Friday, November 8, 2019

A virtual ramble through Paris Photo 2019

John Chamberlain, Downtown, chromogenic print, 1989

I will not fool you, dear readers, into thinking I was there while in truth I'm just sitting in a room in New York and the fair opened last night without me (it runs November 7 - 10).  I can only wish.  The beauty of art fairs nowadays of course is you don't really have to go, you can just scroll through the images on your computer.  I've taken advantage of that and I'll share with you the half dozen or so that caught my eye out of perhaps a thousand on display, a ratio of significance.  For the grand majority of photographic works at such fairs will not usually have much to interest us, the non-figurative community, devoted as these fairs are to familiar camera-based tropes of haunted landscapes, glum nudes, shopworn surrealism, subjects of prurient social interest, documentation of marginal lives, typologies, and so on.  You will look in vain for work that accepts the photographic emulsion itself as the site of the artistic act.  Probably because it's so hard to comprehend, there is little attempt to create something out of nothing, of finding the resonant forms that only the most immediate and obdurate materials can provide.  No chemigram, no bleach-etch, no cliché-verre, no cyanotype has found its way into the Grand Palais this year as near as I can tell - though to be fair, and I am fair, a scant few photograms were sighted, and perhaps certain works of a hybrid or invented nature, but not many.

Grand Palais, home of Paris Photo

So, we take it for what it is and overlook what it is not.  Let us be open to surprise.  I begin with the item I like best, the C-print above by the late John Chamberlain, the artist best known, even exclusively known, for making sculptures out of twisted, wrecked, flattened automobiles.  Many of us don't realize he branched out toward the end of his career into painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, even into furniture design, bringing with him the jarring rhythms of his earlier metal-based work.   To my mind these subsets of his oeuvre have not earned the respect they deserve.  I encourage you to have another look at them.  Galerie Karsten Greve is showing him in Paris.

Klea McKenna, photographic rubbing, photogram on silver gelatin fiber paper, 2017

Klea McKenna has modified the photogram process to accommodate her fascination with the tactility of surfaces, especially where the surfaces have been part of a living organism or constitute the record of a life.  I love how she goes out at night, performs a rubbing in relief of, say, a cut tree, onto photographic paper, then shines the raking light of a flashlight over it and develops it.  She has worked with rocks, spider webs, women's garments from various cultures, rain, and other materials, both the hard and the diaphanous.  What facilitates this is her great insight, so elemental yet so decisive, that photo paper can receive and impart information simply by being physically pressed and shaped by the artist.  She's having shows this fall simultaneously at the Gitterman Gallery (New York) and the Von Lintel (Los Angeles).

László Moholy-Nagy, Fotogramm III, 1925

The Kicken Gallery of Berlin has provided us with a photogram by László Moholy-Nagy which I had not seen before, from 1925.  Anything by this great theoretician of the Bauhaus, who as much as anyone developed the ideas underpinning what we know as modern style, is worth looking at, and this is no exception.  Does anyone know what that object is, hovering over the black expanse below it?  Send us a comment.

Noboru Ueki, title unknown, hand-colored silver gelatin, date uncertain

An early experimentalist working around Kyoto during the 1940s and 1950s, Ueki was considered important but we have had difficulty finding much else about him except that he liked to hand-color his photographs, and clearly he was quite good at it.  The Mem Gallery of Tokyo included Ueki, who died in 1992, in an historical show last month of members of the Kyoto Photographic Society.

Jérémie Lenoir, Stockage, Saint-Cyr-en-Val, print on dibond, 2013

Jérémie Lenoir is interested in environmental processes and the ways in which society impacts those processes.  He spent several years photographing around the Great Salt Lake in Utah, with emphasis on the mineralization of the shores.  The picture above is apparently a reservoir, near Orléans in central France.  If it looks familiar it's probably because bears an uncanny resemblance to work by the sculptor Lee Bontecou, although the scales are altogether dissimilar.  He is represented by the Galerie Guillaume in Paris.

Edward Burtynsky, Tsaus Mountains #1, Sperrgebiet, Namibia, pigment print, 2018

The Burtynsky is the final one I'll offer you in this potpourri - for the life of me I can't find any others in the entire Grand Palais worth adding to the list.  But a Burtynsky is always prodigious and riveting, and I could never exclude it.  For me, his work extends beyond photography; it feels like we're consorting with the gods.  We last wrote about him in 2016 here.  Our words then ring true now.  He's currently at Nicholas Metivier in Toronto.

So there you have it, the 2019 edition of Paris Photo.  Six pictures.


  1. Thank you for posting these Doug - always interesting to see what nonfigurative work is out there!

  2. Thanks for posting Doug! McKenna has something new going here. Silver paper does respond to pressure, I've tried similar experiments. Moholy-Nagy has stated that photography is all the results that can be achieved by photographic means with camera or without.

  3. The West Coast artist Martha Casanave experimented a few years back with methods similar to those of McKenna and reports that 1) you must use FB paper, not RC, and 2) the paper must be wet. In other words the paper's fibers have to be pliable, supple, and retain an ability to retain a reformed shape. All of this makes sense, and should help guide anyone who wants to explore this further. Thank you Martha!


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