A BMW sporting the Paris Photo logo taxis visitors to the festival.

On the eve of the Vernissage of Paris Photo I headed to the preview of Anima, a solo show by Charlotte Dumas at the Institute Néerlandais.

Previously, I recall seeing her series Retrieved on Paul Andriesse’s stand at Paris Photo in 2011; portraits of search and rescue dogs sent in to help in the wake of 9/11 in New York. This exhibition now, combines Retrieved with Anima (also the title of this exhibition). Anima is a series on burial horses that carry soldiers to their final resting place in military funerals – funerals that have taken place since the ensuing  ‘war on terror’ following 9/11. These photographs could so easily be sentimental animal portraits, but she successfully swerves this pitfall to portray these creatures as noble, enigmatic in tone. With the horse series in particular, there is a fragility to the horses frame and stillness in their dark equine eyes, working like black mirrors, they seem to reflect back the sobriety of their experience. The series is an inversion of what we might expect and a body of work that most of us might willingly overlook as having little substance – but it surprisingly kept coming up in conversations with people at Paris Photo who’d seen the work…  given the show’s tone, it’s unsurprising that Anima was picked up as part of Paris Photo Vu Par collection. See what you think.

Paris Photo Vu Par offers Paris Photo visitors ‘a stroll in the company of a personality’; this year it is the polymath David Lynch. His selection of nearly 100 works is derived from the works displayed by the exhibiting stands at Paris Photo. The ideas although not new, is neat, and Lynch is a smart choice, but I would have preferred to have entered into the mindscape of Lynch with a ‘Lynch room’ at Paris Photo where the works could combine before me in that Lynchian mode: Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Alec Soth, Katharina Bosse, Jan Groover and Helen Van Meene, to name just a few. The challenge of course with Paris Photo is that you are bombarded by too much photography and too many people, so a stroll is simply not possible. To seek out the Lynch selection from stand to stand, denoted by the black label, is almost impossible to follow and connect up in your head, although that said, a walk around Paris Photo or any art fair does throw up a strain of Lynchian hell we are all familiar with. However, the free downloadable app on Lynch’s selection allows you to scroll through the selection of images according to stand order and a book is available. The choice of Lynch is no doubt a nod to the direction of Paris Photo’s next edition in Los Angeles 2013 the home of Paramount Studios. This spring edition will mark a new frontier for Paris Photo with this fair promising significant inclusion of moving image.

In terms of mindscape, the Private Collection Exhibition at Paris Photo this year was given over to the Archive of Modern Conflict, who created an installation curated by Timothy Proust entitled Collected Shadows.  This installation has a brilliance to it, giving off a sense of wonderment to both the mind and eye.  Featuring 226 images that were swiftly but well selected from over 4 million photos the exhibition creates a series of ‘stories’ that delve into the nature of our world – lightly strung according grand themes including the elements and remarkable subjects reflecting our predilection to be curious – divinity, astrology, flight and such like.  The images works like a series of literary vignettes of sorts, casting an impression on our sense of place, time, lost and found, new and old, change, simple things and people. Striding a period from the contemporary back to the 1850s, the images are by both the renown and the unknown so the leveler here is that each images is included on the basis of it being extraordinary. This includes images from John Logie Baird’s first television demonstration; a tinted silver gelatin print, if you look really hard into its brown viscous surface you can just about make out the outline of a head and shoulders (Unknown British photographer, 22 January 1926); or the curious dimensions of Paris displaced onto the surface of the moon (unknown, c. 1895); or the silver gelatin print of the Rifle Range at Guantanamo Bay (White Studio, American c. 1920s – 1930s).

Directly across the road from the Photo Fair at Grand Palais is Petite Palais where Gustave Le Gray and his circle are in a gem of a well curated show Modernism or Modernity: Photographers from the circle of Gustav Le Gray (1850-60). Le Gray is quoted to have said in 1852 “It is my deepest wish that photography, instead of falling within the domain of industry, of commerce, will be included among the arts. That is its sole, true place, and it is in that direction that I shall always endeavor to guide it. It is up to the men devoted to its advancement to set this idea firmly in their minds.”

With his conviction in mind, Le Gray tutored in photography, established a studio and provided what we know today as a printing service.  The exhibition has been swiftly regarded as revelatory bringing together several works not seen before and key photographers tutored by Le Gray; Charles Nègre, Henri Le Secq, John B. Greene, Delaunay and Alphonse Adrien Tournachon. The basic premise for the show is that as a group they were genuinely innovative in their understanding and treatment of both subject and compositional style in image making, making a bold break with the artistic approach of their day, they are positioned here as being 70 years ahead of their time, predating the modernist vision of 1920s and 30s. It is as a show also testament to the experimentation and contribution that Gustav Le Gray and his cohort made to print quality, which is a real privilege to take the time to see here altogether, in this age of the digital domain, where we tend to feel the pressure of looking at too much, so end up scanning thing on an automatic mode rather than seeing.

One of the curators of the Le Gray  show quite rightly sets out on one of the intro panels “In this era of ubiquitous, mediocre images, the urge to concentrate on a few particular pieces can have a salutary effect”.

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