How Paris Photo reminded me of the art of photography

November 30, 2012 | By Lee Coventry | Art Of Photography, Creative, Trends

Paris has long been a place where artistic innovation happens and where new ideas and creativity have been pioneered. From the Belle Epoque to Haute Cuisine, Paris is a city which comfortably has one foot in the past and one foot in the future.

For me, the spirit of celebrating the past while looking to the future defined this year’s Paris Photo. Photography has arguably been the medium most affected by the rapid evolution of digital technology and amid the constant stream of disposable images the Grand Palais, an impressive 19th century building, carved out a spectacular space in time and place in which to pause and really appreciate something great.

There’s been a lot of media coverage about how photography has been devalued by digital technology.  You can’t read a blog, pick up a paper or attend any ‘creative’ event without hearing all about the volumes of images we’re creating every second, every minute, every hour and how we can use this imagery to share our thoughts, feelings, and political messages in a way we’ve never been able to before.

Mark Wigley, the dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University in New York, argued during the “Platform” talks at the event, that there is no art without architecture. Seeing thousands of images a day through the architecture of my screen has definitely had an impact on how I view images and has, without question, influenced the value I place on them.

But for me, this is only part of the story. We hear very little discussion about photography as an art form and what truly great art means in the midst of this avalanche of pictures.

Paris Photo reminded me of the art of photography.


Called “the most prestigious art fair dedicated to historical and contemporary photography” — Paris Photo does not disappoint. (Photo by Lee Coventry/Getty Images).

Standing in front of a large scale print of Hannah Collins’ anemones or a wall full of Hugh Holland’s skater kids from the 1970s reminded me that the power of a real-world experience can have so much more emotional impact than a virtual small-screen experience. I’ve seen Nadav Kander’s portrait of David Lynch hundreds of times online but seeing it as a large scale print really was impressive.

Seeing an image printed larger than life and in so much detail allows you to notice things that you somehow overlook when viewing on a small scale. It encourages you to look a bit longer and spend a bit more time engaging with the subject.
Hearing notable artists and thinkers such as Taryn Simon, Rem Koolhaas and Wigley trying to make sense of how this new digital world impacts the practice and work of the artist illustrated that there is a lot of interesting discussion but no clear answers.  What was clear to me however, was that experience and interaction matter – whether it’s the enjoyment of photography as art, attending a “pop-up” event, or participating in a wider conversation.

The future looks bright if it holds the best of both worlds…

Editor’s note: As a senior member of Getty Images creative content team, Lee is responsible for sourcing and creating imagery in line with customer demands and industry trends. From idea generation to mentoring photographers and managing shoots, Lee has extensive experience in delivery content that is both highly creative and commercially relevant.

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