Homa Taj In Conversation with Gabriel Bauret on Contemporary Photography

Duane Michals, Dr. Heisenberg’s Magic Mirror of Uncertainty, 19.8×24.7 cm (ea), 1998, at ParisNew York Crisscross Views, French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF)

Parisian-born curator, critic and photography historian, Gabriel Bauret (1951), began his studies in semiotics at the University of Paris, where he earned a Ph.D. under the direction of Roland Barthes.

In 1980, Bauret became an editor for ZOOM magazine, and in 1984 he founded the photography magazine Camera International with the French publisher Contrejour. Since 1994, Bauret has worked as a freelance editor and curator on photography exhibitions and catalogues, collaborating with photographers including Nobuyoshi Araki, Gabriele Basilico, Cecil Beaton, Jesus Bernado, Gianni Berengo Gardin, V. Castella, Lucien Clergue, Raymond Depardon, Ikko Narahara, Paolo Roversi,Raghubir Singh, Keiichi Tahara, Alexey Titarenko and Bob Willoughby.

Among Bauret’s publications are Color Photography and Alexey Brodovitch, the art director ofHarper’s Bazaar (1938-58) whose protégés included the likes of Richard Avedon, Irving Penn andLillian Bassmann.

In 2006, Bauret became the artistic director of the Mois de la Photo in Paris. Two years later, he was invited to curate an exhibit at the Maison Européene de la photographie on Peter Knapp, the renowned Swiss art director and artist. He has also edited a book on Knapp’s work. From 2005 to 2008, Bauret curated a touring exhibition throughout Europe of the work of the Japanese photographer Shoji Ueda. He is currently a consultant on photography for the Académie des Beaux-Arts and the Fondation Lagardère.

Homa Taj Nasab – November is Mois de la Photo during which the entire city of Paris mobilizes to celebrate the art and history of photography. How (& when) did this project begin… and, what does it mean for Paris…?

Gabriel Bauret – The Mois de la Photo was created in 1980 by Jean-Luc Monterosso, Director of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. 2010 marks its 30th anniversary. The idea was to organize and promote photographic exhibitions of different sizes throughout Paris every two years during the month of November, in museums, galleries and cultural centers. The concept of this event has been reproduced in other cities like Madrid, where Photo Espana has become a major event in Europe.

In the early eighties, the Mois de la Photo was created in response to an interest in photography among public institutions. It was at this time that we began to see the Ministry of Culture supporting various photography projects, including the creation of the Centre National de la Photographie at the Palais de Tokyo, directed by Robert Delpire, who also created the famous book collection Photo Poche. The CNP at the Palais de Tokyo was a huge space for photographic exhibitions. The City of Paris supported the Mois de la Photo in response to the government’s support for the CNP. This sort of emulation has had a very positive effect on the status of photography in the French cultural world.

HN – November is also when Paris Photo takes place – November 18-21, at Carousel du Louvre. How do these two events relate to one another – in terms of concept and organization? What is your working history with/at this event?

GB – Paris Photo is completely dedicated to the art photography market. As far as the status of photography in the art world is concerned, Paris was late in comparison with the United States. In the U.S., from very early on photography was considered for its artistic value. In France, photography was mainly viewed as the production of images for newspapers, magazines and books. But with Paris Photo, this outlook has gradually changed, and now the event has become one of the most important photography fairs in the world, as well as an annual cultural rendez-vous in Paris.

HN – When Mois de la Photo started 30 years ago, you were an editor at ZOOM magazine; and, this year, marks the 14th instalment of Paris Photo. How has the fair evolved ever since, in your opinion?

GB – What about the evolution of this fair? I remember that in its early years there was a lot more openness to young galleries and to contemporary work. I am not sure if this is still the case today. I feel the business is much more important than it was at the beginning, and the cost to participate for a young or small gallery is too high. For visitors, Paris Photo is not the place to discover new talent, but to consider the value of the great names in the history of Photography.

HN – Considering the dramatic advancements in photographic technology, where do you see photography heading? For example, Roxana Marcocci, the Museum of Modern Art’s Curator of Photography sees New Photography (also, the title of her new exhibition) as that which isfluid… What are your thoughts on this? * I am publishing my interview with Roxana Marcoci, later next week.

GB – I do not know if we can really speak about New Photography. I imagine you are referring to the influence of digital technology on contemporary photography. On my end, I am more interested in the issue of inspiration than in the technical aspect of photography. Of course, many artists are now using these new technologies, and the relationship between a photographic image and the real world has changed. Photography must not be considered only as the art of representation of reality. Digital techniques have introduced new means of visual creation.

HN – One of your projects which expands the Parisian annual event across The Atlantic is the recent show of Paris/New York: Crisscross Views at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), in New York City. Though it is a small exhibition, the comparative images are revealing in the ways in which French and American artists view one another…

GB – The idea was originally to create an event in New York in connection with the Mois de la Photo in Paris; a sort of “off-site” exhibition. This year’s installment of the Mois de la Photo was conceived around the theme of Collection, and this was an opportunity for the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Paris) to showcase its impressive collection of approximately 20,000 works for the first time.

It was important to select a theme for the exhibition at the FIAF gallery (in NYC); and of course to work with the pictures from the collection. The idea of French photographers looking at New York and American ones looking at Paris (regards croisés) came rather easily, it’s a classic concept for an exhibition. And we found photographs and photographers in the collection that corresponded to this concept.

To put it succinctly, we could say that French photographers were fascinated by the streets of Manhattan as Americans were by Parisian culture.

HN – The exhibition creates a fascinating look at the ways American artists view Paris in a highly romanticized and idealized fashion whereas French photographers see NYC in all its glorious rawness. Does this view reflect your own experiences of NYC?

GB – The first time I came to New York, I was fascinated by the space of the city : big and high. By an architecture that is full of modernity and freedom and so different from what we see in Paris. Then also by the atmosphere of the street. And not only by visual elements. The sound is so specific, and also the smell.

HN – This exhibition draws on the collections of Maison Européene de la photographie, in Paris, with which you have worked on a number of projects…

GB – Yes, I have worked as a curator for the Maison Européenne de la Photographie on numerous occasions. I have curated exhibitions on the famous art director of Harper’s Bazaar, Alexey Bordovitch; on the fashion magazine Citizen K; on the Japanese photographer Shoji Ueda; on the artist, photographer and art director of Elle magazine Peter Knapp – an exhibition that was shown at the FIAF gallery too – and more recently on Roman Cieślewicz, who is famous for his photomontages.

HN – You are a full-time author and curator but you also teach atÉcole nationale supérieure des Arts décoratifs de Paris. How do you teach photography in an age during which everyone is a self-proclaimed photographer? One can snap images with all kinds of portable gadgets… but what criteria do you believe are needed to make a photographer’s work deserving of critical attention?

GB – Actually I am no longer teaching at the Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs. I am leading a master class with the Italian photographer Giorgia Fiorio called Reflexions. It’s a program for young photographers from various countries, and we exchange a lot of ideas over the course of a full week-end, three times per year. This is a very exciting experience, more interesting than teaching in a school every week!

HN – What are you next major projects on which you are working?

GB – I am currently completing a major book as well as a retrospective exhibition on the fashion photographer Sacha. The book will be published by Editions du Chêne. Sacha began working in the sixties and created pictures for major fashion magazines like Elle and Marie Claire in France, as well as The Sunday Times Magazine, Stern, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Amica, and Avenue, which he continues today.