Paris Photo: The Force Of Nature
Suzy Menkes10. 11. 2018
From explorations of female power to studies of trees, imagination and technology are in the frame.
Wild woods thick with trees, tranquil stretches of rough grass, a car approaching a mountainous road, surrounded by nothing but sweeps of rocky landscape… Nature has taken over the Grand Palais in the heart of Paris.
Each year, Paris Photo inspires and surprises – usually with its chosen theme. But this year there is no overriding story, apart from an area devoted to women.
Yet, instead of the familiar, fleshy female nudes and classic photographs of high fashion offering a historic female elegance, there is a focus on the exterior world.
And not least in the colours. In the midst of one of the most beautiful autumns in Europe, bringing golden leaves that hang from their branches for two months, a visitor might expect to see nothing but nature’s familiar colours. But the digital world has changed all that.
I was fascinated by the effects of Yojiro Imasaka, a photographer of Japanese origin now working out of the Miyako Yoshinaga gallery in New York. Imasaka is described as “finding inspiration in the hidden remnants of primeval nature”, but add to that the 35-year-old’s interest in new technology and complex darkroom processes. Toned gelatin silver prints on a green landscape, or chromogenic prints illuminating trees in pink and yellow, produce an astounding mix of nature and science.
Trees – and especially the bony lines of winter branches – make a strong statement, especially from Nicolai Howalt at the Martin Asbaek Gallery, whose geometric squares encase all manner of nature’s winter visions.
Foto: NICOLAI HOWALT / MARTIN ASBAEK GALLERY
Nicolai Howalt's "Spider Mites #1" from his exhibition, "An Ode to Pareidolia" (collage of silver gelatin prints, 2018)
How much has the intrusion of digital treatments affected photography? I was drawn to an image of New York at night, glimmering with colour, titled “Lights of New York, 1972” at Les Douches – La Galerie. It was the work of Ernst Haas from the Seventies, developed as a C-print in 2015.
The most dramatic photographs I saw were at the School Gallery, where gallerist Olivier Castaing has displayed arresting pictures by Stephan Gladieu of young children with ritually scarified skin made to look like tree bark, and the photographer’s other fascinating series of images of North Korean children looking as though they are part of the regime.
Foto: STEPHAN GLADIEU / COURTESY OF SCHOOL GALLERY – OLIVIER CASTAING
Detail from Stephan Gladieu's "Surmas #12" from the series, "Ethiopia" (Hahnemühle fine art print, 2011)
In an age when anyone can take a picture on a phone (and I am one of them), it is so good to see the real skill and art of true photography.
Christopher Wiesner, the Artistic Director of Paris Photo, emphasises that offshoots of the central show can be found all over Paris through the weekend. Artistic events have been popping up throughout the autumn season, with some continuing after the main exhibition closes on Sunday night.
A focus on women is inevitable in the current climate, brought into the mix in the “Curiosa” sector, featuring erotic images of women and what curator Martha Kirszenbaum refers to as “tackling relations of power, domination and gender issues”. All of that is included in the works of 13 artists from Beirut, Budapest, Tokyo – and so many other places.
The power of Paris Photo is in its diversity, but also in its sense of urgency, as though photographers are energised to reflect changing and challenging times. I urge you to see it if you can.
Paris Photo is open on Saturday 10th November from 12pm to 8pm and on Sunday 11th November from 12pm to 7pm; www.parisphoto.com