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What To See in Paris During the Month of Photography?

Every November, Paris celebrates photography with an array of activities. From strolling the capital’s streets to must-see exhibitions and creative workshops, choices are nearly limitless.

When the first winter chills sweep through France, a buzz of anticipation builds. During the Month of Photography, the eighth art takes center stage. For an entire month, the international photography scene converges on the city, from the left bank to the right. Several exceptional events stand out to enthrall photography enthusiasts: Paris Photo, Photo Days, Photo Saint-Germain. The Paris Photo fair alone welcomes over 200 exhibitors. From vintage to contemporary photographs, with unconventional venues, events, guided tours, workshops, and conferences, lovers of film photography won’t go away disappointed.

(Re)discovering darkroom essentials

Near Place de la Concorde, Photo Days pays tribute to the artistry of Julia Margaret Cameron. This photographic treasure trove can be found within the walls of Jeu de Paume. Take the time to explore the exhibition Arresting Beauty. Cameron’s work unfolds across some hundred photographs, combining poetry and portraiture. This unique retrospective immortalizes the decade spanning 1864 to 1875 and celebrates the grace of imperfection. Prepare to be whirled away in a dance between past and present.

The Catherine Putman Gallery presents Georges Rousse’s optical illusions in watercolor. A visionary artist celebrated globally, Rousse reinvents spaces with anamorphic shapes infused with a burst of color. The exhibition in rue Quincampoix spotlights his recent projects, which masterfully capture the magic of transparency and the depth of space.

Photograph from the Royal Photographic Society Collection
Photograph from the Royal Photographic Society Collection

Close and intimate

Continue your exploration by delving into the introspective gaze of Carolyn Drake, the 2021 HCB Award winner, at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson. Her series, MEN UNTITLED, unveils a personal, documentary journey into American masculinity. Blending symbols of virility, introspective self-portraits, and raw male portraits, the exhibition probes the constructs of male identity, subtly challenging the norms of masculinity.

Your journey progresses with a dive into the worlds of Irving Penn. A rare collection dating back to 1967 is brought to light at the Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery. In her captivating images, Anna Halprin, in turn, captures the essence of an improvised choreography, celebrating movement and the human form.

The Centre Pompidou also invites us to a celebration of humanity with the exhibition Corps à corps. A meticulously curated selection of historic and contemporary photographs from the Centre’s own collection, paired with the private collection of Marin Karmitz, questions our perception of the individual in modern society and highlights the photographer’s crucial role in shaping identities.

No title, from the series Anamanda Sîn, Désidération 2021 Colored photographic print on aluminium 80 × 60 cm Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne, Paris Purchase, 2023 © SMITH, 2021 Photographic reproduction : Courtesy Gallery Christophe Gaillard, Paris
Blind Ingrid (White Eyes) 2002 Cut gelatin-silver print 22 x 17,5 cm Marin Karmitz collection © Douglas Gordon, Studio lost but found/Adagp, Paris 2023 Photographic reproduction : Collection Marin Karmitz

Women’s perspective in photography

The Grand Palais Éphémère is set to host Paris Photo from November 9 to 12, 2023. Each year, the event honors women’s art through the program Elles × Paris Photo, showcasing the significant contributions of female artists to the history of photography. Curated by Fiona Rogers, this edition features the works of 36 artists, including:

  • Ana Teresa Barboza with her embroidered landscapes;
  • Frida Orupabo, the Norwegian-Nigerian artist;
  • Alejandra Laviada, the Mexican photographer known for her diverse artistic techniques;
  • Martine Gutierrez;
  • and many others to be discovered.

Photo Days also offers an opportunity to delve into mother–child relationships through the exhibition A partir d’elle at Le BAL (October 12, 2023 – February 25, 2024). Engage with the perspectives of 25 artists on their mothers. Figures such as Sophie Calle, Christian Boltanski, and Lebohang Kganye explore the various aspects of maternal figures and family archetypes.

Whether behind or in front of the lens, womanhood reveals its diversity during the Month of Photography in Paris.

© Lebohang Kganye
© Asareh Akasheh, The Lack of the Other, 2015

Unconventional venues: a fusion between image and frame

During the Month of Photography, photography is showcased within unique venues. Visit Atelier Frank Horvat to step out of time. The studio stages a photographic conversation between the Hong Kong works of Frank Horvat and British artist Antony Cairns. Fiammetta Horvat, the late photographer’s daughter, aims to turn his photo studio into a space dedicated to contemporary photography encounters. Note that the exhibition can be visited by appointment only!

Continue your adventure in photography with Photo Saint-Germain at the Museum of the History of Medicine. The exhibition Phenomena: Scholars and the Mysteries of the Mind (part 2),” features a series of previously unseen photographs (part 1 was presented in 2022 at the same museum). Capturing the unexplained, these images reveal the invisible and evoke the impossible.

Aurelia Casse, Need bigger red booboots, I can’t run, 2022
Need bigger red booboots, I can’t run, 2022 © Aurelia Casse

Did you know? Photo Days has revived La Rotonde Balzac 

Since its inception in 2020, the Photo Days festival has turned La Rotonde Balzac into a nexus of literature and photography. This year, Elger Esser brings the past to life through the photographic lens, reflecting on the evolution of technology and art. Located in the gardens of the Hôtel de Rothschild in Paris’s 8th arrondissement, the Rotonde had been shuttered for decades, unknown to Parisians and used as a gardener’s shed! Today, it has been revived thanks to Photo Days.

Man on All Fours (John D), 2022 © Carolyn Drake / Magnum Photos

Experiment and reward

Matthias Pasquet offers a workshop in “Gelatin silver experimentation.” You will learn how to use rocks or other materials as your canvas. The concept? To combine the techniques of painting with photography. The lab thus becomes a place for all kinds of daring feats. Solarization, rayographs, chemigrams, and other camera-less photographic techniques will be at the heart of the artistic explorations.

Celebrating innovation, the Grand Prix Paris je t’aime × Photo Days emerges as a showcase of contemporary photographic talent. This initiative focuses on artists who capture the quintessential beauty of Paris. The theme of the 2023 edition, “Paris, Games,” turns the French capital into a blank canvas where these photographer come to deploy their creative energies.

Key takeaways:

  • Dozens of exhibitions are held throughout November during Paris Month of Photography;
  • Events like Photo Days, Paris Photo, and Photo Saint-Germain offer multiple tours, exhibitions, and encounters centered on photography;
  • The artists featured during the Month of Photography include Georges Rousse, Julia Margaret Cameron with her photographic portraits, Irving Penn, Carolyn Drake, and many others.
Ian Walker, South Uist, Hebrides 1954 Gelatin-silver print 19,4 × 24,5 cm Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne, Paris Dation, 1985 © Aperture Foundation Inc, Paul Strand Archive Photographic reproduction : Centre Pompidou – Mnam-Cci/ Georges Meguerditchian/ Dist. RMN-GP

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