THE MONTH OF PHOTOGRAPHY
NOVEMBER 2-DECEMBER 1, 2006
By early November, photography adorned Paris, the City of Lights, in a total of sixty city-wide exhibitions celebrating "The Month of Photography." Divided roughly into three categories, these shows featured historic photography, photographic oeuvres, and images produced primarily for the mass media. New views by artists such as Joel Meyerowitz and Xavier Zimmermann were seen alongside such historic and well-known images as the rayograms of Man Ray (at the Jeu de Paume-Concorde). Collectively, however, curators and gallerists alike used this moment to refashion European photography as a genre that shares a close connection to painting. Several different photo events that took place throughout the city emphasized the significance that photography holds within the contemporary culture of Paris.
"The Movement of Images" at the Centre George Pompidou opened several months before the Month of Photography and began to convey a close relationship between photography and film. Inspired by Walter Benjamin's assertion that "it is less necessary to know whether photography and film have to do with art than to understand how they alter the perception we have of it," (1) this exhibition moved away from concerns surrounding the relationship between optics and chemicals in order to examine the photograph's "unfixed character." (2) Within the areas of montage, narrative, unwinding, and projection, artist films such as Richard Serra's Hand Catching Lead (1968) and Chris Burden's Documentation of Selected Works (1971-74) were juxtaposed with modernist works of art. The repetition of blue, red, green, yellow, and orange leaves in Henri Matisse's Vitrail bleu pale (1948-49), for example, along with Josef Albers's "Homage to the Square" series (1967) and Donald Judd's Stack (1972), suggested that repetitive motifs set within the context of a square frame expose a connection between the plastic arts, photography, and the moving image. Whether these plastic stills can indeed be connected to either the medium of film or photography remains a subject of debate. However, the montage photographs of Moi Ver in "Paris. 80 Photographs" (1931) reflect a combination of the figurative and abstract caused by camera movement. Together they seem to incorporate different types of abstract art within the photograph.
The argument for photography as art continued in another exhibition at the Pompidou, "Painters of Modern Life," from the collection of the French investment company La Caisse des Depots et Consignations. The large photographs in the first room were printed in large format and evenly spaced out. Grouped under the title "Power," the stacked papers of Hannah Collins's Listen (1994) and the blue-collar workers in Andreas Gursky's Siemens, Amberg (1991) reflect the subject within a controlled four-sided square frame. In addition, Fouad Elkoury's Le Monde (2001) captures the theme of the post-9/11 era in a full-page depiction of an article published in that newspaper in 2001 titled, "Being Arab in New York." Thomas Demand's representation of graduated bleachers in Tribune (1995) further underscores the subtle visual motif of the square. The curators may have sought to establish a conceptual connection between the image and artistic frame; however, that connection remained clusive.
The second room, "France and the World," consisted of small and large pictures arranged salon style, cluttering the viewer's gaze with diverse scenes including an empty storefront in Thierry Girard's Guerel, Creuse (2001), a private backyard in Veronique Ellena's Les Dimanches (1997), and a small family kitchen in Florence Paradeis's "Sans Titre-Serie 1: 1988-1989" (1989). The third room, "Fictions," featured works that capture both real and imagined landscapes along with digitally manipulated studio shots. Fictive Realities 2--Sea Lions' Cage--Loro Parque, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife (1998) by Thomas Mangold depicts an idealized, empty living environment belonging to captured sea lions whereas Philippe Ramette's Balcony II (Hong Kong) (2001) echoes Yves Klein's black-and-white Leap into the Void (1960), in which a man jumps off a brick wall onto the street. …