Photographer and writer Mandy Williams attended this year’s Paris Photo exposition, and had a special interest in viewing works from galleries that were owned by, or whose directors are women. As a special contribution to Wobneb Magazine this month, Williams presents her experience and particular works of note. She found the artists’ desire to expand the definitions of photography was the highlight of the show.
Mandy Williams, PARIS – Visiting Paris Photo for a day when there are 153 galleries, 29 publishers and 1255 artists exhibiting means having a clear idea of what you want to see. I decided to focus on galleries with women directors, but specifically those showing distinctive contemporary work from emerging and mid-career artists. All of them had female directors, and all were showing artists who are either working beyond the flat surface of traditional photography, or exploring ideas of ‘real fictions’.
One of these was Binôme, a gallery founded by Valérie Cazin. At Paris Photo they showed two artists, Mustapha Azeroual, who applies old processes to contemporary photography, and Thibault Brunet whose camera-less photographs are created from digital sources.
I was immediately drawn to Brunet’s Typologie du Virtuel series, 2014-16 where he takes images of suburban buildings that have been modeled in 3D by Google Earth users. He personalises these images by adding a drop shadow according to the date and time of its creation and chooses a dominant colour for each building ‘defined by the objective modeling file data’. Visually, the work is stunning. The buildings seem to float halfway between reality and artifice in a world of muted colour. Brunet pursues his interests with intelligence, adding his voice to debates about authorship and our relationship to the virtual world.
At Melanie Rio gallery I was interested in the work of Edgar Martins, a Portugese photographer living in the UK. His 2010 series, ‘A Metaphysical Survey of British Dwellings’ shows the mock-up of a town created in 2003 for the purposes of police and firearm training. Pizzaland was on display at Paris Photo and like others from his series it appears both hyper-real and fictional. The blank facades, black skies and unpopulated streets create a sense of anxiety. This displacement, this absence of community is according to Martins ‘not just a simulacrum of contemporary British towns’ but ‘also a metaphor for the modern asocial city’.
Leyla Cardenas, showing at Galerie Dix9 Hélène Lacharmoise, explores urban ruins and city landscapes as indications of social transformation, loss and historical memory. In “Contained Entropy”, her image of the building is mounted on demolition debris, through an extension of the image. “Unshrouded #3” is a photo showing the facade of an old building in Bogotá, and is printed on fabric she uncovers at one end. She has used fabric and thread in her work for a long time and felt it was logical to start working with veils, ‘that are like phantoms, the last fragile image of places that are about to disappear and dissolve’.
Another artist using thread is Iris Hutegger at Esther Woerdehoff gallery, who applies drawing and stitching to her landscape photographs. The stitching is integrated smoothly into the surface using a machine she helped develop and the textural interventions are only visible up-close. From a distance ,the work appears as a fluid photograph. Her locations are deliberately unpopulated and place-specific references are limited. By choosing titles with numeric codes she keeps these places private and mysterious.
At Les Filles du Calvaire, run by Stéphane Magnan and Christine Ollier, I was drawn to the work of Katrien De Blauwer. I was drawn in part to the intimate scale of her work, but you can also see her skillful eye and artistic sensibility in her images made by cutting and layering found images. Her source material is mainly magazines from the 1930s-60s. Most images feature women suggesting an element of autobiography. She has said, ‘My work contains hidden layers, parts of me (or my past) in the work’. These small images possess a vivid cinematic quality, a mysterious voyeurism, but also a genuine emotional impact through her skillful cutting and layering.
Creating innovative new work from old material is an element of Thomas Mailaender’s work at Roman Road, a gallery opened by Marisa Bellani. Mailaender showed work from Illustrated People (2013) where he used a powerful UV light to temporarily imprint negatives – freely accessed from The Archive of Modern Conflicts collection of 19th and 20th century photographic documents – onto the skin of his models. His Cyanotypes (2013- present), are impressive large-scale images of often mundane or unexpected subject matter found on the internet. In both series old processes are reinvigorated and brought into the 21st century through performative elements, humour and visual puns.
Dinh Q Lê’s installation, TWC in Four Moments, at Shoshana Wayne Gallery is another work where reality and fiction merge. Each moment is represented by a 50 metre long digitally stretched and manipulated photograph of the World Trade Centre taken during the 9/11 attack from different perspectives in New York. Seeing the long colour strips spilling down to settle gently on raised plinths was surprisingly emotional in spite of their abstraction. Inevitably, memories of that event are revisited, adding layers and complexity to the abstracted images. Lê abstracts the scenes and creates a scroll-like landscape that is experienced one section at a time, much like traditional landscape paintings. The artist asks us to think about the images in relation to time; to travel through a landscape. The fact that the viewer only sees a limited part of an image that has been abstracted is exactly the point—the story behind each image is far more complex, layered, and interwoven than the eye can see.
More info and highlights from the 2016 Paris Photo expo can be found at: http://www.parisphoto.com/paris
Mandy Williams is a London based artist working with photography and video. http://www.mandywilliams.com/