#929. A stroll in Paris Photo and Salon de la Photo.

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Nov 16

Paris in November … Sounds like a Woody Allen movie title but it’s more about stills than video ๐Ÿ™‚ France’s two major photographic events happen in November. We’ve just visited both. And it’s given us some food for thought.

 
Reflecting on photography in Grand Palais, Paris
 

Over the past few years, I have regularly visited the Salon de la Photo, France’s largest photographic gear exhibition held annually in Paris. Made contact with interesting people at Zeiss and other companies. And published the occasional report or quick review of a lens kindly loaned for a few hours. It was great fun and the only negative point (besides GAS attacks) was the fact that didn’t leave me time to also visit Paris Photo, a large art exhibition also held in Paris at the exact same time and 95% devoted to prints (4% books, 1% other stuff).

It’s significant of changes in my mindset that the opposite happened this year. It was my first visit to Paris Photo and that left me with an even greater virtual bill (man, is expensive gear cheap compared to cheap prints!) and a slight tinge of regret that I could not also visit Salon de la Photo. Thankfully, Philppe was able to be the Yang to my Yin (or is it the other way around) by cruising the gear stands and bringing home some great info ๐Ÿ™‚ Here are our reports !

 
Apologies. (c) ? I forgot to write down the author’s name, but this was a stunning print.
 

Paris Photo (Pascal)

 

So, what’s this huge photographic art fair all about ? Here are my 3 takeaways.

 

1. The Money and Art divide. The dichotomy is quite obvious when you have the luxury of visiting with insiders.

 

The money part starts when you purchase your ticket. It costs 30 euros, which I feel is very expensive, considering a visitor is potentially going to spend 5 figures or more inside and considering how much booths cost. And there are hilarious cues that some stands are here purely for commercial reasons, such as a 20 inch Ansel Adams print sold for $85,000 … with the explicit mention “frame excluded”! Yup, for 85 large, they physically remove the frame worth 0.1% of the print. That’s customer service for you.

Then, there are the world famous galleries selling only famous names, preferably deceased, and – here’s the sad part – selling 6-figure prints that aren’t that pleasing to look at. To me, this hints at how little some investors actually care about photography. And those galleries don’t seem to host a single new artist or fresh idea either. They might as well be issuing photographic bonds. James Bonds, pereferably.

But I may be reading this all wrong. The undeniable fact, however, is that prices are high. One gallery was asking 1000โ‚ฌ for 2 inch family pics, bought at flea markets, that had then been scratched out in places to evoke memory loss. Nice idea, well executed. But there were loads of them and 1000โ‚ฌ seems like a lot of money for a private collector for such a tiny artwork. And, although I’m not an expert, it felt like the prices displayed were higher than what I’d recently seen at auction. Gallerists explain that booth prices have increased so much in recent years that no one can afford to take any chances with lesser known names. Most galleries therefore have to focus on established money makers, thereby putting tomorrow’s market at risk for today’s profit. Short-term institutional greed, what else is new?

   

At the (figurative) opposite end of the room, some young and super talented artists were exploring inventive ideas and making old ones theirs, creating far more interesting variety and fun than the household names. Thank you to the galleries hosting them, such as Ibasho, above. I was lucky to meet and speak to a few of those and hope to interview them very soon. Stay tuned.

This obvious divide between those who want to promote art and those who want to promote investment isn’t new. But I feel it’s getting bigger and will inevitably lead to some sort of divorce not that far down the road. It’s hard to imagine the smaller galleries continuing to push young artists in such a high ticket venue. Maybe we can hope for a split and see a photo art fair separate from the oligarch personal buyer thing ?

 

2. I’m loving Asian artists more and more

 

It may be a clichรฉ to state that many Asian artist are poetic, but how else can you say it? Yes, the show had walls of Daido Moriyama photographs on display. But also those lesser known gems and I think they deserve their own show, to be honest. The Norobu Ueki photograph below was one of the most compelling at the show (for me).

 
SNM series (c) Bae Bien U / RX
 

3. A minor epiphany

 

I’ve regularly written that artists don’t care about photographic gear near as much as amateurs, beyond the look it gives to their photographs and how adequate the handling is for their style. But that’s an incomplete view.

What a show such as this one highlights is the vast difference in final products that come from those artists. Axel Hรผtte’s photographs were borderless and several meters wide. Ed Burtinsky’s as well. Ditto one of Helmut Newton and a Nadav Kander tryptich. Print quality? The word efficient comes to mind. Certainly not artsy in vibe.

Contrast this with the tiny, delicate, gems sold by Michael Kenna, only a few inches in size (below). And how about the extraordinary photographs created by Miho Kajioka (above)? Uniform strips of what seems to be film, curved naturally by the drying process, that only reveal their microscopic universes when you get right up close to them.

   

The print below, a Carbon print of a Paolo Roversi photograph, is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen anywhere, at any price. The delicacy of tones has to be seen to be believed.

 
Audrey, Paris 2016 (c) Paolo Roversi / Pace MacGill
 

The prints below, 2 from a large wall-sized collection, are small cynaotipes and palladium prints on gold leaf by Albarran Cabrera. Each is hand made and no two are identical. They were mesemerizing in their beauty.

 
(c) Albarran Cabrera
(c) Albarran Cabrera
(c) Albarran Cabrera
 

Paul Caponigro, Brett Weston, Don Worth, Sally Mann and several others were there to remind us the value of fine art printing.

 
(c) Paul Caponigro
Don Worth
 

Wang Ningde, below, had cut a positive transparency of his photograph into thin stripes to allow the light falling from above to project the image on the background support.

 
Form of light (c) Wang Ningde
 

This stunning Takashi Arai daguerreotype was printed onto a mirror so as to produce an ethereal shadow in the reflection (thank you to Caroline for holding something dark in front of the mirror for me to take this photograph).

 
(c) Takashi Arai / Galerie CAMERA OBSCURA
 

This colourful mural was one of many at the show. Some presented typography-like displays (and actual Becher typographies), others had other ideas to highlight.

 
(c) ?
 

And what strikes me now, then, is not that “amateurs think about gear and artists don’t”. It’s more that amateurs think about an image. Whereas artists think about a physical object they are crafting !

That seems to me like a fairer assessment of the difference between the two populations. Also a much deeper reaching one.

Amateurs think forwards. Artists think backwards.

Most amateur see something and are happy to create something nice looking from it, for Instagram or their online gallery, or their desktop printer.

Many artists have an idea of something physical they want to create that involves take a photograph, and work their way back to the shoot from there. A gear/car manufacturer will want to sell this new thing that has 6 seats, weighs less than 1200Kg, emits less than an ant fart of C02 per week, looks typical of the brand and can be based on an existing chassis platform. Likewise, an artist will have seen something (fishemen nets, prison windows, an 18th century painting, an beautiful platinum print, paint peeling of a rusty car …), will have an idea, a topic to explore and the two will click into a final product in his/her minds eye. From there, a building process will begin that may include a Nikon camera, a view camera, a pinhole camera, certain papers, certain chemicals …

This is not the case of all artists of course. Some just care about the intent, (particularly those with photojournalistic roots, such as Newsha Tavakolian, whom I met there), the meaning conveyed by the image, and not by the physicality of its support. But shows such as Paris Photo or London Photo do have a lot of exhibits that rely heavily on craft. And those are certainly the photographs that draw me in most.

 

Salon de la photo (Philippe)

 
Salon de la Photo, the ides of November…
 

Thank you Pascal for posting such incredible pictures by great masters, and then saying: “you go next!”. That is called being sent on the graveyard shift…:-) But here goes. Exhibitions are on the way out across all industries. The Internet is stealing their thunder in how prospective customers gather information on potential purchases, and manufacturer no longer use them to highlight new product introductions.


The Salon de la Photo was/is no exception, and one exhibitor told me that in 2 years it would move to a less expensive location, while the future of Photokina itself appears to be in doubt, as many exhibitors are cancelling their booths.

 
Yes, a feast for the eyes, but the plates and glasses are empty. Thank you -not- Sony!
 

So, what was there to see? First, for a gear show, a lot of un-gear. Magazines, pictures one could buy, clubs, anything even remotely related to photography. And, even among the gear, lots of un-camera stuff. As though the space share of cameras gets ever smaller. Reason for that may have been that there were no new products, by that I mean none that hadn’t already been reviewed -nay, dissected- on the Net. No Zeiss ZX1 camera, for example. So, who/what did show up? Canon had a sprawling venue, with a sideshow for its mirrorless EOS-R mirrorless line. Sony and Panasonic showed up big, as did Fuji, Nikon a bit less so, with focus on the Zs, and Olympus seemed almost an afterthought. Rumours that they will shutter the business within months can’t be helping. Leica had a smaller booth, which is to be expected, and Hasselblad an even smaller one. Plus the usual lensmakers, Zeiss, Tamron, Sigma on their own space, and others like Samyang or Irix on their distributors’. 3 dealers/stores seemed to be doing a brisk bit of business, probably infuriating their competition.

 
Remembering things past… how good the market was….
 

If products were nothing new, meaning nothing really, really new, then why bother? To see what the Salon had to say as a harbinger of things to come. Here are my rambling takeways [in my best Hugh Brownstone voice]

Canon had a stage, with 4 dancers performing gracefully, while Nikon, Fuji and Sony had public speakers extolling the virtues of their products, and Sony let one shoot a richly decorated table. Guess who got it right, and attracted the crowds? It was in a way symbolic of an industry hawking a mature product: people are past learning, because what is new is felt to be pretty marginal, and customers know that manufacturers are spouting marketing nonsense to try and off-load new products that don’t bring that much that is new and meaningful/useful. Rather, customers revel in using what they have…thank you Canon!

 
Looking at my sales figures gives me such a headache…
 

Manufacturers, overall, seem to try to lure customers in one of three ways.

  • with performance. Typical is Herr Doktor Peter Karbe’s interview (he is the leader of lens design at Leica) with 3 Blind Mice and an Elephant. https://youtu.be/yilmHb7gx10 He defines the specs of Leica’s best glass, apparently for the SL/SL2/L mount as (1) highest performance, and (2) autofocus, and (3) industrially manufacturable. Highest performance for SL primes is defined by him as maintaining at least 50% contrast across the frame at 60 lpm. Just that. Pure quantitative performance. That in itself would be enough to kill off Leica’s legendary designer Dr Mandler if he were still alive. Another example of performance-based marketing are Fuji’s efforts with the GFX 100. It certainly looked the part of a super camera. Super big and heavy, with super resolution (100Mp).
  • with personnality. While some lens makers try to offer “the same as the camera manufacturers for less money”, like Tamron, Sigma or Samyang, some try to offer products that are distinct, either in what image niche they aim for, or in how they render images. Such as Voigtlaender, Laowa, Irix, 7artisans/TTartisans, and more to come, like Rumiere (a 75mm f:0.95, how does that grab ya’?)
  • with process. Obviously, it is the simplicity of the process that makes smartphone photography such a runaway success. Some camera manufacturers, though, are also trying to play that card in another way. Think of the difference between manual focus and autofocus. Think Fuji with their presets and film emulations. Think Hasselblad and slow photography. Think Zeiss and their all-in-one ZX1, at least on paper. Think AI in post processing, as with Luminar or Anthropics.
 
You still alive out there? I thought you were dead!
 

So, as a summary, this visit was like a version of Poe’s Masque of the Red Death. Dancing within, the better to keep death outside. But it has already quietly slipped inside, and begun its insidious work of destruction.

 
This madness has got to stop!
 

For, for all the above, let’s not forget one chilling fact. The camera industry peaked out with worldwide sales volume of 120 million units. This year, it expects to sell 15 million cameras. As Marilyn would have said: “something’s got to give!”.

 
Be ready, oh my soul, for the final voyage… a.k.a. The Last Dance
 

โ€‹Never miss a post

โ€‹Like what you are reading? Subscribe below and receive all posts in your inbox as they are published. Join the conversation with thousands of other creative photographers.

  • jean pierre guaron says:

    Well – turning the tables on Pascal, I’ll respond to Philippe, first.

    Only this morning I was attempting – unsuccessfully! – to unravel and interpret and understand the “latest” figures on Canon, Nikon and Sony. Yours is much easier to understand – a drop from 120 million to 15 million, with all that would imply in terms of shut downs, staff cuts, shrinking investment in product improvement. And potential shutdowns of well known businesses.

    Ouch – he said – and having invested thousands in glass and other accessories for a Brand X, what is to become of all that stuff when I can no longer buy Brand X camera bodies?

    I am forever being told that cellphones are the cause of it all, but it’s only part of the problem. Not everyone even wants to get their photos that way – so what could the industry have done to capture at least some of their now “lost and [seemingly] gone forever” market share?

    Sigh!- what bugs me about this is (a) their sudden attention to this question is blatantly “too little, too late” and (b) how come they took no notice of their customers telling them this would happen before it did, and now they want customers to come forward and tell them how to fix it? – if they were so clever before, how come they aren’t clever enough now?

    Three have gotten together, to produce a standard – so Leica, Panasonic and Sigma. That gives a lot of hope to people whose collection of glass fits the standard. Mine, of course, does not – so I lashed out and bought two compatible cameras with 200,000 shutter clicks instead of the usual for amateurs (they’re both pro versions in Nikon’s fleet), and at my age, it’s scarcely possible for me to live long enough to wear out both of them. What’s your approach?

    Philippe tells us that “Manufacturers, overall, seem to try to lure customers in one of three ways.” I’m sorry – but when I studied marketing, that was not the appropriate way to increase sales. What they SHOULD be doing is finding out what customers want to buy, and making customers aware of how they can help. Not “here’s what we want to sell” – but “delighted to meet you – how can I help you – what is it that you would like to buy”.

    In other words, stop being so self absorbed and find out what the guy with a wallet in his pocket wants.

    Telling customers what these companies want to sell is a waste of effort – of COURSE they are trying to sell – that’s how they make revenue, and without revenue, they are dead. Anyway, it’s perfectly obvious this approach hasn’t been working for years – otherwise, why the plummeting sales figures?

    And I refuse to be told it’s all the fault of cellphones. That’s a cop out – a partial excuse. Zillions of people actually want a camera. But they aren’t being helped much, to buy one! I’ve had them pestering me for advice when I’ve been out photographing. I’ve met some of the ones who’ve actually gone and done it. They still exist. But they’re an unharvested crop.

    And Pascal? Seems he chose the better wicket. On the one hand, money grubbing dealers holding their hands out for more. And on the other, a satisfying supply of creative and artistic effort – making a sharp and glaringly obvious contrast.

    Pascal, your thinking proceeds along a different path from mine, but I think we land on approximately the same square after our respective brains crunch the imagery in front of us. There is a point where price becomes quite meaningless, in a context like this – instead, it becomes the means whereby someone with too much money becomes the only person in the world who has a particular photograph – or discarded pop star’s jumper – or automobile. It is no longer the arbiter of taste or value – it’s a tyre lever, used to knock other people out of the bidding.

    And it generates a heap of discussions – arguments – differences of “opinion” – which start to make your head spin, if you tune into them.

    At the other side of the tent, emerging creative genius. And all of a sudden the fog clears.

    I recently went to an unopened exhibition of about a dozen photos by “the two Chris’s” (neither of whom I’d ever heard of before!) – because I was allowed in before the show opened. I walking out of the room in a complete state of shock – I told the gallery curator that if I’d been asked to judge the show, I’d have given out six equal first prizes, and that was half the photos there! I went home with several of the photos wedged in my brain. I dreamed about them for weeks afterwards. If I had the hanging space and the money to do it, I’d want those photos, here, in my house.

    And to hell with all the intellectual piffle about who’s better and why!

    Thankfully, the ones you’ve just seen are too far away for me to succumb to the temptation. Just as well – I’m still having enough problems here.

    • pascaljappy says:

      What we don’t understand is how ahead of us the strategic thinking of camera manufacturers really is. While we’re still focusing hard on growth and expansion, they have embraced deflation to the fullest and really nailed it!

      “what is to become of all that stuff when I can no longer buy Brand X camera bodies?” Indeed. And given the reliability of said gear, this is a short term question to ask ourselves. But it’s not all bad news. The pencil industry is going strong, so we can still fraw when the photo world has fallen behind the event horizon.

      “it becomes the means whereby someone with too much money becomes the only person in the world who has a particular photograph โ€“ or discarded pop starโ€™s jumper โ€“ or automobile.”
      I’m OK with that, but the young artists have to make a living or there will be no more. Can you imagine a world full of politicians and devoid of artists? Is that really worth living?

  • Dallas Thomas says:

    P & P 2 different but similar experiences one of the tools the other the end results, well done. The Michael Kenna is a classic of that “tree”. Pascal I do wonder about the asking price of prints, last week Magnum had a sale US199 for a 10×10 plus postage! I decided to pass. Philippe I agree Salon de la Photo could well be on its last legs like others. The instant internet has taken over just as I was typing this, a message flashed across my screen that the Hassie X1D 11 is now shipping, so Pascal yours is on its way. Promise I won’t tell Lise. Great photos gents, well done.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Indeed. Very similar experiences, it appears. I expect the media to pick up on this by 2024 ๐Ÿ˜‰

      That Tree sure is beautiful and I seem to remember you are quite familiar with it, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

      What new Hassie is that? The mk2 version of mine, or is there a new one?

      Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Dallas Thomas says:

        Yes Pascal to the tree I will try again in March to get a better shot than I have. As for the Hassie Mk2

        • pascaljappy says:

          Dallas, Hassie censorship cut you off before you could finish. The suspense is killing me ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m guessing it’s the more mature version of mine. Which is a tempting proposition, to be honest. Maybe they can send me one for review to see how much improved it is ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Pascal O. says:

    Thank you for keeping us abreast of what is happening on prints and hardware, for those who have less time to go to these shows.
    The match between (the good) pictures and comments on Salon de la Photo are a riot! Thank you!

  • >