Los Angeles's Paramount Pictures Studios was the setting for a new art fair last week: the inaugural Paris Photo L.A. (Apr. 26-28), the newest edition of the French photography fair Paris Photo, now in its 17th year. In the introduction to the fair catalogue, director Julien Frydman writes that Los Angeles was an obvious choice because of its "unique relationship to the construction of images—both moving and still."

The Californian spring fair aims to provide a counterpoint to the saturated calendar of fairs in New York and Miami Beach. At 73 exhibitors, including galleries and book dealers, participation was considerably less than the 128 galleries and 23 book specialists that attended the last Paris iteration.

The Hollywood studio provided a memorable backdrop. Exhibitors set up shop in the storefronts of the New York Backlot, complete with a fake Lower East Side, brownstones and "missing dog" flyers, so that you could stroll through an artificial Manhattan, the tops of palm trees peeking in from beyond its limits.

Paris Photo veteran Olivier Andreotti, of Parisian publishing house Toluca, told A.i.A. that the inaugural fair presented many unknowns. New Yorkers warned him that L.A. could be "a bit provincial," and the question was whether local collectors "who love to travel would be in a position to buy five minutes from their own place, or if they would prefer to come to Paris in November." He predicted that other dealers would take a wait-and-see approach.

Andreotti suggested that the L.A. fair was not as selective as the Paris fair: "Honestly, some of the people exhibiting here are people who tried to apply in Paris for many years and weren't allowed in the fair."

Andreotti participated because "for the French, L.A. is mythical," and he was drawn by the prospect of a new client pool. "The way the fair was sold to us was that it's very close to Japan and very close to Latin America, but we haven't seen any Latin American collectors."

The 60 participating galleries hail overwhelmingly from Europe and the United States. The roster included prominent Los Angeles galleries not necessarily focused on photography, like Perry Rubenstein, Gagosian and Regen Projects. Also present were European galleries including Galerie Perrotin (Paris). 127 Gallery from Marrakech attended, while Asia and Latin America were represented only by Mem and Taka Ishii  (both Tokyo), K.O.N.G., from Seoul, South Korea, and Patricia Conde from Mexico City.

Not all exhibitors were photo-centric. Though San Francisco dealer Cheryl Haines does not primarily represent photographers (Haines showed Kota Ezawa's lightbox transparencies), and she is "not a fan" of fairs, as she told A.i.A., she was compelled to join this one by the unique setting. Haines occupied a corner storefront along a thoroughfare between the two soundstages.

Dealers catered to a wide range of budgets, with prices ranging from the low to mid tens of thousands, with outliers in the hundreds of thousands. Collectors could snatch up a photo by actor Leonard Nimoy for $4,000 at Louis Stern (Los Angeles), or a Thomas Ruff portfolio, "Two Women," for $25,000 at Toluca (Paris).  

Asked about sales mid-fair, Parisian dealer Christophe Gaillard said they were good enough to warrant returning next year, but "not fantastic." Gaillard was showing photos by Brooklyn-based Hannah Whitaker and 60s works by French artist Pierre Molinier, the darling of Surrealist André Breton, that portray people in fetishistic clothing and kaleidoscopic patterns created by mutiple female figures in boudoir attire.

Contemporary photography ruled, and lensless works stood out for their formal experimentation. There were Matthew Brandt's cocaine-dusted photographer's velvet at M+B (Los Angeles), Chris McCaw's "Sunburn" series at Stephen Wirtz (San Francisco), Allison Rossiter's delicate formal studies at Yossi Milo (New York), and Ryan McGinness' cyanotypes at Quint (La Jolla). Prewar works were rare but included Man Ray photos at Parisian Galerie 1900-2000, or the Japanese Bauhaus photographer Iwao Yamakawi at Howard Greenberg (New York).

No Los Angeles event is complete without Hollywood celebrities. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner faced off with photographer Gregory Crewdson as part of L.A.-based curator Douglas Fogle's educational program, "Sound and Vision," which comprised screenings, book signings and conversations between artists and curators. Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick and Jodie Foster were spotted at the preview, and model Tyra Banks and director David Lynch were later seen perusing the booths. Sean Penn made a cameo as well; Penn's NGO for sustainable programs in Haiti partnered with Giorgio Armani's "Acqua for Life" project this year, and at the fair the Italian label put on "Acqua," an exposition of Jim Goldberg's new photos of the Caribbean island. 


PHOTO: The New York backlot. Courtesy Paris Photo.