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Photography invades Paris 2023 by Thierry Maindrault


Invade is the exact term for this week in November 2023. The Paris Photographic Week is not cheating, there is photography absolutely everywhere in Paris. A phenomenal number of galleries present photographs, public organizations and other large foundations are not left out, neighborhood or thematic festivals line up numerous exhibitions and at the top of the pyramid sits Paris Photo which remains the largest photography fair commercial.

You have understood, the lover of photography, practicing or not, finds himself plunged into a morass of Shakespearean dilemmas.

For my part, with all due honor, I opted for Paris Photo, which I have been frequenting for many years and which represents a good barometer of the evolution of the place of photography in our societies.

First surprise, invited to the traditional day reserved for the press and VIPs (few people to allow a less hectic professional approach), I found myself drowned in a very dense and really unprofessional crowd. Something like the famous VIP day, pre-sale open to all to anticipate authorized sales. So much the better for the crowd of smart people who visited, apparently without opening their wallets. To find a working atmosphere of collectors and professionals, the VIP VIP invitation has become essential. A day before the official opening, the aisles were full of people, but mainly onlookers of all categories. Without being sartorially sectarian, it was very pleasant to come across the sweater, leather, jeans, unisex sneakers, followed on the other hand by superb haute couture suits accompanied by a bow tie vest. It was just as pleasant to see on the stands the presence of galleries truly from the four corners of the planet. Paris Photo is becoming the universal crossroads of photography. The best proof is that we no longer hear, or almost no longer, the French language. The universal Anglo-American sabir is required. This year, some exhibitors have avoided having even one student speaking French in their space.

So much for the atmosphere for those who are deprived of this special route. Let’s talk photography, what fascinates us all.

In recent years, the emergence of old photographs has been evident. This is how we saw a craze that became frenzied for photographs taken in the post-war period (39-45), reportage type, street photos, with a little fashion and a few portraits.

This year, the search for the old (almost antiques) completely invaded the 2023 show. Almost unanimously, traditional galleries offered potential buyers “vintages”. Please note, vintages are no longer images by photographers made at the end of the last century, the images offered often date back from the end of the 19th century to the 1960s. As always, in this new trend, I have seen the worst and the best (there’s something for everyone it seems?). In these periods, it is obvious that the themes have changed. Landscape photography, formal portraits, still lifes and nudes represent funds that have been extirpated to enable business. Sometimes the frame is more important than the image itself, we border on the flea market. Family photography, of more than mediocre quality, such as “soap boxes” or Polaroids, is also shamelessly displayed in improbable montages. In the middle of these improbable patchworks, some pretty and interesting pearls are hidden – all the same -.

For the rest, in small portions, there are a few creations often seen last year, a few very rare provocations of eroticism mixed with pornography, a few uninteresting technological feats (promptography is looking for a place). Finally, a ton of books with an increasingly substantial and international publishing department, business requires!

If the full visit of the show was not useless to smell the air of our times, the photographer, that I remain, is challenged by the commercial evolution of our creations (let’s talk about the real creators) which are inexorably buried; financially stuck between the rise of photographic archives and the software promises of a brainless future.

To conclude on this event and its main points, this year the display of prices on the descriptive labels has completely disappeared, with one exception. The customer’s mind has never been the right criterion for evaluating the cultural and economic impact of an art; especially when you want to maintain yourself as the world reference in a discipline.

Thierry Maindrault

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