The Big Picture Comes into Focus at Paris Photo L.A.

Richard Misrach, Untitled (Acrobat Super Grid #8), 2012, pigment print, 63 5/8 by 83 5/8 inches framed. © Richard Misrach, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.


By the time the golf-cart taxi has skittered through the back alleys or down “12th Street” at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, delivering you to Paris Photo L.A. (Apr. 25-27), you’re already pumped for this annual photo fair to end all photo fairs.

It is a larger and yet more compact fair this year, since the three sound stages and the storefronts on the New York backlot that it occupies are adjacent to each other, which makes it easier to take in all of the 81 galleries and booksellers present (up from 73 last year). Even in its less well organized first year, this French invasion was already the biggest, most important photo fair in L.A., pushing Photo L.A., the most prominent locally organized fair, into the background.

The sound stages that contain most of the booths are as big as airplane hangars. Though its storefronts are cramped as exhibition spaces, the New York backlot preserves that city’s neighborhood atmosphere of yesteryear from some tenement sections, right down to the Washington Square Park facades of the Henry James era. Even more than Paris’s Grand Palais, the setting for Paris Photo, the L.A. setting brings an electric atmosphere to the L.A. fair, where celebrity spotters this year caught glimpses of Brad Pitt and Jamie Lee Curtis, among other Hollywood luminaries.

Put off, perhaps, by memories of the chaotic valet parking last year, the crowd of L.A. glitterati didn’t seem quite as dense this year. Nonetheless, many of the players were on hand, including Michael Hawley, Maureen O’Sullivan, Roger and Barbara Hill and other members of PAC LA, the former Photographic Art Council at the Los Angeles County Museum whose members have now formed an independent group. Lifelong L.A. residents Carol Vernon and husband Bob Turpin were there. Her parents Leonard and Marjorie Vernon were major collectors who donated 3,300 vintage, mostly prewar photographs to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but she and Bob still have a considerable collection of the same sort of material. While she said she is “not impressed” by large-scale prints of contemporary work that she feels are an overstatement, she was smitten with some vintage fashion pictures and still lifes by the late Irving Penn available from London’s Hamiltons Gallery and with images of rural bus stops by Ursula Schulz-Dornburg at Santa Monica, Calif.’s Gallery Luisotti.

Paris’s Christophe Gaillard is also showing rare vintage material that devoted to transgender subjects shot by three generations of photographers-prewar work by Claude Cahun, imagery from the ’50s by Pierre Molinier, and from the ’70s by the Michel Journiac. Santa Monica’s Rose Gallery also has a historical perspective, with new prints of early black-and-white photography from the ’70s by William Eggleston, who is famous for his color work because it shows to great effect what’s usually called the “local color” of the everyday life in Tennessee. The black-and-white work records it less effectively.

More typical are potpourri exhibitions that aim to appeal to a wide variety of tastes. Gagosian, for instance, is showcasing work by 14 photographers ranging from Diane Arbus to Gregory Crewdson, and San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery has a dozen photographers on display, ranging from relative newcomers like Richard Learoyd (represented by a 2013 nude study) to veterans like Hiroshi Sugimoto and Nan Goldin. Also seen at Jeffrey Fraenkel’s booth when I dropped by was major London-based collector Michael Wilson, producer or co-producer of the James Bond movies from Moonraker (1979) through Skyfall (2012).

When I caught up with L.A.-based collector and veteran screenwriter Willard Huyck (American Graffiti, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), I asked him what had impressed him. After a dramatic pause, he said that he loved “UNEDITED: ‘The LAPD Photo Archives.'” This special exhibition is installed, for its funky atmosphere, in a utility room across the street from the sound stages and has plenty of the found surrealism that often marks crime-scene photography. Apologetically, Huyck confessed that his first visit is more “a social occasion than a serious shopping trip.”

From Taryn Simon’s snapshots of Turkish cities at Gagosian, grouped together and annotated in a single frame, to Santiago Porter’s documentation of Argentina’s “disappeared” during the 1970s military dictatorship, at the booth of Rolf Art from Buenos Aires, there are many photo series either made to form an archive or arranged and presented as if they were one. Contemporary faux archives and real ones from the past are a feature of many of the galleries at Paris Photo L.A.

At dusk on Wednesday, Paris Photo L.A.’s director, Julien Frydman, was on his way out of the VIP lounge. Before joining Paris Photo, Frydman had been the director of the Paris- and New York-based photo cooperative Magnum, which has lost much of its business, a victim of the digital age. Frydman had stopped by the lounge to give his support to a fundraiser for a new organization called the Magnum Foundation that was founded to address, according to its president, Susan Meiselas, “the urgent need for in-depth, independent documentary photography that fosters empathy, engagement, and positive social change.” She was on hand to make a pitch to the VIP crowd on the foundation’s behalf. It was a signal moment in the life of a fair like this, one at which you could see the medium’s history striving to stay in touch with its present.