After a hiatus in 2020, Paris Photo 2021 was back this November. While I should have written about the event sooner, it is perhaps good that I have had time to digest and think about things before writing.
I was able to secure a hotel quite close to the new temporary venue at the south end of the Champ de Mars, where every morning and afternoon I was greeted by an uninterrupted view of the Eiffel Tower before entering and after leaving the exhibition. This alone made it Paris Photo.
I was astounded by the ease with which traffic moved in and out of the venue. The checking of COVID passes and the checking of tickets and badges was smooth and at least as good as it has ever been at Grand Palais. Full marks there!
Once inside, the venue looked and felt very permanent. There was nothing temporary, or cheap about the construction, or materials used to form the exhibition hall. It was laid out as a giant letter T. At the top, where one enters, there were rows of booths across, separated by main aisles. Down the center column of the T there were first a few more gallery booths, and then the various ‘special’ sections and finally the books and a small stage area at the back. The book section I found was well done. I did not go to the show during any of the book signings, which may have created some serious bottle necks, but when I was there, the opening afternoon and evening and during the mornings later in the week, it was great.
I had an opportunity to revisit some classic images at the galleries. There was a prominently centered print of one of my all time favourite works by Chris Killip (Killip sadly passed away in October 2020), among several of his well known works from the North of England in the mid-1970s. Of course there were superb works by several of the usual suspects: Penn, Avedon, Newton, etc., etc., but equally there was new work, and a few new discoveries for me, which is always wonderful.
However, I did want to point out one booth in particular (You know who you are….); It was an exhibition of work by a single photographer (I understand this is one of the things that you get bonus points for when applying to participate in Paris Photo. Why? I don’t know….). I bring up this particular booth as it showed a mix of modern Estate Prints that looked to me to be printed on 30cm x 40cm paper and hung along side vintage prints some of which were the same size, some smaller. The frames and frame sizes were almost identical throughout. The exterior walls of the booth were predominantly hung with the Estate Prints. I seem to recall, priced around EUR 2000.
I avoid Estate Prints like the plague. They have no secondary market value to speak of, and I think they misguide the new and young collectors, who are dropping good money on something without any real chance of ever recovering even a fraction of their investment. Estate Prints, particularly those that are not limited in terms of numbers are downright scary. They can of course be nice decorative pieces, but so can posters.
In the case of the booth that I am speaking about at Paris Photo, I found deception in the air. I think anyone who is new to collecting photography would be tempted by a price-point in the EUR2000s, for a photograph that they might well remember having seen in a book, or magazine. Of course, the very tempting price point compared to other photographs that were hanging in the main aisles would perhaps have led more than one novice to make a catastrophic mistake. I don’t think the majority of casual visitors to Paris Photo would know the right questions to ask.
Of course, there are exceptions to my Estate Print rule, such as the work of Diane Arbus, or that of Luigi Ghirri. The latter because the colours in his vintage work have shifted so badly that they look worse than my 1975 family album in most cases! In the case of Diane Arbus, the fact that she barely printed any of her work in her lifetime so sadly interrupted, and the fact that her daughter took charge with a master printer has over time proven to be a reasonable way of sharing Diane Arbus’ incredible images.
Perhaps an argument could be made for entry level collectors to have access to work by great photographers, but when you can go into the auction and secondary market and purchase work for under EUR 2000 that is vintage, or at least signed by the photographer in her or his lifetime, it is wholly inappropriate that someone should pick up a modern Estate Print with no real value at an event like Paris Photo.
When you attend an event like Paris Photo, the premier photography event of the year, there is no room for this kind of deception and the booth should not have been allowed to show the Estate Prints in the way they were shown. It made me, as a collector and a photographer want to go wash my hands, if not have a shower.
I don’t think I saw a single Chinese gallery represented, which I found interesting, but of course given quarantine rules in China and Hong Kong, I completely understand that you cannot attend a show and then go home to endless weeks of quarantine. Not good for business.
There were likewise several North American galleries that were not in attendance. This I think was in part due to travel advisories (for instance in Canada) and perhaps common sense on the part of others not willing to take the risk of booking flights, hotels, and crate transport at great cost with the risk of having the whole thing cancelled. As a result, there were several new galleries that were more ‘local’, some European, several Parisian, and these did their best to fit in and bring interesting work.
Overall, it was great to see old friends and new galleries alike and it was in some ways like stepping back to a time when there were no worries and we could enjoy photography for photography’s sake.
I look forward to next year and again seeing new, old and exciting work.
On a final note; I would suggest to the organizers that they find a supplier of modular partitions for 2022. I walked by the event hall on Sunday night with my dog. Tear down was underway, and there was way too much used drywall, and other single use materials that went straight into dumpsters and no doubt from there to landfill. In today’s day and age, that is just not good enough.