“The Japanese photography is still going strong

Editors' booths, Grand Palais, November 9, 2016 © Jérémie Bouillon / Paris Photo

Hi Steve((Steve Bisson (Italy), founder of http://urbanautica.com, curator, lecturer. More about Steve in the interview.)), you’ve just come back from ParisPhoto, how did it go?

I want to start off by saying that I was very happy to return to Paris. Last year’s edition was flawed and influenced by the terrible terrorist attacks. In hindsight, I think many of us experienced a desire to play down those days and to share those experiences.

ParisPhoto remains the most important photography event in the world. Not only in respect to what happens during the show at the Grand Palais, but also considering the whole set of events and meetings that the city offers. The atmosphere is unique and it is visited en mass, which makes it unlikely that you can see everything and everyone.

Editors' booths, Grand Palais, November 9, 2016 © Jérémie Bouillon / Paris Photo
Opening day of the fair's 20th edition, Grand Palais, November 9, 2016 © Jérémie Bouillon / Paris Photo

The Grand Palais course offers a broad and excellent overview of some of the most important galleries. It should be noted, however, that some of these galleries are not specialized exclusively in photography. As a result, we see a growing number of artists who produce weird images rather than photographs. You could observe that there are a lot of artists who shouldn’t be there and that there are a lot of photographers who should be there, but aren’t. I guess that’s why books, rather than galleries, are becoming more appealing to photographers.

I know you were in Paris for educational activities as well…

Yes, this year I’ve been pretty busy with a whole range of activities that took place at the Paris College of Art. This reduced the time available for exhibitions and research, but I was  happy to be able to work with students and to have discussions with different professors. I was invited to do a presentation of my curatorial activities and at the same time I coordinated a screening session about experimental video on architecture. This is an area of research to which I have devoted myself for the past five years through Filmessay.

Screening session by Filmessay at PCA - Paris College of Art, Paris, 2016

I also worked with Francois Ronsiaux, director of Plateforme Gallery, for an exhibition of student works selected by the University of Arts of London, Berlin University of Art & Design and the same Paris College of Art. Besides their work, also that of French authors such as Patrick Rimond, Dominique Clerc, Vincent Debanne and Pierre Folk was included.

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical at first to bring together so many different kinds of work, even though, the theme of the exhibition ‘Blurring The Lines’ was sufficiently broad. I experienced it as an installation exercise rather than a strict curatorial process. I believe that these exercises are very useful when implemented in schools away from all the whims that lurk in the atmosphere of galleries and museums. Taking that into account, the school allows for greater experimentation. So I’m very happy that I have been invited to repeat this exhibition during the next edition of ParisPhoto in 2017.

Installation views of the exhibition 'Blurring the Lines' at PCA - Paris College of Art, Paris, 2016
Installation views of the exhibition 'Blurring the Lines' at PCA - Paris College of Art, Paris, 2016
Installation views of the exhibition 'Blurring the Lines' at PCA - Paris College of Art, Paris, 2016

Any interesting exhibitions you have visited…

I would like to mention three. The first one was a surprise. One morning I attended the workshop of curator Susan Bright. After a delightful reading she led us to visit the exhibition ‘Vivre!’ at the Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration. The exhibition brings together 70 works from the collection of Agnes B, from Alighiero Boetti to Malick Sidibé and Henri Cartier-Bresson to Ryan McGinley, to name a few. I never expected to see this exhibition in that kind of museum, but the curator did a very good job. Moreover, the permanent collection, which also houses several photographic projects, really deserves a visit.

Later I visited the exhibition ‘Soulèvements’ at Jeu De Paume. After having read several positive comments I had high expectation of this exhibition and I must say, I was very impressed by the curatorial project. It offers significant historical references, in-depth insights and various authorial perspectives on the subject of individual and social “upraising”. The curatorial team has done a remarkable job, and the exhibition is worth a slow observation and perhaps even more than one ((The curator of the exhibition ‘Soulèvements’ is the well-known philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman.)) . The catalog is well done and a complementary support.

Brochures of exhibitions taken from ParisPhoto 2016.
Image taken outside Jue De Paume, Paris, 2016

I also went to the multicultural place Centquatre. It is not a museum, nor a gallery. It is a lively and big cultural center in the north east part of the city full of young people playing and dancing. Here I visited the exhibition of Hans Op De Beeck which is spread out in several rooms through a variety of installations. The meditative spaces allows one to relate to and breathe in the atmosphere designed by the artist for his works.

Installation views of Hans Op De Beeck exhibition 'Saisir le Silence' at Centquatre, Paris

What about books?

I could talk extensively about this. I think that, for photographers, publishers will now be seen as a real alternative partner to galleries. The number of operators is increasing, and the amount and editorial quality of supply is really impressive. Personally, I turn more and more to publishing rather than to galleries when it comes to discovering new talents in photography. ParisPhoto offers significant opportunities from this point of view. Grand Palais has a section dedicated to magazines and publishers. It is not intended to be thorough, but rather to offer interesting contacts with well-known publishers such as Steidl, MACK, Aperture, La Fabrica.

Steve Bisson and Vincent Delbrouck at Polycopies, Paris, 2016

I also visited Polycopies which was held in the picturesque setting of the boat moored on the Seine. There I had participated more actively as Urbanautica as we were present with our book series published by L’Artiere Editions. The feedback was very positive. For two days there was a bustle of people interested in photography books and there were many opportunities to meet the authors during various book signings. I believe that the experience of Polycopies has again shown the liveliness within publishing, the quality of many productions and also a fair market linked to collectors or merely passionate people.

Apart from that, one could attend Offrprint, another very popular big event related to books and self publishing, in addition to a whole series of individual events, meetings and presentations scattered throughout the city. Another example was the special party organized by L’Artiere Editions, which again, attracted a lot of visitors.

L'Artiere Edition Pop-up event at Hôtel de Sauroy, Paris, 2016. © Courtesy Valerio Geraci
L'Artiere Edition Pop-up event at Hôtel de Sauroy, Paris, 2016. © Courtesy Valerio Geraci
L'Artiere Edition Pop-up event at Hôtel de Sauroy, Paris, 2016. © Courtesy Valerio Geraci

Did you recognized any new trends in photography?

Well, I would say that the Japanese photography is still going strong. Japanese artists sell pretty well apparently. One can compare it to the furniture designers trend some years ago. Anyhow, I think ParisPhoto offers countless points of view to satisfy all tastes.

Could we say that in general the art market in some way influences the artistic production?

I would say so, adding that this is true not only for photography. Today, as it also often happens in the music industry, communication makes the artist. Compared to a not so distant past in which the artist was rarely recognized by the press in advance, we are faced today with a reverse process. It is the media that determines who is the artist of the moment or what the book to buy is. The Aperture award of this year goes to an excellent author but to a book that, although finely printed, does not seem to stand out enough from other productions. Frankly, I picked better books this year in terms of the strength of contents and fine editorial quality. However, I believe that the situation generates new and different spaces which are extremely challenging and stimulating for people like me. It’s all about research.

Do you have any books to recommend?

Honestly, I have so many. Among those that I would recommend is the book of Gary Green ‘After Morandi’ that I personally curated. I find it so elegant, discreet and profound at the same time. A sincere dialog with the work of the painter Giorgio Morandi which results in a much less descriptive approach than other works done on the same artist. From the books series produced by L’Artiere, the one of Andrea Modica called “AS WE WAIT” remains my favorite. On the other hand, considering new releases, I would suggest Max Pam.

'Max Pam', L'Artiere Editions, 2016
'After Morandi' by Gary Green, Urbanautica Collections by L'Artiere Editions, 2016

In my shopping list this year I have included the book ‘Santa-Barbara by Alejandro Cartagena (Skinnerboox), ‘Small Things in Silence‘ by Masao Yamamoto (Editorial RM), ‘As Dust Alights’ by Vincent Delbrouck and finally, ‘Notes for Silent Man’ by Emanuele Camerini (Witty Kiwi). I have found the latter very poetic, even in its simplicity.

'As Dust Alights' by Vincent Delbrouck, Wilderness, 2014
'Notes for Silent Man' by Emanuele Camerini, Witty Kiwi, 2016
'Santa Barbara' by Alejandro Cartagena, Skinnerboox, 2016

This year I have also contributed to the crowd funding of three books which were all present at ParisPhoto: ‘LAND‘ by Laura Van Severen, ‘The Walking Mountain’ by CALAMITA/À and ‘Diary of an Italian Borderworker‘ by Fabrizio Albertini.

'Diary of an Italian Borderworker' by Fabrizio Albertini, Skinnerboox, 2016
'The Walking Mountain' by CALAMITA/À, 2016
'LAND' by Laura Van Severen, 2016

Interview: Natalya Reznik