'Paris Photo'

photo: photo by hans van der meer, gal van kranendonk, den haag

The only known photo of the 'Lone Rider.' Photo by
Hans Van Der Meer.

And Three Daguerréotypistas

Paris:- Wednesday, 13. November 2002:- Without exactly intending to, I am taking part in a big photo salon this evening. This afternoon my new landlord gave me a spare invitation card he had for tonight's opening of 'Paris Photo' at the Carrousel du Louvre.

This is an annual jumbo commercial salon, this year within the biannual 'Mois de la Photo' here. I wasn't really intending to go to it, but since I have been spending a lot of time emptying boring moving boxes, the surprise invitation seems too good to pass up.

Although this is the 6th edition of this salon I know nothing about it. Are there 600 invitations to the opening, or 6000 floating around town? I follow 'rule number one' and try to be as 'on time' as possible. This is the 'rule' that says in Paris is it better to be early than late, because everybody comes later rather than sooner.

Besides, tonight is the opening and Président Jacques Chirac is supposed to come and bless the event. The invitation does not say when.

So, later than I'd hoped, I'm in the métro and riding under rush-hour Paris, changing lines atphoto: ansel adams exhibit by polaroid Champs-Elysées-Clemenceau and whizzing under Concorde to Palais-Royal. While everybody getting off here heads left, I head right, which is to the underground entry to the marble halls of the Carrousel du Louvre, the world's only shopping centre beneath the Louvre.

Polaroid brings Ansel Adams' big spaces to the salon.

There are no big signs pointing the way to 'Paris Photo' in the maze but I have the feeling it will be to the right, where some of the original, non-marble stone walls are exposed. This is in a dim space of large but unknown dimensions.

In the distance there is a small crowd dwarfed by the height of the hall. Photo lovers are trying on the left to get free press entries, and on the right they are talking just as rapidly to the guardians of the VIP entry.

My invitation lets me sail in through the middle and before long I find the press bureau and get the official press release when I ask for a small, lightweight one.

Then the fun begins. This exhibition part of the Carrousel du Louvre is a maze I've been in before, but it is still a maze and I'm not good at them. Orientation panels do not say, 'You are here!' Having a 'plan guide' does not help either.

But right out in front where it cannot be overlooked, is Polaroid's big layout for the 'Unique Ansel Adams.' He was an enemy of blurry photos and when he could, he used the minimal lens opening of f.64 - but he also used big cameras with big films, and steady tripods, and slowly took photos of big things like Yosemite.

His skies, even in big photos, are bigger that the view from my new window. Instant photo pioneer Polaroid is wise to associate itself with this photographer, considering that it has a totally opposite philosophy. - snapshots with contact-sized instant prints.

After suitable contemplation of this and the way people are looking at it, I go through the closest doorway. The 'plan' says I am in the Salle Le Nôtre.

Its local 'plan' has a name I know. This is the Caméra Obscura gallery, which is located in thephoto: photo, all my dresses, all my shoes, by elizabeth manchester, gal eric franck, london street I so recently vacated. This I find right away and wordlessly stretch in a hand for a shake and a split-second eye-contact with its operator. He is doing business I don't want to disturb.

By Elizabeth Manchester, 'All my dresses, all my shoes.'

Holland seems to be the 'country of honor,' and it is represented by 14 galleries. Germany has 18 present, the United States has 12, Britain has eight, and France, 36. Six Dutch galleries are grouped in an area named, 'Statements - Images du Monde.'

There are 10 photo-book publishers from four countries, three institutional exhibitors and a 'Village Presse,' representing 29 art and photo magazines. Finally, Arte has a 'Project-Room' and another area called 'Contacts.'

Both of my radio stations, FIP and France-Info, are 'partners.' Having photos on FIP is a good gag - it hardly has words, while France-Info has nothing else.

The above three paragraphs are supposed to represent the long time I spend in the Salle Le Nôtre, lurking about and nosing around its 30 stands. I do not yet know I will get lost in the smaller Salle Soufflot to come and become desperate to leave the salon somewhere in the immense Salle Delorme, with its 48 stands.

Let's see. On the outside of the Gallery Van Kranendonk from Den Haag, there is a very wide photo by Hans Van Der Meer, of a very tiny rider in a very large western space. Although the horseman is small, this should be seen from as far away as it is possible to get. As if you are the bandit and the rider is the sheriff, and good to be going the other way.

Viewers, though, seem to all want to look closely at the lone rider. Maybe Europeans are not used to big spaces. Ansel Adams would have laughed.

photo: behind, one of the black women series by valerie belinAgain on the outside of a stand, a whole wall is covered with small photos, entitled collectively, 'All my dresses, all my shoes.' This has been done by photographer Elizabeth Manchester and it is being shown by Eric Franck Fine Art of London.

The level-crossing opens and the photo disappears.

Former neighbor André Morin catches me photographing blurred people looking at all the dresses and all the shoes and waggles his finger at me. Of course his sneaky Leica is snugged under his right armpit.

He tells me he has not seen anything astonishing when I ask. I think he assumes he has already seen everything everywhere, which is a bit fatal for a photographer. He also warns me that the crowds that are now getting stuck in lumps will be even thicker in an hour.

A bit further on I am arrested by Valérie Belin's 'Black Women Series' of photos on the Galerie Xippas stand. I can't see a way to mix the viewers with the big, high-contrast black and white photos so I move on.

But right around the corner there's another one, by itself, in sort of a hallway. If I move to the side opposite it, people will pass in front. The light is nearly nothing. The Olympus isn't going to like this at all.

I get a focus-lock on an edge of the photo's frame and wait for some people to pass. Nothing happens. My side-eye sees theyphoto: ©valerie belin, black women series, sans titre no 7, galerie xippas, paris are all waiting for me to shoot as if I'm a train approaching a level-crossing. Holding in place as best as possible, I nod them on and they move past. I let the shutter release have the fraction of pressure extra, being pretty sure this will be a dud, saturated, unlevel blur.

'Black women series, sans titre no 7' - photo©Valérie Belin, at the Galerie Xippas, Paris.

So, I go back to talk to Xippas people and get their card and decline the Belin brochure because they'll need it more than I will. Later I see one of Belin's photos is offered for reproduction on the salon's Web site. Score two for one here.

Then Professor Henri, another Daguerréotype neighbor, picks me out of the passing crowds. He tells me about some old city photos he's seen - he is a collector and he is the why of this whole thing.

But strange, I think. There are thousands of people gazing around, Parisians and visitors, the curious and the fans, the habitual first-nighters, the exhibitors, the organizers - and I've managed to run into three Daguerréotypistas I know - a gallery operator, a photographer and a collector.

I look for Professor Henri's cityscapes, getting lost in the Salle Delorme and I do not find them. Apparently I am looking for 'calotypes' by Maxime Du Camp made in 1841, and others by Edouard Denis Baldus, Olivier Mestral, Gustave le Gray, the Bisson brothers and Eadward Muybridge.

Instead I start looking for a 'sortie' sign and never do spot one before I finally do find a clump of people, stuck in a narrowing funnel.

They are stuck because bags are being glanced into by security gents - on the way out. There was no check coming in. I guess Jacques has given this a pass, or was here extra early. Or maybe fans are boosting choice views of 'All my dresses, all my shoes.'

I see what André Morin meant about crowds when I get to the entry foyer. Photo fans are perched onphoto: overflow vips the steps leading up to the VIP bar and lounge - a bit like the pigeons that sit on the half-arched streetlight poles beneath my window, spectating on the stalled traffic scene below them.

Finally, here are the VIPs, lounging with a splendid view of the foyer.

The underground exit to the métro is closed so I escalate to the surface and give the Louvre's pyramid a once-over. I've never seen it in the dark before when I wasn't driving. There is nothing to see, in the dark.

Out on the Rue de Rivoli it seems like an opening night on Broadway, with drivers showing a somewhat reckless disregard for all the pedestrians around. I don't see a tight, sum-it-up photo in it anywhere so I dive into the métro.

I get home in time to catch the end of the TV-news. I sit and wait and wait for the all-important TV-weather, and get rewarded for my patience with some ultra-important rugby match in Marseille instead. No weather, so I see what's in the camera, if anything.

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