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Paris Photo takes the medium out of the frame

Experimental works, including images reproduced on shoes, pictures covered in embroidery and mangled and burned prints, appeal to contemporary collectors

The fair Paris Photo at the Grand Palais in Paris, which opened its doors to the public yesterday and runs until 16 November, presents a remarkable quality of photographic works, from Black Canyon by Edward Steichen, 1907, offered for $850,000 by Hans P. Kraus, New York, to a 1979 portrait of Francis Bacon by Richard Avedon at Gagosian. The event’s strength is this historic solidity, as well as the chances to discover new talent, including Cristina de Middel, Shirley Wegner.

The vernissage on Wednesday, 12 November, attracted collectors such Maja Hoffman and Leticia and Stanislas Poniatowski, but also artists such as Andreas Gursky. No less than 52 groups from international museums also attended. “The fair keeps its quality very high,” said Simon Baker, the curator of photography and international art at the Tate. “The exhibition of MoMA’s recent acquisitions is sensational. And we saw great things from Latin America.” The opportunity to meet discerning collectors and curators has had galleries that normally focus more on contemporary art scrambling to take part in the fair, with the arrival this year of Thaddaeus Ropac and Kamel Mennour. Despite a few stands that were perhaps too flashy, the general level of work on offer was fairly even. Gone are the works that are a little too decorative, the cookie-cutter misty landscapes, the pretty images. Instead, emphasis is given to experimentation and to the expansion of the field of photography. It is no longer a matter of capturing or staging reality, but going beyond the image, moving past film and the print. This trend traverses the entire exhibition hall, with a photographic reproduction on a pair of shoes by Keith Smith at Bruce Silverstein of New York, or a photo sculpture by Hanno Otten at Priska Pasquer of Cologne. The New York gallerist Yossi Milo is showing embroidery on photographs by Yoon Ji Seon and prints folded and burned by Marco Breuer. A risky choice? “The photo public takes more and more risks,” says Milo, who in one morning sold a half-dozen such “desecrated” pieces. “I sell to people who normally buy black and white photos by artists such as Diane Arbus or Malick Sidibé.” This new wave has not drowned out more classic dealers, although they are a minority. “Artists as well as collectors are interested in understanding the origins of photography,” says Hans P. Kraus, New York. “I sell more and more to contemporary art collectors.”

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