Although Photo Month in Paris is November, exhibitions of emerging and renowned photographers seem to take place regularly throughout the city. If you are traveling to Paris, here are a few that will take you off the hard worn museum path and are worth the exploration.
Perhaps the premier outlet for photography in Paris, and an important venue for experimentation in the medium throughout Europe, is the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. Situated conveniently between the Pont-Marie and the St. Paul metro stops, it is just a block’s walk north from the Seine. Through mid-June, there are a variety of solo photo exhibitions on each of the gallery’s floors.
Guido Albi Marini’s grainy images, mounted on core and under glass, address what the curator refers to as an “ossification” of today’s contemporary art viewing experience. The series, Art Blindly, seems to taunt the artificial responses of viewers to new and unusual media. The content of each photograph is an unknown exhibition of light works that are repetitive, other than size and shape. The viewers’ expressions range from delight to ardent, if not feigned, connoisseurship. In the interest of parody, there is also the blank stare. Marini’s fuzzy prints are perhaps a metaphor to these viewers’ responses, and the artist’s assumption that, despite sincere effort, they never quite ‘get it,’ is a conservative if not stereotypical view of contemporary art. Ultimately, viewers of Marini’s work are left with the reflexive act of looking, and the knowledge that they are now in the same position as the subjects on view, ostensibly questioning what it is they see, with all the self-consciousness that art can (and perhaps should) demand.
On Level I, Dominique Auerbacher’s Scratches is a series of work the photographer made in Berlin, where “Kratzen” are the equivalent of graffiti tags but scratched onto the windows of transit cars. The curator further equivocates these textual artifacts to expressions of Hip-Hop culture as well as Action Painting. Auerbacher’s images underscore the layered elements of experiencing such Kratzen firsthand, with a richly colored background asserting itself from behind abstract white marks. The images are consistently from the interior of the car looking outward, placing the viewer in the position of both the photographer and the original scribe. According to the curator, these works are an aesthetic response to public transportation and the subject in movement. However, Auerbacher also presents the failure of communication and the lost potential of one’s desire to literally leave their mark in the world. Because the gesturely white marks obscure the image behind it, of people and places unfamiliar to most international viewers, the remnants of the foreign Kratzen offer no clues toward resolution. Rather, they are left with an abstraction of reality, which is often the fleeting visual effect of the movement and travel the works imply.
At the top level of the gallery is the most extensive, and most arresting, exhibition on view. Paolo Pellegrin’s photographic reportage has spanned coverage of some of the most ravaged countries of the last decade, by war or by nature. The photographs featured here include content from Sri Lanka following the Tsunami (2005), Gaza (2005), Afghanistan (2006), the thirtieth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran (2009), and the Haiti earthquake (2010). The exhibition’s title, Dies Irae (Days of Wrath), certainly sets the tone for the exhibition. In Catholic doctrine, the Day of Wrath refers to Judgment Day, when Christ will sit enthroned to place judgment on the living and the dead. The selection of works on view places images of armed and masked Gaza rebels alongside innocent and helpless victims of disaster, begging the viewer’s interrogation of the terms of “judgment” and how in the contemporary world it is often restricted by the media images we are allowed to see.
Pellegrin’s eye is observational and matter-of-fact, never turning from the most graphic detail or tense moment. For instance, the photograph of the blood soaked bed of a recent assassination of a Palestinian mother and child by Israeli soldiers is acutely tragic. It elicits deep despair and anger, obfuscating the need to know the circumstances or again, judge the reasons of the actions toward the absent victims’ subsequent fate. Pellegrin’s talent as a photojournalist is in his ability to record events with reasonable objectivity and yet condense these tremendously confusing times into essential truths that go beyond history and into humanity.
The selection and installation of the photographs, however, belie Pellgrin’s work with their inherent politics. On either side of the aforementioned image of the blood soaked bed are full portraits of Palestinian youth who have been marred and disabled by Israeli shelling. Nearby is a photograph of the Star of David, marked in dripping graffiti on the wall of an occupied home by Israeli soldiers during an incursion in Jenin. Whether it is the images or the manner in which they are displayed before the viewer, they address the incongruity of being an objective photojournalist and an interpreter of human events. Pellegrin’s work is not enjoyable, nor is it entirely straightforward illustration. It emotively sways the viewer into a moral confrontation with their own knowledge of the world; as if any image intended to encapsulate the realities of such places and circumstances could not.