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Paris Photo 2006

The Month of Photography in Paris was formerly the world’s largest and the most important photography festival, whose program regularly featured essential exhibitions, often setting milestones in presentation of both older and contemporary photography. In the last ten years it has been somewhat overshadowed by the Paris Photo fair. Even so, every other autumn, the rich cultural life of the French capital is further enriched by a number of excellent photography exhibitions. Last November, an official program of 64 exhibitions appeared in various museums, galleries, foreign cultural centers and town halls. This time the program focused above all on photography in print media.

The revelations included an exhibition in the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, showing the use of photography in the illustrated magazine Vu during the years 1928-1940. The magazine played a similar role in the evolution of modern French photojournalism as its German counterparts, the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung and Műnchner Illustrierte Presse. Outstanding in terms of its structure, the exhibition used authentic pages of the magazine divided in sections by themes, presenting a generous space for the display of various visual essays on everyday life, sports, culture, dramatic images from various wars (it was Vu magazine, for instance, which first published Capa’s famous photograph Falling Soldier), photographs of celebrities as well as images warning of the advance of the Nazi movement in Germany. The exhibition The Odyssey of an Icon: Three Photographs by André Kertész was a curator’s dream, showing a number of variations of the triad of famous works by the Hungarian legend of modern photography as well as dozens of the various books, catalogues and magazines in which they were published. Both well-known and obscure works featured in the exhibition of Soviet photomontage, focusing on the theme of the Army from the period between 1917-1953. The exhibition traced the gradual degeneration of avant-garde Constructivist art into dull agit-prop in the style of Socialist Realism. Another type of aggressive political photomontage, directed chiefly against Hitler’s regime were the works of John Heartfield, many of them created during his 5-year-long exile in Czechoslovakia. The Bibliothèque Nationale hosted an exhibition of the golden era of photojournalism from the 1940s to the 1960s – entitled Humanist Photography – which included optimistic images with a clear composition, perhaps slightly archaic today, by Izis, Boubat, Doisneau, Ronis, and other French photojournalists of the time. The anniversary of the Budapest anti-Communist uprising of 1956 was commemorated with a presentation of the images of the Austrian photo-reporter Erich Lessing; alongside the display in Paris, they were also presented at a number of other photography festivals last year. Among the real revelations was the exhibition of the photographic scrapbooks of Henri Cartier-Bresson, which featured a number of little-known works. More recent developments of press photography were shown in an excellent and extensive exhibition Things as They Are, put together by Christian Caujolle from both original photographs and their reproductions in a plethora of magazines. This imaginative exhibition, tracking the major political and public events of several decades and their reflection in photography, convincingly showed the tremendous transformations that photojournalism has undergone in the last fifty years, abandoning certain positions due to the massive spread of television reportage while discovering a new niche in the form of exhibitions and books instead. The retrospective of French advertising photography from Man Ray to Jean-Paul Goude was presented at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

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