Paris November photo madness round-up

Maurizio Anzeri (The Photographers' Gallery, London)

As the eyecurious faithful (and anyone who has been in Paris recently) will have noted, this has been a particularly action-packed month for photography in Paris. As I noted in a previous post, there was a bunch of different events going on at once and, as November draws to a close, I thought I would pull together a few brief impressions from the past month of photo-gluttony.

Paris Photo, the photo art fair, remains the major event on the Paris photo calendar. As with any art fair, it is not an experience for the faint-hearted or the sensitive-eyed. The fair squeezes several thousand photographs into a pretty restricted space underneath the Louvre, far more than 2 eyes and 1 brain can hope to absorb over a long weekend. Having started the week with three days of portfolio reviews at the first edition of FotoFest Paris (on which more later) it felt like a week of serious visual overindulgence.

Robert Voit (Robert Morat gallery)

A quick scan of the round-ups of the fair around the web will reveal that there is no consensus whatsoever on the highlights of the year and that is in part because it is virtually impossible to see everything. My overall impression is that this was not a particularly adventurous year in terms of new work and the focus appeared to be on bringing big name vintage work. Hamburg's Robert Morat gallery bucked that trend with a great selection of work by Robert Voit, Peter Bialobrzeski and Jessica Backhaus. There are always a couple of artists that pop up on several booths and this year Michael Wolf's Tokyo subway and Street View images and Massimo Vitali's bleached-out beaches were the two that I kept running into. As always 'curated' booths were few and far between, which is understandable given the commercial nature of the fair. However there were a couple of exceptions: for his first Paris Photo, Paris's François Sage presented (and sold all of) 20 pieces from Naoya Hatakeyama's Maquettes/Light series combined with vintage night work from Kertész, Brassaï and others; while Serge Plantureux's booth was "transformed into a detective agency" built around an extraordinary collage of every building on a 1930s St Petersburg street which spanned the full length of his booth. And a favourite discovery from last year, Maurizio Anzeri, reappeared again with some more great pieces.

Serge Plantureux's booth at Paris Photo

I suppose the natural measure of the success is sales and on this, once again, I heard wildly different assessments (Paris Photo gives it upbeat round-up here). However, for me the measure of the success of the event is its ability to bring together photographers, curators, dealers, publishers, bloggers and 40,000 other people from around the world in a single place, which, fortunately for me, happens to be where I live. On this count it feels to me that the fair continues to get more and more international each year and the best possible place to get photo projects in motion. My personal highlights included meeting the extraordinary photographer Mao Ishikawa from Okinawa and a champagne-fuelled meeting with Joakim Stromhölm (Christer Stromhölm's son) in the early hours of the morning.

(From L-to-R): Taisuke Koyama with Sawako Fukai and Shigeo Goto of G/P Gallery and artbeat publishers at Off Print

One particularly interesting development this year was the first (and hopefully not the last) edition of Off Print, a fair run in parallel to Paris Photo devoted entirely to independent photography publishing, an area that is currently seeing an explosion of activity. I was curious to see whether Off Print would be able to coexist alongside Paris Photo and pleasantly surprised to see that it more than held its own. I managed to swing by three times, always to a packed house where business seemed to be brisk. Interestingly while there was some overlap with the Paris Photo crowd, Off Print was clearly attracting a different demographic as well, a younger crowd that is perhaps more interested in the book as an object rather than just in photography itself. If evidence were needed that photobooks are alive and well, this was it.

After several failed attempts I finally managed to swing by Photo Off on Sunday afternoon to finish the week. Photo Off is essentially a more casual Paris Photo, with lower priced work by "young and emerging" photographers. From my couple of hours there I couldn't tell how successful the fair was, but it did seem a little bit strange to me that Photo Off and Off Print didn't combine forces, as I think three simultaneous event is probably a little too much to get through for collectors and as a result I expect that Photo Off didn't get the audience that it should have.

Wad of prints by Blake Andrews, Price: $9 incl. P & P & gum

On the day after the close of Paris Photo as I was trying to make some sense of everything I had seen over the course of week (and to avoid looking at a single photograph) I received a package from the US. I had completely forgotten that a couple of weeks ago I decided to rescue a group of work prints by the photographer and blogger Blake Andrews that he was threatening to abandon. I thought this was a fitting end to a week where the commercial aspect of photography can feel a little overwhelming. Not only did I get a few dozen prints for my $9, but if you look closely at the image above you'll notice that I even got a stick of gum thrown in for good measure. I doubt that any collectors got that kind of special bonus thrown in with their purchases at Paris Photo.

Review: 10 years of in-public

Street photography is a strangely controversial photographic genre. When I started blogging, I was a little surprised at how divisive it seemed to be within the photo community and its ability to get people worked up, whether they were in the 'for' or 'against' camp. As with many other photographic genres 'street photography' is a pretty broad appellation. There is no dictionary definition of it but a fair assumption would be that it refers to photographs taken in the street (I won't wade in to the debate on whether those photographs have to be 'straight' i.e. not to have undergone any manipulation, as that is a blogpost in and of itself), which seems to allow for a fair bit of artistic license. And yet, street photography seems to find itself in a bit of an artistic ghetto, often being, or feeling, completely ignored by the art world. I have already added to the recent debate surrounding Paul Graham's essay The Unreasonable Apple on this subject, which, although it doesn't deal with street photography specifically, is a good place to start to get an idea of what the fuss is about.

To use a musical analogy, I sometimes think of street photography as the jazz of the photography world. A genre that requires great timing, a strong sense of improvisation and that appeals especially to men with beards. Arguably the progression of street photography over time has mirrored that of jazz pretty closely. Jazz went through a series of creative explosions in the 50s, 60s and 70s through which the genre was constantly radically redefined. Since then, it is generally perceived to have been unable to reinvent itself and people think of it as an old-school genre rather than a contemporary one. I think much of the criticism that is levelled at street photography follows a similar line.

I am like Switzerland in my position on street photography: neutral. I'm not instinctively drawn to it, but I definitely don't think of it as irrelevant or unworthy of a place in the art world. So I was intrigued when Nick Turpin recently sent me a copy of his latest book, 10, 10 years of in-Public celebrating ten years of in-Public, the street photography collective started by Turpin that is now twenty members strong. This seemed like a good opportunity to see a broad cross-section of what is going on in street photography, with ten images from each of the group's members. I won't name them all here, but a special mention has to go to fellow bloggers Blake Andrews and Jeffrey Ladd.

It's always difficult to review a book that covers as much material as 10 as it is never going to be entirely coherent with this many different voices being represented. For me the real strength of the book is that it makes a strong case for the continued relevance of street photography today and more importantly for how diverse a genre it can be. To go back to my musical analogy, yes this is a compilation album, but its more like one of those artfully put together Soul Jazz numbers than a 'Now That's What I Call Music' #472. You get work from right across the spectrum: classic be-bop images, fizzing hard-bop, free jazz, to the more spacey ECM ("most beautiful sound after silence") style ... thankfully I didn't spot any easy listening shots in here.

There are some attributes that are common to much of the work in this book: a sense of humour, a penchant for the surreal, but the overriding impression I got was one of a real diversity in style and approach. For my money, street photography really comes into its own when these moments captured on the fly can be woven into a broader tapestry of some kind, not necessarily a narrative, but tied together in a way that transforms them into something more than a collection of well-composed moments. This isn't the case of all the photographers in the book, but when it is, as in the case of Trent Parke (whose recent book Bedknobs and Broomsticks sold 1,000 copies in three days), it can be really rewarding.

The book includes an essay by the Guardian's Jonathan Glancey and interviews of all the photographers by the photography writer David Clark. Rather than posting several images, you can get a nice preview of the contents of the book in the slideshow below put together by Turpin. 10 is recommended, if nothing else as proof that street photography is alive and well.

10 years of in-Public, London: Nick Turpin Publishing, Hardback, colour and black-and-white plates.

Rating: Recommended