Paris Photo 2014

Forgotten vintage photographs from the Russian Vkhutemas school to unusual point-of-views by Dirk Braeckman at the annual photography fair


While Paris Photo—the premier international art fair for photography—is most often associated with its placement within the stunning Grand Palais, which continually dazzles collectors and photography enthusiasts from the world over, this event is truly city-wide. With the quality of programming, the challenge of this fair is the endurance needed once swept into its charms. Amidst a stellar lecture series featuring the likes of David Campany and Paul Graham, a broad array of photography book sellers and the announcement of the Aperture PhotoBook Awards, and a glimpse into important public and private photography collections, the rarity and quality of both historical and contemporary photography can become overwhelming.


Even if it’s always a treat to see some of the world’s most famous photographs, the fair also offers the opportunity to discover both new talents as well as forgotten stories. Richard Saltoun Gallery in London featured a large collection of small, vintage photographs from the Vkhutemas school, a Russian art and technical school founded in the 1920s, in Moscow, that developed around the same time as the Bauhaus in Germany. The main idea of the school was to create a unified institution where a new generation of artists would be trained to create cultural material for the young Soviet state. Students were taught courses in graphics, sculpture and architecture, with an emphasis on transforming ideas into space by creating models out of basic substances. The educational practice required students to document each project photographically. Although many of these photos have been lost, it was mesmerizing to see this collection of small, graphic, abstract images from such a legendary period.


Away from the Grand Palais was an impeccably curated show of works by Flemish artist Dirk Braeckman in the equally impeccable project space Le Bal. Braeckman may take photographs in the simplest way possible, using a 35mm camera and shooting head-on, at eye level, but he is also capable of distorting everything he sees, so that suddenly the most ordinary objects find a palpable sensuality within a subtle palette of shades of gray. In this show, his large, dark photographs create an enchanting and meditative space.


Notably absent from the main fair was a group of young artists widely recognized for challenging the traditionally held ideas of photography. Paris’ Galerie Xippas invited Benjamin Trigiano, owner of LA’s M+B Gallery to curate a show which included Moyra Davey, Owen Kydd, Matthew Porter, John Houck, Jessica Eaton, and Matthew Brandt. The show felt more youthful and liberal than any of the exhibitors in the Grand Palais.

Dirk Braeckman installation images courtesy of Martin Argyroglo for Le Bal, Vkhutemas images courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery, Galerie Xippas installation images courtesy of Frédéric Lanternier for Galerie Xippas