening. Sandro recently won the Lucie Award for International Photographer of the Year. They stopped in Paris for a couple of days on their way to Poland where Sandro’s phenomenal body of work, ‘Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich’, is on show at Camerimage.
Later in the week I bumped into Magnum photographer Paolo Pellegrin, who is the first photojournalist I ever interviewed and who I credit with putting me on the path of photojournalism and social documentary writing. I also had the good fortune to spend a couple of hours catching up with Robert Pledge of Contact Press Images and sharing photography stories and a few laughs with Jean Loh of Beaugeste Photo Gallery in Shanghai. Simon Danger, photo editor of La Vie introduced me to the wonderfully talented Polish artist Wiktoria Wojciechowska. I in turn introduced Wiktoria to Bill Henson who is her great inspiration. One of the best aspects of an event like Paris Photo is the flow of creative energy and the brilliant associations possible.
One of the downsides of a restricted luggage allowance is that I can’t buy as many books as I’d like, but I did get some gems including a long awaited copy of Nicaragua by Susan Meiselas, which she signed for me too!
Yan Morvan – ‘Champs de Bataille’
One of the most entertaining interviews this week was with French photojournalist Yan Morvan who is brilliantly eccentric and quite the comedian. Often people tell me incredible stories, but Yan wins the prize in the OMG that can’t be true stakes.
Our interview started with Yan recalling that he had an Australian girlfriend once many years ago when he was living in Bangkok in a brothel where “all these guys from Australia came to have cheap sex”. I’m not sure if this was meant to shock me or if he’s having a bit of fun, but there’s a twinkle in his eye that said there is mischief here. In response I laughed at the idea of this man, who is now in his early sixties, his dark hair more grey than not, his blue eyes framed by black-rimmed reading glasses, reliving his youth through saucy tales. He laughed too and the door was opened.
Over several coffees Yan told me how his exploits – running with gangs, photographing a mass murderer, being tortured, starring in a porn flick (that was an accident, he lost a bet) – when condensed into a few pages for an article make a thrilling tale. “Oh yeah it’s like Yan Morvan the living legend,” he laughs heartily. “You know the stories are true, but it’s forty years in three pages. I didn’t set out to do all these things. I’m not this tough photojournalist guy ready to head into battle”.
Once a film director approached him to do a movie about his life, but was disappointed that Yan wasn’t a macho action man. “In all the situations I’ve been in I’ve never been wounded by bullets, only by motorcycle crashes”. He holds up his right hand to show the little finger is missing in part, an example of his scars. He has others but I don’t need to see them, Yan says. That is correct!
It would be easy to explore his more avant-garde moments and write another ‘wow look at the crazy things Yan Morvan has done’ story, but my interest lies in his new book and perhaps his greatest undertaking in terms of time and scope – ‘Champs de Bataille’ (Battlegrounds).
Documenting the world’s greatest battlegrounds is perhaps the epitome for this photojournalist who says he came to the profession because of his lifelong love of history. “Every time I go on a battlefield I am very excited to see what it looks like. I started in 2004 in Normandy. I’ve been to Turkey, to cover the Anzacs, your guys, to Waterloo, Stalingrad, Misrata…there are so many places where people killed each other.” It is clear that last statement holds fascination and horror for Yan who says this project is further evidence that the human race has learned nothing. Events in Paris this week confirm that.
Yan is not interested in photographing the human toll of war, rather his focus is now on the scarred landscapes. There is something eerie about these images. On first glace they are fields of flowers and trees, windswept plains, or decaying buildings and urban-scapes, but on closer inspection the scars become evident. In Yan’s pictures we can see where great swathes of earth have been gouged, stones lie broken by mortar, wood and metal are tangled and rotting, and wreckage of battles become grotesque sculptures. In many scenes the debris of battle lies in wait for nature to rejuvenate and cover its path. In others, like the photograph of the Battle of Waterloo and Antietam, crops now grow in the soil that was once soaked with the blood of thousands.
‘Champs de Bataille’ is a massive undertaking that began a decade ago. In that time Yan has photographed 250 battlefields carting his Deardorff camera with him across 35 countries. After experimenting with various formats he says, “8×10 was the right way for me to tell this story, this world of memory”. The photographs are rich in texture and detail and many evoke notions of Renaissance paintings. I’ve seen them in the book and on the wall in large format. They are impressive works of art as well as historical documents.
The 660-page book is beautifully produced, and Yan is proud that it is by a French publisher. It is a heavy tome in all senses and its weight makes it prohibitive to pop into my case. I’m disappointed because this is one book I would love to own, but at nearly 7kg it is impossible. Yan laughs and shows me an even bigger version with a slipcase. “And there is a larger one again!” He is clearly delighted with the outcome, but is keen to continue the work, as there are many other battlefields to cover before he packs his Deardorff away for good.
Ron Haviv – The Lost Rolls
VII co-founder and award-winning photojournalist Ron Haviv was also in Paris to launch his new book and magazine ‘The Lost Rolls’, which literally features photographs that Ron re-discovered when he found around 200 rolls of film he hadn’t processed. “There might be even more,” he smiles.
Of the 200 a number were blank, and some had only one frame worthwhile using. In the end there were about 140 rolls that were usable. Robert Peacock and Ron edited the photographs together basing the selection process on “the story behind the photograph, or lack of, and the actual photograph itself. Some had varying degrees of degradation and became more than what they were originally also,” Ron explains.
He says it was quite fascinating rediscovering images or finding other versions of photographs that had been published years ago and were quite well known. “There are also images here that I don’t know where I was, or who the people are or why I was photographing them. While that’s interesting in terms of a sense of mystery, it’s also disconcerting. And then there are images that I remember taking but never saw or couldn’t find. Some of those memories and adventures are now more complete. But I’ve also now created all sorts of other incomplete scenarios and I really now want to know what those images are”.
This is Ron’s fifth book and his first self-publishing venture. He says nowadays it is a more complicated process to find a traditional publisher to take on a project and often that involves the photographer coming up with a substantial amount of money, usually around $25-30,000. With this project there was the additional cost of developing the film also. Ron teamed up with Blurb to produce ‘The Lost Rolls’ in a venture that helped both parties; it allowed Blurb to showcase its new technologies and Ron to develop the film and have control of the distribution and marketing.
“The stigma that existed with self-publishing even three or four years ago is no longer realistic. Distribution now is pretty easy, it’s been democratised and that was one of the reasons you’d go to a traditional publisher. The second would be the public relations around the book. Having done traditional publishing I’ve found they’re often terrible at that. So what’s the difference? It’s distribution and PR. So if you can do that as a photographer your book is going to be successful.”
The quality of the book is impressive, and Ron tells that it is printed offset, not digitally printed on demand. That’s an exciting development, making offset printing more affordable for self-publishers and raising the quality available. Blurb also offers warehousing and orders are made directly. The photographer chooses the production price and their mark up and Blurb manages the whole process. It doesn’t get any easier than that. PR is up to the photographer and as many today have large social media networks, getting the message out is relatively straightforward.
Ron chose to print around 1500 copies of ‘The Lost Rolls’ hardcover book. Given it was a Blurb project, Ron also had the opportunity to produce a magazine so Blurb could show off the other technologies available to photographers. “The magazine is really exciting, probably even more exciting than the books because it is obviously less expensive to produce and you have the ability to do a magazine of any size”.
“In differentiation to the book, we approached the Lost Rolls magazine more as an editorial – text on photographs, captions with the images. It was a cool way to do something different.”
Ron says the magazine concept opens up a whole lot of opportunities. VII is planning to produce a series of magazines. In fact this weekend just past, Ron and VII photographer Ashley Gilbertson presented at a conference in Boston and had available a VII magazine featuring the refugee work the agency’s photographers have done recently. “People want to have something in their hand. It’s great to have the iPad, but people still – not the masses but enough of an audience – want to flip through a magazine, they want to have something tangible”.
‘The Lost Rolls’ has both a French and English version, with different covers. Ron says that’s another benefit of self-publishing with Blurb, the ability to on the fly upload a new PDF of the book and adapt it for various markets.
“Blurb is a very smart company and Eileen (Gittins the founder) is quite brilliant in what she’s done,” Ron says. “I think this is my best book.”
David Burnett – L’Homme sans Gravité
It was great to catch up with American photojournalist David Burnett in Paris at L’Imagigraphe bookshop for the launch of his book ‘L’Homme sans Gravité’, which is available in French only at present, but an English version is in the wind. Although with these photographs, words are not a necessity.
I last interviewed David when he was in Australia for Reportage Festival a couple of years ago when we spoke about his work with Bob Marley. L’Homme sans Gravité showcases David’s work in the sporting arena, but don’t be fooled, this is not a book of sport photographs. Many of these images transcend the documentary format and cross over to art where the human body is captured in dances and feats that literally defy gravity. This is some of the most beautiful and engaging “sport” photography I’ve ever seen.
Exhibitions – My Highlights:
Foam Talents 2015
Annually Foam Magazine seeks to identify talented photo media artists under the age of 35. This year’s group of 21 artists was exhibited at Atelier Néerlandais in a fantastic multi-level space in another beautiful heritage Parisian building. Of the works on show three were, in my opinion, truly outstanding – Alessandro Calabrese’s lightbox works, Jean-Vincent Simonet’s collage and Sjoerd Knibbeler’s installation.
Until 20 December
First Biennale of Photographers of the Contemporary Arab World
This joint venture by the Institut du Monde Arabe and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) presents the works of around 50 mainly western photographers who have trained their cameras on the Arab world since the beginning of the 2000s. I viewed the collection on show at MEP – Stéphane Couturier, Bruno Barbey, Massimo Berruti, Andrea & Magda, Leila Alaoui and Daoud Aoulad-Syad.
In particular I found Berruti’s gritty black and white images of the “inexorable pollution” of the water systems in the Gaza strip and its impact on the population, Barbey’s rich, vibrant cultural dissertation of Morroco and Turkey, and Couturier’s urban Algiers landscapes the most engaging.
Until 17 January, 2016
Maison Européenne de la Photographie
Cité Internationale des Arts
Photo 12 Gallery
Basia Embiricos Gallery
Graine de Photographe.com
Wim & Donata Wenders
Places of the Mind
This is the first joint exhibition for husband and wife Wim and Donata Wenders since 2005. ‘Places of the Mind’ encompasses photographs, conceptual video and audio shot over a four-year period in Canada. The gala opening at Polka Galerie on Thursday night drew a packed house keen to see the work and the Wenders.
Donata’s work centres on the short film ‘James reading – Reading James’, which she shot in Canada on the set of the film ‘Everything Will Be Fine’, which stars James Franco and was directed by Wim Wenders. In ‘James reading – Reading James’ Donata follows the actor in between takes where he is reading a book – apparently he was engrossed in reading the entire time he wasn’t working. This short film combines still photography and moving images set against an original soundtrack by Laurent Petitgand. In addition to the film there are also several black and white photographs of Franco on show. Wim’s photographs were also shot in Canada and further explore his passion for places and landscapes that carry the presence of those who have gone before.
Until 9 January
La Galerie de Photographies at the Centre Pompidou presents the works of French filmmaker and photographer Agnès Varda. This was one of my favourite exhibitions. I am a fan of black and white photography, and historical works, and Varda’s Cuba, shot in the early 1960s, is wonderfully insightful and transcendent.
Opening night had a gala air and while many enjoyed the complimentary champagne, others crowded into the exhibition space to view the work and watch the moving footage. The only disappointment was the fact that many of the prints are small and the lighting and congested space made it difficult to view. The catalogue is a magnificent production and allows you to spend more time with the images.
Until 1 February, 2016
La Galerie de Photographies
“Suis mon Regard” is an exhibition of 40 photographers of VU, a leading photographic agency and gallery. This group show is designed to showcase the diversity that embodies the creative force of VU and to allow the audience to view the world through the very different visual signatures of VU’s photographers. This is a powerful exhibition, and there is a certain quintessence to many of these works that make them memorable. Once again it was difficult to view the work properly because of the sizeable crowd, but I guess opening nights are rarely about the work and more about the social opportunity.
Until 2 January, 2016
Photo Saint Germain
This is the 4th edition of this festival in the Saint Germain district that features various exhibitions at independent galleries and bookstores. Also included in the festival are two brilliant exhibitions – “Who’s Afraid of Women Photographers” a collection of images from some of the earliest female photographers and photojournalists at Musée de l’Orangerie (1839-1919) and Musée d’Orsay (1918-1945).
This award-winning series of portraits of Chinese scooter and bicycle riders travelling in the rain began by chance, as often the best photo essays do. Polish photo artist Wiktoria Wojciechowska had recently arrived in China and found herself on the sidewalk watching the riders whiz past in their brightly coloured raincoats. She started to take photographs, an umbrella taped to a tripod to keep herself and the camera dry. As she amassed a collection of portraits she began to investigate the background of the scooter riders and discovered that many were from minorities or regional areas, marginalised by the increasing numbers of affluent Chinese. She says that scooter and bicycle riding is now considered a lowly activity; having a car is thought to be a status symbol that many Chinese aspire to. This series has won a number of awards including this year’s Oskar Barnack Leica Newcomer Award, La Quatrieme Image Young Talents and Humanity Photo Awards 2015, documentary category. Wiktoria is now working on a series in Ukraine and she shared a preview of this work with me. She is definitely someone to watch.
Letzte Generation Ost
This book is unique in many aspects. Its subject matter deals with the impact of the former GDR and its collapse, on the last generation of GDR citizens. Photo-artist Kristin Trüb, who is of this generation says she and her peers “were born in the final years of the former GDR. Their families corresponded to the propagandized principles, they received socialist education in their early years, and lived in the typical tower blocks in Hagenow. Naturally, since the collapse of the former GDR, much has changed. This project is an approach to illustrate how that last generation experienced the collapse of the GDR, what they noticed consciously and how they look back on this time now”.
Kristin conducted interviews with nine of her peers, took their portraits and other photographs to illustrate and convey the impression of the memories and experiences of the last generation of the former GDR. These interviews and images appear in the book along with maps and dossiers on each person. It’s beautifully printed and packaged in a box in line with the tone of the publisher, Éditions Bessard that is known for its unique approach to book design. It’s quickly become one of my favourite books.
Aux Arts etc…
And finally, I was introduced to this little haven overlooking Notre Dame at 15 Quai de Montebello. Run by artists Beatriz Ronzero, a photographer and Aleksandar Ivanovic, a painter, this gallery come café is filled with original art. Regularly they hold exhibitions and the walls are decorated with works from six permanent artists. Food, wine and art combine to make Aux Arts etc…a great destination.