Paris has it all….part 2

On my Euro-Trip I had tried many times to visit photography galleries or exhibitions featuring photography or photographers, but each time my good intentions were thwarted for one reason or another. Sometimes I arrived in a city on a day that the gallery didn’t open, or one exhibition had just finished and they were taking it down in readiness for the next, or it was reserved for a private showing, or the gallery had closed permanently, or it had moved to other premises…….and the other premises, even when armed with Google maps were impossible to locate.

It was a pleasant surprise then, during my week in Paris to view several exhibitions of photography and photographs. I almost went into shock!

The first gallery we visited was “A Gallery” as in Gallery “A”.
A. Gallery on Rue Léonce Reynaud, 4 – is a small gallery on the ground floor. Located in the 16th arrondissement, close to Pont de l’Alma, between the Palais de Tokyo and the Fondation Yves Saint-Laurent – no fee to look around. At the time there was an exhibition titled Best of the West featuring several top photographers. Photo portraits were of the likes of Mike Tyson, Barak Obama, Steve McQueen, Al Pacino, David Bowie etc. Quality detailed large format prints – very nicely displayed. The guy in charge of the gallery barely looked up when we walked in – he’d obviously realised with a mere glance at us that we were not there to buy, only to look.

Another gallery – Gallery Les Douches – is on a back street at 5 Rue Legouvé. When we arrived, the door was locked, but press the buzzer and they let you in. The gallery is on the first floor – no lift,  so no use for wheelchairs. Again it was free of charge and featured photos by two women photographers – Vivian Maier and Berenice Abbott.

Unlike at Gallery A, the staff here were very welcoming and issued us with brochures of the photographs on display and pointed us in the right direction. As well as the photos on the walls, there were also tables with photography books and we were invited to sit and peruse the books for as long as we liked.

I had not heard of Abbott before – she got her start in photography as a dark room assistant to Man Ray.
Man Ray wanted someone who had never been involved in photography before, so he could mould them to his way of doing things. She learned how he set up his photo shoots and went on from there to be a photographer in her own right……and a good one at that. After learning from Man Ray, she set up her own studio in Paris before re-locating to New York, which is where she came into her own as a photographer. Most of her more iconic photos were taken in the period between the two world wars. 

Abbott’s Manhattan Skyline – March 1936

Vivian Maier’s story is both amazing and sad at the same time. I have already mentioned her in an earlier post I wrote about women photographers. She was an unknown in the photographic world almost until her death. During her life she would come to amass a group of storage lockers stuffed to the brim with found items, art books, newspaper clippings, home films, as well as over 30,000 negatives and 3,000 prints and a huge quantity of undeveloped, exposed film. Due to non-payment of rent on her storage lockers, her property was forfeit and auctioned off.

Most of which was purchased – as an unknown item – by one John Maloof for the princely sum of US$400 at auction in Chicago in 2007.

Thankfully Maloof, a history and photography buff, went to great lengths (and personal expense)  to get Maier’s images out into the world.

At this time Vivian was still alive but almost destitute – bouncing from homelessness to a small studio apartment paid for by a family that she once worked for. In 2008 she slipped on a patch of ice and sustained a head injury. Although expected to recover she died in a nursing home in April 2009. She had no family.

I had already seen the documentary film – finding Vivian Maier and purchased one of the books of her photographs so I knew quite a lot about her. Her speciality was documentary / street photography. She worked as a nanny and would take the children in her care on field trips around the city and photograph anything that took her fancy. By accident almost she ended up documenting, in her photographs, over 40 years of american history. And yes….I am a fan.

The final photography gallery we visited was Maison Europeenne de la Photographie, Ville de Paris at 5/7 Rue de Fourcy, 75004 Paris. For the first time on this trip we had to queue (40 minutes) to get into a photo gallery……and pay 8 euros to get in.

But there were exhibits by 7 different photographers over several floors of the building…..the star of which was Herb Ritts.

Ritts was a friend of Richard Gere before either of them became famous. He took photos of Gere which later gave him a foot in the door of the world of photographing celebrities. In the 80’s and 90’s he took photos of many celebrities and also took a series of fashion and nude photographs of fashion models Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford. He worked mainly in black and white and made some iconic images. Sadly on December 26, 2002, Ritts died of complications from pneumonia at the age of 50. 

So after having not much luck at finding photo galleries on the rest of this trip I almost overdose on them here in Paris. Wonderful!

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Two Outstanding Women Photographers

While I don’t want to get into a discussion (argument) about male versus female roles in the job market. There are some jobs better suited to one gender than the other. There are jobs however that can be equally well performed by either gender and yet the oportunities for women in that field are sadly and wrongly lacking.

Photography was (hopefully is no longer) one of those professions. Fifty years ago there were not many women excelling in the photographic field. It was without a doubt a man’s domain.

However I just want to point you toward a couple of books that show that women were not only the equivalent of men as photographers – they could also outshine many of their male counterparts. And I write this as a male who is a keen photographer and have been since childhood.

The two women I want to bring to your attention – firstly Eve Arnold, who was involved with the world famous Magnum Photography Agency as early as 1951, becoming a full member in 1957.  Flicking through her book All About Eve – I realise that I have seen many of these iconic images before, but never knew they were taken by a female photographer, nor did I appreciate the effort and skill that went into capturing some of those images. Being a female photographer actually worked to her advantage particularly when dealing with other females who were to be the subjects of her photographs. She had a wonderful way about her – her patience and her caring nature – helped to put her “models” at ease. To quote Eve herself “If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument”.

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She photographed all sorts of people – children, labourers, movie stars and heads of state. Her more famous subjects included the likes of Marilyn Monroe – with whom she had a special understanding and gained an amazing insight into her personal life, Paul Newman, Malcolm X, jazz entertainer Josephine Baker, the Eisenhowers etc. BUT she also photographed poverty and the down trodden. To quote from the book….“She produced picture assignments for magazines internationally, published books and exhibited worldwide. A blend of curiosity, discipline and moral courage would characterise her career which never settled for cliches or stereotypes”.

She was born in the USA and much of her early work takes place there, but after 1962 when she went to live in England, her photography was dominated by overseas projects particularly in China and she also photographed behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ in the USSR in the 1960`s.

The book was put together to celebrate Eve’s work on her 100th birthday. She died shortly after. (1912 – 2012).

The second photographer unlike Eve Arnold enjoyed no publicity of her work during her lifetime. In fact, very little is known of her life and yet she produced thousands of photographs.

In the book Vivian Maier – Street Photographer we are brought into Vivian`s world thanks to Historian, John Maloof who came into possession of several boxes of her prints, negatives and undeveloped film from an auction of stored property.

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All we get to know about Vivian is that she spent her life as a nanny to various children and part of her time was spent, camera in hand walking the streets and taking photos of anything that caught her eye…..sometimes with the children she was minding in tow.

As Geoff Dyer says on the back of her book “Vivian Maier represents an extreme instance of posthumous discovery; of someone who exists entirely in terms of what she saw. Not only was she entirely unknown in the photographic world, hardly anyone seemed to know that she even took photographs“.

Her legacy is a remarkable record of life, not only in America, but in France and other countries she visited over a period of more than forty years. We probably wouldn’t even know what she looked like if it wasn’t for her penchant for taking her own portrait as a reflection in shop windows.

She used a Rolleiflex camera, shooting from chest level – looking down into the view-finder so most people failed to realise that they were being photographed. This made for some interesting candid photos.

As it says in the books foreward “A good street photographer must be possessed of many talents: an eye for detail, light and composition: impeccable timing: a populist or humanitarian outlook: and a tireless ability to shoot shoot shoot

Amazingly Vivian had all these qualities but was entirely self taught. It’s scary to think that this body of work only came to the public eye by chance…. AND we are richer for it.  I was very fortunate to see an exhibition of her photos when I was in France a couple of years ago.

Both these photographers produced an outstanding body of work and their books are worthy of a prominent place on anyone’s book case.