Paris Photo, Nov 12 – 15, 2020
This year's Paris Photo programming is evolving in response to the pandemic and travel restrictions. Videos of past artist talks and conversations with art dealers are on the website. What I enjoy about the fair are the presentations that tell the stories behind an image, and frequently art dealers and gallerists are sources of such stories. Have a look at Conversations in 2019 to get an idea. You can follow this year's talks online from Paris Photo website or by Instagram. Past Paris Photo lectures are also freely available at Vimeo, such as this talk by Zanele Muholi.
In particular, I like listening to the simultaneous translations. I watched a 2019 talk by gallerist Françoise Paviotabout vintage photographs. It is a 59-minute talk and I noticed that at the 50th minute there was a change in voice with a new translator who stepped in to relieve the first person from this endeavor. With a change in voice, comes a change in tone and tempo and is appropriately metaphorical in the visual arts. At times, it seemed that the translators are not photographers themselves, and they paused to find the words to interpret what the speaker said. Just as art critics may feel they can interpret the works of others, but in the end it is the artist who can state their intent, as Zanele Muholi does. In the last minutes of her talk, Françoise offers two quotes; one from husband, Alain, who says that "photography is a rare multiple object," which is appropriate for a talk about vintage photography. The other quote concludes her presentation as she encouraged the audience to walk through the photo fair and do what French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty said which was to "touch things with your eyes." In her interview, Zanele reminds the viewer that historical practice was not representative of a larger world but the voices, like the translators, are changing as the artists assert their voice.
It got me thinking about feminization of invisible labor since by chance, both translators were women who were making it possible to understand Françoise's talk. Françoise's husband, Alain established their art gallery in 1974, however she is an expert in her own right. Françoise provides a brief overview of photography while she explains an original versus a vintage print. The audience learns that Berenice Abbott acquired Atget's prints after his death, which is a salient factor in appraising vintage prints. It was chance that Francoise's talk caught my eye when I surfed the Paris Photo website, and that I noticed the change in translators. Still traditional in many senses, Paris Photo is beginning to provide a platform to different voices. It seems that 2020 is forcing the opportunity to listen to images and touch with one's eyes.