Black Photographers at Paris Photo 2023

This selection of works by Black photographers was drawn from the booths at Paris Photo 2023. For further background on how and why this “collection” was formed, and the structure of the resulting slideshow, visit the introductory page (here).

This collection consists of 20 works made by Black photographers between roughly 1950 and the present. The competition to join this group was fierce (signaling a growing momentum for works by Black photographers at fairs like this one), with works by Gordon Parks, Carrie Mae Weems, Deana Lawson, Seydou Keïta, Arielle Bobb-Willis, Ming Smith, Renee Cox, Lola Flash, Jamel Shabazz, and others ultimately falling outside the inclusion line, largely in favor of some lesser known names, standout prints, or more unexpected works. Given the quoted prices for these individual works (in various currencies), the approximate aggregate cost of acquiring this entire “collection” would be roughly $565000.

Stephen Daiter Gallery (here): The white mannequin hand reaching into this 1950 composition by Roy DeCarava pops with such brightness amid the surrounding dark tones that its presence entirely reorients the mood of the picture. The two Black women walk along unaware of its grasping entrance, its fingers seemingly reaching for or even touching the headscarf. Apparently DeCarava took a workshop with Ansel Adams, who helped him deepen the richness and resonance of the darks in his prints, giving the contrast here even more punch. Priced at $78000.

Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière (here): This mid-1960s vintage print from London by James Barnor was hiding in the closet of this booth, but was certainly worth digging out. Many of Barnor’s images have been reprinted in larger modern editions, but a smaller number of vintage prints are still running around from various points in his career in both Ghana and the UK. This studio setup is relatively simple, but the model’s engaging gaze gives the posed moment a charge of vitality. Priced at €18000.

Gagosian Gallery (here): In the years since the publication of Kwame Brathwaite’s first monograph (reviewed here), the systematic digging through his archive has continued, unearthing a steady stream of strong rediscoveries, like this multiple exposure image from the 1970s. In it, we get three studio poses in one, the studied formality of the held apple giving way to the swaying freedom of outstretched arms. With Gagosian now supporting the ongoing process of documenting and cataloging the artist’s archive, we can expect to see Brathwaite’s legacy burnished and expanded. A modern print, priced at $17500.

Bruce Silverstein (here): An ominous dark gloom weighs down this 1972 image by Chester Higgins. Taken at the Door of No Return at Gorée Island in Dakar, which was one departure point for slave ships from Africa, the lone figure in the shadows seems to carry the powerful force of that history. It’s incredibly difficult to make a photograph of such a place that might begin to capture the agonizing emotions wrapped up in its invisible traumas, but this one finds the right note of thoughtfulness and reverence. Priced at $15000.

Galerie Nathalie Obadia (here): Lyle Ashton Harris has been performatively exploring versions of identity for decades now, and this large-scale Polaroid for 2003 fits into that continuum of expression. In this nude, he provocatively mixes fishnet stockings, black high heels, and delicate lace with a prominent African hair comb, interweaving symbols of Blackness and queerness. The shimmering shadow on the wall seems to brings the facets of self into one elusive form. Priced at €45000.

Galerie Nathalie Obadia (here): This 2017 photocollage by Mickalene Thomas is an earlier (2017) iteration of the ideas presented in her recent gallery show (reviewed here). Leveraging Black pinup calendar source imagery from the 1970s, she constructs composite figures surrounded by competing textures. Smaller and less embellished than her newer versions, this collage feels like the representation of an artistic pivot point, where the beginnings of a promising idea are being tested out. Priced at $59000.

Galerie Christophe Person (here): The monumental scale of this 2017 self-portrait of Samuel Fosso as a Black pope is hard to comprehend from this installation shot, but the larger than life presence of this print gives it a palpable heft and force, which is then matched by the humble gentleness of the staged gesture. Fosso has spent his entire career playing with performative photographic identities and personas, and while this series was originally sparked by a connection to Maurizio Cattelan’s pope crushed by a meteorite image, this particular version seems to replace that cheeky irony with something more quietly introspective. Priced at €35000.

Yancey Richardson (here): Over the past decade, Zanele Muholi has made creative self-portraits with a dizzying array of unlikely materials. This 2019 image is richly textured, with a woven pillow on her head, a similarly woven throw over her shoulder, and a furry backdrop. Her face peers out from within these quirky fabrics, somehow regal within such unexpected surroundings. Priced at $25000.

Webber Gallery (here): Widline Cadet’s disorienting downward view from 2020 uses a pile of red rose petals as a ground, with multiple bodies in floral dresses turned and inverted. Hands and arms seem to tumble and cascade, with heads seemingly buried in the blanket of saturated color. Priced at €15000.

Webber Gallery (here): This exchange of a folded $20 dollar bill might represent any number of possible transactions or transfers, but its crisp, pared down formality gives this photograph an elegantly timeless simplicity. Tucked on a side wall of this booth, this 2021 image by Zora J. Murff is all gesture, a near touch like Michelangelo’s God and man. Priced at €3500.

Pace Gallery (here): This retroreflective work by Hank Willis Thomas (from 2021) requires a flash of light to activate certain sections of the composition. With sidelong references to Man Ray and Ellsworth Kelly, it recenters Black contributions to the history of art, from the formal elegance of an African mask to the American jazz music of Henry Crowder. Priced at $80000.

Gagosian Gallery (here): This 2021 image by Tyler Mitchell documents the deliberate construction of Black family history, in the form of an arrangement of portraits, artworks, and resonant objects, almost like a family shrine. Mixing history, memory, and aspiration, it alludes to the ways we see ourselves and build generational identity. Priced at $20000.

Stevenson (here): Mame-Diarra Niang has taken the relatively simple idea of photographic blur and turned it into a nuanced aesthetic device. The French photographer softens images of people in the streets into impressionistic approximations and near abstract color studies, playing with the possibilities of memory and association. This 2021 image seems to reduce three women into sparkling flares of light, finding a sense of the ephemeral in the everyday. Priced at €7200.

Stevenson (here): Frida Orupabo’s collaged wall works simmer with an uneasy sense of understated confrontation. A seemingly dainty knees together and arms raised pose is matched with a knowing stare, the stilted feminine gestures undermined by the young woman’s objectified skepticism. Orupabo has carved out a unique space in contemporary photographic collage, quickly building notable momentum. Priced at $44000 and already sold.

Jenkins Johnson Gallery (here): Aïda Muluneh’s stylized expressions of identity mix African cultural symbolism with bold graphics and primary colors in entirely unique ways. The Ethiopian photographer’s eye-catching work has become instantly recognizable, as in this mystical doubled scene in a pared down landscape. Perhaps we are confronted by two versions of self, one looking down with demure submission and the other sizing us up with a direct stare. Priced at $38000.

Stevenson (here): This small boxed collage by Thato Toeba was tucked inside the smaller viewing room in this booth, sitting atop some flat files. Toeba is from Lesotho, and her sculpturally-layered collage packs together multiple two sided image cutouts, including a silhouette excised from the back panel. The result is a jittering set of overlapped perspectives (as seen from both sides), mixing feminine roles and stereotypes. Priced at €1200.

Stephen Daiter Gallery (here): These 2022 images by Dawoud Bey document overgrown pathways through the forest along the Virginia Slave Trail. Starting at the riverside, we follow the paths once taken by thousands, Bey’s tactile images capturing the haunted residues and overlooked scars on the land, pulling us forward through the ghostly thickets and shadowed curves as if on foot. These medium-sized prints come in a portfolio of 8 (with a text panel), starting at $30000. This price point is more approachable than that of some of Bey’s recent large scale single prints, and so should find a receptive audience.

Fraenkel Gallery (here): This 2023 collage by Wardell Milan wrestles with an image of Alvin Ailey by Robert Mapplethorpe. In re-seeing Ailey, Milan multiplies the nuanced complexity of dancer’s gestures and facial features, amplifying the muted gentleness of raised hand, the turning power of the outstretched arm, and the concentration etched on his face. By cutting Ailey away from the original backdrop, he creates a white haloing effect, helping to make his lithe form stand out from the shadows. Priced at $14000.

Yossi Milo Gallery (here): Visibility and concealment tussle for dominance in this recent work by Alanna Fields. Starting with a picture of a reclining man in jeans drawn from archives of Black queer imagery, she fragments and repeats part of the photograph, layering sweeps of encaustic wax on top. The result is richly textural, her recontextualization of the body seductively fluid and open-ended. Priced at $8000.

Galerie Binome (here)/Magnin-A (here): This booth was filled with standout works made in a collaboration between Lee Shulman and The Anonymous Project and Omar Victor Diop. The Anonymous Project collection features vernacular images of 1950s America, with few (if any) Black faces to be found in the everyday scenes. Diop has cleverly digitally inserted himself into these moments, joining picnics, cocktail parties, vacations, and graduations as if one of the friends or family. His poses and expressions are priceless, and his digital sleight of hand is nearly flawless, creating a biting commentary on the dated white culture captured in the original photographs. Here he brilliantly joins a dinner party, filling an empty chair and turning to look back at the camera as though momentarily interrupted. Priced at €4800 each.

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Read more about: Aïda Muluneh, Alanna Fields, Chester Higgins, Dawoud Bey, Frida Orupabo, Hank Willis Thomas, James Barnor, Kwame Brathwaite, Lee Shulman/The Anonymous Project, Lyle Ashton Harris, Mame-Diarra Niang, Mickalene Thomas, Omar Victor Diop, Roy DeCarava, Samuel Fosso, Thato Toeba, Tyler Mitchell, Wardell Milan, Widline Cadet, Zanele Muholi, Zora J. Murff, Bruce Silverstein Gallery, Fraenkel Gallery, Gagosian Gallery, Galerie Binome, Galerie Christophe Person, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Jenkins Johnson Gallery, La Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière, Magnin-A, Pace Gallery, Stephen Daiter Gallery, Stevenson Gallery, Webber Gallery Space, Yancey Richardson Gallery, Yossi Milo Gallery, Paris Photo

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