Paris Photo 2014 opens its doors in the Thalys on Thursday morning at 9:17h. I happen to sit in front of Mariken Wessels (I recognised her voice after a while and stood up) and got acquainted with Scarlett Hooft-Graafland, who happened to have reserved a train seat next to me. She was reading De Volkskrant of that morning November 13, 2014. I read a headline with her, while the newspaper was lying on her lap: ‘400 photographs and artworks by Man Ray auctioned at Sotheby Paris on behalf of a new generation of heirs. On this particular day, the very first day of Paris Photo, a portrait of the very good looking ‘Lee Miller – with necklace of sea sponges from 1930’ (his muse, lover and friend, par hazard also his co-inventor of the rayogram, and herself an active wartime photojournalist) is being auctioned. The estimated yield is 40.000 to 60.000 euros.
After a while I asked my neighbour if I might read the full article, and she sifted through the pages in order to hand the spread over to me with a generous smile. That was the moment to introduce us to each other. In the article is mentioned that Man Ray made a pipe with a glass bubble. On the pipe is written: ce que manque a nous tous (what all of us are missing). According to Ray the right answer is: ‘fantasy’. Ray made the pipe in 1927, two years before Magritte‘s Ceci n’est pas une pipe. Ray was one of the first of his contemporaries who worked in series.
Scarlett Hooft Graaftland used to live right next to Jacqueline Hassink in New York. Something prompted me to ask rather bluntly: “Are you of noble descent?” “Yes, that’s right”, she confirmed. It was her double surname, linked to a moment, a few days ago, when my neighbour lady, associated with nobility herself, during one of our daily routines of walking-the-dog, talked about Scarlett’s work (“…a bright blue painted zebra in the middle of a herd […] somewhere at a remote place on planet Earth…Madagascar…A red iglo…nothing is photo shopped …large formats”). She attended a reading of Scarlett at Insinger de Beaufort and was intrigued by her work, even considered a purchase. I asked Scarlett whether she has issued a book publication. She mentioned Kehrer Verlag, and the title Soft horizons (2011).
Then she described a scenario in which Bolivian women pose in traditional costumes with the typical black bowler hats on their heads, figuring as the centrefold of a crystal white salt mountain on a crystal white salt pan, holding (what looks like) pink cotton candy in hand. Dali-like, surrealistic photoworks Scarlett creates, and in almost every picture you stare at a wide horizon.
The very first gallery booth I visit at Paris Photo is Stevenson from Cape Town. Works by Pieter Hugo on the wall, his brand new oblong Aperture publication KIN on the worktable. It reads like an album, I am pleasantly surprized. On the very first page Tasmyn Reynolds (it doesn’t say ‘my wife or girlfriend’) poses naked, with wet hair and pregnant with their first child. On another page his parents are portrayed, together in bed, all dressed, the mother with glasses on, the father with coffee cup in hand. After 10 pictures we see Hugo naked, lying down with his new-born daughter on his lap: a squirming little baby on top of his huge tattooed athletic body. While leafing through the pages I see his grand mother, his nanny, his second kid, and his extended family, and then the photographer just walks into the gallery booth. There he is in person: the healthy looking tall blond Viking! I would not have recognised him otherwise. I say: “You must be Pieter Hugo, I just saw your portrait in your new book”. I asked him whether he speaks Dutch. “Ja”…. “My father was a French Huguenot”, he says in Afrikaans. I don’t get it all, but he continued explaining something like his family roots are in Denmark. Than I asked him how this publication came about. “Well, … in fact after the birth of my daughter six years ago. “I’ve just seen the book once…well printed …paper a little thin…”. I ask him what the three capital letters of which the title consists actually means: KIN. “Family in a broader sense… medemens!” [Fellow man], he exclaims. ‘KIN’ refers to ‘KINSHIP’, my partner explains a few days later on the phone. I requested Pieter to write that Dutch word in the copy of his book that I purchased on the spot, paying cash. With ‘medemens’ Paris Photo 2014 in Grand Palais started.
A little further, at the Fraenkel Gallery booth, hangs on the main wall facing the public a tableau by Nicholas Nixon, covering the entire wall: ‘40 years Brown sisters’, in 8 x 5 = 40 white frames. Every year, since 1975, Nixon makes a group portrait of the four sisters (one of whom is Nixon’s wife Bebe) consistently in the same setup (Heather, Mimi, Bebe and Laurie), jam-packed in the frame. A canary yellow linen cloth hardbound, published by MOMA, is placed on top of a small table in front of the mural. The latest image in the series is published on October 3rd for the first time in The New York Times. Close by, on a narrow back wall of the booth another striking, but small tableau is resonating the large grid on the main wall: eclipse totale de soleil 30 August 1905. It’s a geometric collage of square contact prints, 6 x 5= 30 vintages glued on carton. At the bottom of the grid the full sun is depicted, on the left before, and on the right after the eclipse.
Christina de Middel
Her work stands out, even at a giant fair like Paris Photo. ‘The absence of monsters’ is what I read in a monumental piece by Christina de Middel, who is represented by Black Ship gallery from New York. The phrase shows up next to a poster showing Mao wearing an Afro hair wig. Glued onto that poster is a typewriter letter by ‘the assistant of the ministry of Power, Transport and Technology’. You recognize ‘Afronauts’ in parts of the installation.
On the inside of the fair booth the series ‘The Party’ (2014) is shown. This work refers to Mao’s Little Red Book. That publication is the most reprinted literature after The Bible, but can only be found nowadays in China at some tourist shop. De Middel’s appropriation of the famous booklet, entitled Quintonasto Form CHANMAIR MAO TUNGEST (2013 – print run 1.750), is already a collector’s item. In fact, any publication she compiles turns into a collector’s item. The booklet itself contains reproductions of text pages from The Little Red Book, from which the actual text has been mostly wiped out with correction fluid Tipp-Ex, before reproduction. The remainder of the text fragments reads like: ‘change the enemy’; ‘over and over again in endless spiral’; ‘it is impossible to get work done’; ‘the bandit gang… achieved great discipline’; ‘propaganda is not good’.
The booklet is interleaved with loose-leaf small and square colour photographs in perfect binding to the spine of the book: most are self-made, some have been selected from the Archive of Modern Conflict (AMC) in London. ‘The Party’ is a series of ‘spreads’ in golden frames on the wall, about 40 by 60 cm each. In the frames you look at, on one hand, the censored Tipp-Ext text page, on the other hand, a colour photograph showing e.g. a portrait of a Chinese woman in profile, or a broken Mao figurine, or a table tennis table without a net.
De Middel’s most recent series ‘Jan Mayen’, deals with the re-construction of a fake expedition. I don’t think that has ever been done in photography: Re-made and re-vived found fake photography. A crew, mainly people that reacted to a newspaper add, acting as scientists (only the captain and the photographer were real), was trying to discover a new island between Iceland and Greenland, in the early 1900s. The whole thing was a disaster. The boat could not dock, the island was never found. For the sake of honour, the expedition was staged in words (from a logbook) and images. De Middel basically made a visualisation of the fake expedition based on the record of events, collected in the fictional logbook that is in the keeping of AMC.
The manager of AMC happens to be posing in clothes that have been purchased on eBay, mimicking the outdoor fashion of a century ago. A pseudo vintage picture of a flying shark has been Photoshopped. In another image, simulating a hand coloured vintage black and white photograph, blue jelly candy is dispersed in creeks. Next to that a picture of red jelly candy scattered on a gravel beach. Microscopic samples from the AMC are reproduced with an iPhone. Adding to the cosmic elements in the project is an astronomical map from 1900. This specific cartographic representation of the galaxy was the result of one of the most costly astronomical projects ever in Belgium; trying to establish the galactic coordinate system, it turned out that incorrect research findings were provided. Thus, this project is yet another example of scientific failure. Reproductions from herbaria are pasted on the wall. Timothy Prus wearing a bowler hat, his son, and other AMC staff members took part in the imitation of the expedition, sitting all together, with binoculars and oars, in a dugout canoe.
The sister of Christina (enthusiastic and knowledgably about the work) shows Polyspam to me, pulling the publication out of her purse. This most recent publication, in an edition of 150, looks like a thick envelope, with a counterfeit airmail stamp in red: ‘thisbookistrue’. The artist’s book consists of envelopes containing, printed on an A-4, original spam mail Christina had received. It’s content inspired her to take pictures. Eight envelopes contain eight colour photographs.
Sebastian Hau and Pierre Hourquet curated the Open Book exhibition, a yearly event during Paris Photo. This is their statement to the public: “The exhibition presents a selection of art books published between the 1960s and today. Since the release of “Twenty-six Gasoline Stations” in 1963 by the American artist Edward Ruscha, the reproduction of photographic images is one of the preferred media for numerous international artists such as Andy Warhol, John Baldessari, Gilbert & George, Hans-Peter Feldmann and many others. This new type of book, whether a multiple object, a limited edition or unlimited publication, directly designed by the authors, has been adopted and taken up since the 1980s by photographers and contemporary artists such as Richard Prince, Christopher Wool, Wolfgang Tillmans, Sophie Calle, Mike Kelley, Gerhard Richter, Christian Marclay or Anselm Kiefer”.
A selection of about 75 artists’ books is presented in the ambulatory of Grand Palais. Strangely enough hardly anybody went there, I noticed. The title of the exhibition is ‘In Place’. A few quotes by Ed Ruscha (considered the initiator of low profile and self-published artist’s book for the people) are silkscreened on the wall. Samsung screens display numbered video clips showing hands leafing through several of the books, which are on view in window cases right below the screens, displaying the books with the corresponding numbers. I realized this is a short-lived exhibition, only up for the few days of Paris Photo. The artist’s books are cramped in the showcases. Kippenberger; Kosuth; Anselm Kiefer; Les Krims; Fiona Tan’s booklet vox populi, and, literally, lying on top of that is Dark Shadow by Gilbert & George, published by Art for All. One of my observations was, Hans Eijkelboom and Peter Downsbrough have something in common.
Brutus killed Cesar (1976) by John Baldessari is a revelation that stayed with me: an oblong spiral bound booklet, like a stretched postcard, inside of it a repetition of reproductions – or fragments from film stills – of two male portraits (politicians, film actors maybe?) facing each other. And in between them, in the middle of the triptych, a freestanding picture of a potential murder weapon (kitchen knife, a dart, a pipe…) pops up. On the website of the Paris Photo program I read this booklet is a visual pun referring to Alfred Hitchcock’s cynical phrase: “Let’s bring murder back to the family where it belongs”. On the website you may find more in-depth information on the specific publications (book title, place and year of publication, size, number of pages and a short annotation). You don’t find that in the exhibition per se.
Before 11.00 A.M. visitors are already forming a long queue in front of the entrance of Jeu de Paume, where a major retrospective of Gary Winogrand is showing his ‘tirages d’epoque’ (French for ‘vintage prints’). Winogrand, being the autodidact he is, continuously growing and influenced by Robert Frank and Walker Evans, photographed the physical aspects of all kinds of parades, cabaret, opera, and most of all, street life in the 1950s and 1960s in New York, Los Angeles, and several cities in Texas. He called it ‘the circus’. ‘Down from The Bronx’ captures his aproach: the photographer eagerly on top of his subject. Gary is drawn to physical action. In the picture entitled ‘Richard Nixon campaign, New York 1960’, people, stacked up in the photographic frame, carry signs with election slogans. ‘NY World’s fair, 1960’ clearly is a good example of how he kept dramatizing body language, facial expressions, and ultimately, the Carnival of Life. The most famous picture fitting in that description is this one: In Central Park a white blond woman with a scarf around her permanent and a tall well-dressed black man both carry dressed chimpanzees into Central Park Zoo. It is the year 1967. All kinds of family photographs are in display cases: Gary as a tough young guy with a tie and a wide greedy mouth, a Leica in front of his chest, and wearing a trench coat. Arms folded, hands behind the head, one leg on a table: All part of Winogrand’s circus. “The photograph is more dramatic than what happened”, he explains during a recorded Question-Answer session with an audience (we don’t get to see the audience). He can’t sit still. He has his arms folded, hands behind his head, two legs on the pedestal, on both sides of the microphone. He left 6.600 rolls of film that he had never reviewed. Or that he edited in haste. Diane Arbus said the following about him: “Gary Winogrand is such an instinctive, nearly primitive ironist, so totally without malice, so unflinching…”
Following the Seine, towards Saint Germain des Pres, you enter Rue Bonaparte where Offprint is held at the amazing Neo-classicistic Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts. I stumble on Eastern Trouble Press Boston; presenting a self-published booklet by Polish Photographer Karola Mech with two spines (perfect binding), like two booklets facing each other, and a blind print in the very heart of the thing. It will surely be a good weather tomorrow is the title of this reflection by the photographer while on her trip to Japan with her ex-boyfriend. Two perspectives in black and white.
I greated Johan Deumens, standing behind a large table in the far back of the fair. And talked to Anne Geene (met her when she was a student at Master Photographic Studies at Leiden University). The English edition of her book Plot 235. was piled high on the table. Visiting her website, which is well designed and a real treat for those people loving biodiversity research, I realize Anne has already published two more editions since the Dutch edition of Plot 235. Johan shows me Arjan de Nooy’s fake feministic magazine from the 1970s Haarscherp containing found amateur photographs of women inspecting their sexual organs. We laugh a bit, timidly at first. I write the title down in my digital notebook, considering the publication for my database in progress on Photobooks of Found Photographs.
Polycopies Bar & Books
Polycopies is more like a ‘bar and books’ event situated on a boat docked on the Seine river. This new initiative by Sebastian Hau and Laurent Chardon has its premiere at Paris Photo. You may find here such esteemed publishers as Journal and Nobody, and Akio Nagasawa. More intimate, close to too small for a book fair, is this meeting place on the ship Concorde Atlantique, louder too. More specialised maybe as well: Kaunas Gallery is present with nationally renowned photographers, like Sutkus, and Rakauskas. Names I remember that appeared in Camera International, a high quality heliogravure printed photographic magazine, issued in Paris in the mid 1980s. Odee is there, and Fw is present at Polycopies and at Offprint as well.
Awards and more
17.15 Friday November 14th, I am receiving an email in which Aperture announces The winner of The Photobook Awards. The First Photobook Award is for Hidden Islam (2013) by Nicolo Degiorgis and with good reason (even without the recommendation and foreword by Martin Parr). Nicolo was signing his books at Dirk Bakker’s booth. Dirk handed me his plain textbook accompanying the already second edition of Hidden Islam. It contains 479 posts on an article entitled: ‘Arles 2014: Nicolo Degiorgis lifts the veil of Italy’s Islamophobia’, written by Sean O’Hagan for The Guardian, and published on July 15th, 2014. People had five days to leave comments. The insides of the fold out text pages show schematic drawings and coordinates, corresponding exactly with the number of pages, themes and locations in the awarded photobook. This is new; this has never been done before, to my knowledge. I buy the textbook in situ for 25,00 euro. He signs it with a pencil: ‘keep looking, Paris 15/11/2014.’
I read a post or two, it goes like this:
2 Italy is a Catholic country.
3:2 What point are you actually making? – Apart from stating the obvious?
Photobook of The Year Award goes to Imagenary Club (2014) by Olivier Sieber, for what you could almost define as a reference work on the topic (Individual head-and-shoulders portraits, sharp and well lit, and in colour, depict a young generation of punkers appearing in bars and night clubs in major cities like Dusseldorf, Tokyo, New York and London over the years 2005-2012. The busts are juxtaposed to murky black and white pictures of ‘street views’ and urban landscapes. All images are compiled in a roughly bound colossal, but clearly sequenced and well-designed publication. (Did Katja Stuke, Oliver’s partner in life and work have a say in this? I wondered; she is not mentioned in the colophon). The bulky book is the size of an old fashioned telephone directory and is held together with two black rubber bands, which, I know from experience, will disintegrate in the coming years. In the back of the book you may find a state-of-the-art directory compiled of tweets referring to e.g. punk rock bars in Dusseldorf, ‘multiple personality’, ‘transgender’, and ‘skinhead culture’. The evolution from Frau Bohm to Imaginary Club has definitely been awarded! And more surprising, in terms of the definition of a ‘photobook’, is The Catalogue of The Year Award that goes to Christopher Williams’ exhibition catalogue published by MOMA, with the splendid title: The production line of happiness.
On Saturday morning, sitting at a café, I am reading in Le Parisien that the building located at 7, Rue des Grands Augustins (VI arrondisement) where Picasso in 1937 painted his mural Guernica possibly will be converted into a hotel with 25 rooms. Charlotte Rampling is a member of the Advisory Committee. And Jean Nouvel has in the periphery of Paris built Le Philarmonie already praised for its phenomenal acoustics. The opening is planned for January 14, 2015. I look at a newspaper picture of a wide wavy auditorium, which looks far from finished.
Sunday at noon I take the elevators to the sixth floor of Centre Pompidou to visit the Marcel Duchamp retrospective. I am not the only one. L.H.O.O.Q. dating from 1919 is the very first icon you encounter after entering the exhibition. Mona Lisa with a moustache and goatee has the size and layout of a 19th century postcard or carte de visite, those sturdy carton ones. The surprise in making this association lifts my spirit. Tzara just came from Switzerland that year, I read in a caption. In a window case I try to decipher some autobiographic notes by Duchamp scribbled on pieces of paper torn from a notepad: “lhooq elle a chaud au cul comme des ciseaux ouvertes”. On Wikipedia I read that it is a pun: the letters of the title when pronounced in French sound like ‘elle a chaud au cul’ (‘she’s got a hot arse’). I didn’t know that.
Further on in the exhibition I discover a second version of L.H.O.O.Q dating from 1955, reproduced on, what looks to me like, a tea towel: l’Envers de la peinture. What I discovered too is that Duchamp aspires ‘non retinal’ painting; making a painting of the idea. Duchamp and his contemporary critics talked about ‘extra retinal radiations’, and ‘the electric halo’, and about ‘the question of fluids’. Depicting the ‘astral body’ of Paul Nadar or a nude from 1910 is very similar to the way Odillon Redon did. Nowadays this ‘astral body’ could be considered the energetic body, also know as the etheric body: the first layer around the physical body. I really feel exited about this discovery! Something he also tried to realize through ‘anaemic cinema’ in 1929. Marcel Duchamp painted his brothers in muted colours while playing chess at gaslight. The work is considered a rebellious act against the violent colours of fauvism. His brother Raymond Duchamp-Villon was a sculptor. Duchamp liked Cranach, his elongated nudes and the colour of flesh.
Back to Grand Palais one more time on Saturday afternoon. By foot, the same way back. Once more, there were queues in front of Jeu de Paume, and Grand Palais. The first photograph I encountered in a crowded booth, which was substantially larger then most of the others I visited, is a miniature portrait of Margaret Bourke-White while she is taking pictures in the early 1930s with a large wooden view camera (still standard in those days) from the rooftop of the Chrysler building in New York: the selling price is 34.000 euro’s at Daniel Blau Gallery. Just before leaving the booth, I see a portrait of an elderly woman, wearing glasses, reminding me of a similar one by Alexandr Rodchenko. Apparently, Bourke-White made a portrait of Stalin’s mother in 1931. A kind of Quaker portrait and on offer for 7.000 euro’s.
After pitching my book proposal (An Anthology: Photobooks of Found Photographs) to some publishers/editors of content, among the crowds of people, I went out to get some fresh air, and walked back to Rue Bonaparte, to Offprint, a ‘disarming’ art-publishing fair that stretches from photography to experimental music. Yannick Bouillis, the creative mind behind it all and director of Offprint was engaged in a talk (to me he represents the philosopher in the world of photography), standing outside in front of the entrance to the fair, smoking a cigarette. Recently he moved with his family from Amsterdam to Paris. He looked happy, and Parisian.
From a table at Offprint fair I could, just like that, pick up from a small pile artist’s books by Christian Boltanksi. I was thrilled. Kadish, Les Suisses Morts, Scratch (still sealed), and in particular Inventaire des Objets Ayant Appartenu A Une Femme de Bois-Colombe. I knew the artist’s book, which is also a catalogue, existed, but never had a chance to leaf through it. And after a short introduction Laurence Dumaine Calle from Editions 591 – the CB-publications were on her table – handed to me a publication written by Bob Calle: Christian Boltanski artist’s Books (2008, still sealed). After reading carefully her business card I wondered: Is the author her husband? And are they, Bob and Laurence, somehow related to Sophie Calle?
On the way back, arriving at Central Station Amsterdam, I stumble on Bas Vroege collecting his large duffel bag, and his partner Hripsime Visser. In the drizzle rain he offers me a present: an oversized photobook in a cotton bag, he zips out of his luggage: Maydan – Hundred Portraits by Emeric Lhuisset on ‘the face of the revolution in February 2014’, in the centre of Kiev. A potential award winning publication. Thank you Bas.