In the decade or so that I have been visiting the Paris Photo art fair, I have tried plenty of different approaches to sifting through the contents of its many booths. Over the years, I have selected one work from each and every booth, limited myself to just works made by women photographers, and simply chosen a selection of notable highlights, all in the hopes that I might provide a sense of the offerings at the fair for those unable to attend. This year, I decided to return to my roots and once again force myself to really think like a collector.
Very few collectors I have come across are passionately interested in truly everything that might be available at a sprawling fair like Paris Photo; of course, they might be generally curious about much of what is on view, but they are not really intent on buying the vast majority of what is hanging in the booths. Instead, they come to the fair in search of a specific range of things, perhaps even particular artists or works (especially if they have been sent a PDF preview), and while browsing and visiting with gallery owners, friends, curators, and other photo people, they are hunting through the aisles hoping to find those things and other unexpected or serendipitous things that inspire them. I myself have done this often, looking both in a broad sense (at what is happening in the medium) and in a narrow one (at what might fit into our collection.)
This year, I decided to try a split personality exercise, where I would place myself in the comfortable walking shoes of four imaginary collectors. Each had a specific definition of what they were looking for, and would therefore “build” a collection based on those parameters from what was on offer. My goal going into the show was to select no more than 20 works for each “collection”, not knowing whether I would even find that many works to highlight – it isn’t unusual for a collector to go to an art fair and essentially come away empty handed; as it turned out, this wasn’t a problem, as there was an embarrassment of riches from which to choose. Limiting myself this way would also force some of the classic trade-offs that collectors must deal with – the acquisitions budget isn’t ever unlimited, so available choices must be carefully considered and selections narrowed down to the real contenders.
There are an infinite number of ways to create a photography collection, including the fan favorite “buy what you love”, which has few definitional limits. I have chosen four “collections” based on a simple set of preconditions or parameters, as follows:
- Black photographers (the “who”): In the past decade, we have seen a marked increase in the interest in the work of Black photographers, both vintage and contemporary, particularly those that may have been under appreciated in the past. This would include Black photographers from Africa, African-American photographers, as well as those of African descent living and working in other countries. I was curious to look more closely at which (and how many) Black photographers were being represented at the fair, and what kind of works were being shown.
- Alternative processes and techniques (the “how” or perhaps the “what”): This core sample of the fair gathers together works with a process theme or hook, including darkroom experiments, abstractions, collage and montage, physical cutting, sewing, and other modifications, and basically any other unexpected approach to working with photography or a camera, including AI-based efforts.
- Asian photography (the “where”): This collection uses a geographic filter, featuring works made by Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, and other Asian photographers, at home and abroad. Living in New York, I don’t see enough of this vantage point, and there are a number of specialist galleries from Asia that regularly attend Paris Photo, so I was curious to see what the fair had to offer as seen through this filter.
- What’s new (the “when”): Some collectors just want to see (and collect) what’s new, hot, and on trend, so this collection sweeps up photographs made only in 2022 or 2023.
Of course, these four “collections” are not mutually exclusive, and it is altogether possible that a specific photograph might fit into more than one category – when this has occurred, I have generally opted to categorize the work by one of the first three labels first, with the “new” category left to gather fresh works from other genres, styles, and makers. And it is also clear that this approach to filtering the fair leaves out wide swaths of worthy work, including that of a number of acknowledged masters – Edward Weston and Diane Arbus, as two examples, don’t easily fit into any of these categories.
As is our standard practice, in the slideshows that follow (for a total of 4 “collection” posts), each photograph (or group of photographs) is annotated with the linked gallery name, the artist’s name, some discussion of the work itself, and the price. Hopefully, these four “collections” will provide an overlapped or matrixed view of the fair and its offerings, cutting this way and that to capture a few slices of photographic excitement.
The first “collection” of works by Black photographers can be found here, while the alternative processes and techniques “collection” is here, the Asian photography “collection” is here, and the what’s new “collection” is here.