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What You Need to See at Paris Photo

What You Need to See at Paris Photo

In Paris, November is synonymous with photography. There are countless exhibitions, festivals, and other events dedicated to the medium. The focal point of this effervescence is Paris Photo, the world’s leading photo fair. We take you on a guided tour.
Payram, Fragile, 1995, Galerie Maubert © Payram

The 24th edition of Paris Photo promises to be exceptional in more ways than one. First, because it is returning after the 2020 edition was cancelled due to the pandemic. Second, because the fair will be held at the Grand Palais Éphémère, designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte. Although this new setting is less spacious than the original (but more dense), it has the advantage of being located at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, which makes it very attractive.

What hasn’t changed is that the fair covers all the periods, from the nineteenth century to the modern and contemporary creation. Its international dimension also remains strong, with 177 exhibitors representing thirty countries. Since travel is still restricted, French galleries are necessarily the most numerous (34%), ahead of those from North America (13%) and Germany (12%). Nevertheless, the presence of nine galleries from Africa and the Middle East, five from Asia, and three from Latin America is a commendable achievement.

Joana Choumali, But listen carefully to the sound of loneliness, 2021 © Galerie Loft Art

With the Grand Palais Éphémère being smaller, the fair has been reconfigured and condensed to three sectors: the main one with 127 galleries, the Curiosa sector (dedicated to emerging artists) with twenty monographic projects, plus about thirty publishers from nine countries. “The [publishing] sector is important because it represents the DNA of the fair,” Florence Bourgeois, director of Paris Photo, likes to say. The book also features prominently with three prizes created in partnership with the Aperture Foundation in 2012. The thirty-five shortlisted books in three categories — first photobook, photo book of the year, and catalog of the year — are presented at the fair and online at The jury, made up of professionals, will announce the winners on November 12.

This brief survey would not be complete without mentioning two circuits dedicated to women artists: Elles x Paris Photo and the CNAP. Paris Photo also enjoys some original partnerships, for example with Pernod Ricard, which for the twelfth time gives carte blanche to a photographer. This year, Olivier Culmann has revisited some photographic rituals, such as the identity photo and the postcard. Noteworthy is also the Estée Lauder Pink Ribbon Photo Award, which participates in the charity fighting against breast cancer.

Olivier Culmann pour Pernod Ricard
Sandy Skoglund, Radioactive Cats, 1980, Galerie Paci © Sandy Skoglund

Experts agree that the quality of an art fair depends on the quality of its solo and duo shows, because they offer a better insight into the artists’ careers and feature museum-quality display. This year, the main sector has seventeen solos and eight duos. Among them, we note the return of American Sandy Skoglund (b. 1946), who made a name for herself in the 1980s with surprising stagings; urban views by Russian Alexey Titarenko (b. 1962); and the embroideries on photographs printed on canvas by the Ivorian Joana Choumali (b. 1974).

Although the nineteenth century makes only a rare appearance, the modern period and the works of the 1970s–1990s, which are on their way to becoming classics, have a noticeable presence. Take, for example, the Howard Greenberg Gallery (New York) with Berenice AbbottMan Ray, etc. or Galerie Les Douches (Paris) which has fashioned a booth with different themes (humanist, experimental, graphic design, and femininity) featuring, notably, Arlene Gottfried and Vivian Maier. Elsewhere, we find Herbert List, Helen Levitt, Brassaï, etc. And, as always, there are some poetic treasures at Camera Obscura (Paris) by Paolo Roversi, Sarah Moon, and Michael Kenna.

Alexey Titarenko, White Dresses, St. Petersburg, Russia, 1995 © Galerie Nailya Alexander
Herbert List, The Shadows of the Apostles, Vatican, Italy, 1951 © Herbert List Estate, Hamburg, Germany, Magnum Photos, Galerie Karsten Greve

The purpose of an art fair is also to paint a panorama of contemporary trends and practices. Several themes emerge in the main sector. While there is no room for photojournalism at Paris Photo, documentary works are legion: from shots by NASA photographers at the Daniel Blau Gallery (Munich) to a commission by Jurgen Schadeberg for the Drum magazine at Galerie Bonne Espérance (Paris). The Parisian galleries Clémentine de la Féronnière and Sit Down put England in the spotlight, with Martin Parr’s black-and-white work from the 1970s and 1990s’ color images by Tom Wood, respectively.

Identity, another recurring theme, is embodied by the surprising series of self-portraits by Polish artist Tomasz Machcinski (b. 1942) at Christian Berst Art Brut (Paris) and Anne Deguelle (b. 1943) who pays tribute to Marcel Duchamp and other masters of art history at Galerie Dix9 Hélène Lacharmoise. In her series “Les Oubliées”, Anaïs Boudot at the Binome Gallery (Paris), tackles a more personal mythology, shedding light on anonymous women erased by history.

Tomasz Machcinski, Sans titre, 2010 © Christian Berst Art Brut (Paris)

The natural environment, omnipresent in the field of photography for nearly two decades, is also part of the show with the unavoidable Edward Burtynsky at the Nicholas Metivier Gallery (Toronto) and Mitch Epstein at Thomas Zander (Cologne). Lastly, while Paris Photo is an undisputed dominion of auteur photography, since its first edition in 1997 it has also honored anonymous images, provided they are original. The presence of the Lumière des Roses Gallery (Montreuil) specialized in this field attests to this.

Another marked tendency is the use of historical processes and alteration of the printed medium —through manipulation, perforation, tearing, painting, or embroidery — as well as making prints on unusual media such as fabric.

Anne Deguelle, Double Portrait – Duchamp, 1997 © Galerie Dix9 Hélène Lacharmoise

You can discover all this, and much more, at Paris Photo! Those who can’t make it to the fair, check out the online version until November 17.

By Sophie Bernard

Sophie Bernard is a journalist specializing in photography, a contributor to La Gazette de Drouot and Le Quotidien de l’Art, a curator, and a teacher at EFET in Paris.

Paris Photo: from November 11 to 14, 2021, Grand Palais Éphémère, Champ-de-Mars, Place Joffre, 75007 Paris.

NASA, Mariner 6 approach to Mars © Daniel Blau

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