When I first entered Paris Photo, the fair that took place last month at the Grand Palais, and stood at the top of a staircase overlooking this vast, glass-roofed hall built for the 1900 Exposition universelle, my view of the 120-plus booths exhibiting their wares below gave me the impression of an orderly, manageable event. But that was an illusion. As soon as I descended into the endless allées of galleries, the grid dissolved into a maze.
I had to trust my instincts as I glanced into each booth and made snap decisions about whether what was on view would be worth my while. One rule of thumb I followed was not to enter any gallery that put images of naked women up front in hopes of snagging horny male collectors. But even after I'd separated the exhibitionists from the exhibitors, it took me three days to work my way through the fair.
There were discoveries to be made, such as, at Galerie Odile Ouizeman (Paris), Laurent Pernot's moody 2007 studies of people perched on rocks watching a fireworks display.
Equally engaging were some new works by better known photographers--Vik Muniz's Card Players, a parody of the Cezanne painting made from torn color magazine illustrations, at Galerie Xippas (Paris, Geneva, Athens and Montevideo); a Nan Goldin collage titled Backs that mixes her snapshots of classical sculpture with images of the naked backs of her friends, at Fraenkel Gallery (San Francisco); or, from Bonni Benrubi Gallery (New York), Matthew Pillsbury's The Unveiling of Titian's ‘Presentation of Mary,' in which the misty transience of the crowd milling before the painting contrasts with the eternal sharp focus of the painting itself.
And then there were the occasional vintage gems from the 19th century, some at the booth of New York dealer Hans Kraus, who specializes in prints from paper negatives created during photography's earliest days, and a group of collodion prints at Baudoin Lebon Gallery (Paris). These were portraits from an extraordinary series that Pierre-Louis Piersson made of Napoleon III's mistress, the Countess Castiglione.
Paris Photo also demonstrated the tendency of art photography nowadays to take the form of an archive. This was exemplified by contemporary work that included the 2006 "Mantle Stack" series, documenting shelves full of books by California photographer Brandon Lattu, at Leo Koenig Gallery (New York), and Sean Hemmerle's photographs of the history of photo technology--(Meters), (Filters) and (Lenses)--at Feroz Gallery (Bonn). The same tendency was shared with earlier series such as Keith Smith's stutter-frame imagery of various subjects, like fried eggs in a skillet, at Bruce Silverstein Gallery (New York), and, in the exhibition "Airborne," a display of documentation ranging from WWII aerial bombardment to the American space program, at Daniel Blau Gallery (London and Munich).
The fascination with archives was also evident in Paris Photo's peripheral events, which included exhibitions by nonprofit organizations-London's Archives of Modern Conflict, for instance-and the "Platform" series of free lectures and discussions. One Platform event of this sort was a dialogue between Marta Gili, the Director of the Jeu de Paume, and photographer Taryn Simon. Their subject was Simon projects like "A Living Man Declared Dead" and "Image Atlas." The latter is a website Simon has created with Aaron Swartz, on which you can enter a search term in a number of languages, whereupon the site will show you the images most associated with that term in up to 57 countries.
Paris Photo had to move to the Grand Palais a few years ago to accommodate the large number of dealers who now participate. Some told me that the fair's appeal is its ability to draw collectors and the high quality of its management. Because it's popular and efficient, it's also expensive for the dealers, which is no doubt why prices were high. Nevertheless, prints seemed to be selling briskly, due, perhaps, to the appeal of one-stop shopping.
PHOTO: Laurent Pernot, Le Temps Égaré, 2007, diasec, at Galerie Odile Ouizeman.