Brief Reviews of Paris Shows
Pete Dine: Animals.
Los Rencontres d'Olympus. 33 Rue du Comandant René Mouchott.
The English photographer Pete Dine had quite a few pictures of animals. Dogs, cats, everything.
Erwin Blumenfeld. FNAC
Montparnasse, 136 rue de Rennes.
While its obvious that Erwin Blumenfeld liked photographing women, its not so obvious that he had any sort of vision in his mmd while he was doing it. It is as though he could hardly wait to get back to the darkroom to introduce some gimmickry. Why so distort these women? To photograph a woman whose hair reaches down below her hips would seem to offer adequate opportunity for straightforward sensual work, but Blumenfeld solarizes and double exposes and essentially hides all that glorious hair. The exhibition is a chaos of color, disembodiment, and eyelashes floating alone. It just doesn't look as though he ever found a form he liked. It is a perfect example of the worst of photography, all put in one place, a memento of a talent largely wasted.
Contemporary Photography in Yugoslavia.
Centre Culturel de la Republique Socailiste Féderrative de Yóugoslavie. 123 rue Saint-Martin.
This was a little sad. Many of the photographs were of pretty good quality, with interesting imagery, fairly thoughtful documentary work, and one sort of conceptual commercial piece. There was one strong group of pictures of the butchering of a pig in a little village. By and large it wasn’t exciting work, but it was adequate.
Unfortunately the installation was crummy. Most of the prints had at least one corner hanging outside the mat, the corners of which appeared to have been cut with a screwdriver, and no one at the gallery seemed to care about setting things right.
In the front window was a display of zillions of 5x7 prints glued not very well to thick corrugated cardboard and hung on wires in a mad sort of chaos no doubt meant to convey the vast diversity of the many cultures of Yugoslavia. This was an official exhibition, which might explain its overall grimness.
With The Adjustable Wrench In the Little Salon: The New Fashion, Photographs by Dominique Bouchard and Herve Lecerf.
Galerie Shop Photo Montparnasse. 33 rue du Commandant René-Mouchotte
In Paris, if you do a lot of old-fashioned fashion photography and reduce the image to Xerox-like tonality, then hand-color it gaudily, and mat it with big nuts and bolts through the mats, you can get a show in this camera store.
Alice Odilon: The Intimate Beauty of Inexpressible Feelings
Studio 666. 66 Rue Maitre-Albert.
Beauty isn't exactly the first word that comes to mind when looking at these photographs. Alice Odilon has photographed herself, at least what remains of herself. An anorexic, she has reduced herself to muscle and bone; she is like a skeleton covered with skin. She thrusts herself at us, naked usually, or wearing what might, on another person, be thought of as sexy apparel, garters and stockings and black gloves, or black lingerie. She photographs herself with her breasts hanging over a plate of fish, her arms held over her head so we can see their thinness and how disproportioned her head has become. In one particularly difficult picture she has smeared mud (or is it, as her essayist seems to suggest, menstrual blood?) on herself so that her emaciated flesh also looks as if it has been badly burned
She is playing a voluptuous role, but she does not appear to be having fun. Always she peers out of her great black eyes, seeming to call for help, for somebody to come along with a magic wand and blow her back up. It is difficult to imagine trying, and in any event, it looks as if it would be too late.
One has to be astonished at Alice Odilon's willingness to make the most of what is clearly a pretty bad situation. She is not dead, after all, but clearly has great life in her. Just making these pictures required a lot of drive and energy. One only wishes she'd stopped occasionally and had lunch.
But then, of course, the pictures would never have existed.
Alain Fleischer: Silverware and Other Objects.
Studio 666, 6 rue Maitre-Albert.
Alain Fleischer is a filmmaker in his 50s who lives in Paris, where he also teaches about film and photography. For this exhibition he photographed common reflective objects — knives, forks, spoons, hairbrushes — with the faces of people reflected in them. Six of the prints are quite large, about six-and a half feet high by three feet wide. He has an odd feeling for the internal dimensions and qualities of these things, and says "To see one's face as a reflection in a knife or spoon makes these objects both less and more alien: one finds oneself present in them, the objects carry on a dialoque with the one using them , . . ."
The images are grainy and slightly blurred, often because of movement, as though the camera were handheld, a strange way to do still lifes. But then, they aren't really still lifes. In Fleischer's view, they are more than lifeless objects, these shiny commonplaces. For him. "Silverware, copperware, and stainless steel . . , see passing the images of our daily lives, of our intimacy, of those beings who surround us, and of ourselves" He speaks of "The profile of the father at the bottom of the ashtray, the smile of the mother on the back of the hairbrush, the white hair of the grand mother on the sides of the tea kettle, the immense hand and arm of the maid on the iron, and in the faucets of the lavatory, oneself, the laughable self-portrait, . . . the test of the mirror."
30 Years of Chinese Photography (1930-1940).
Mairie du Vle. 78 rue Bonaparte.
I had high hopes for this exhibit of thirty years of photography from China, held in the grand and gilt hall of one of Paris' town halls. What an opportunity. Unfortunately, the work was very disappointing. The subjects were interesting because they allowed me to see aspects of China that don't make it to Newsweek or Time. Portraits, landscapes, people at work, soldiers at war. students marching, athletes, and children; they offered a chance to glimpse thirty years in China that were fairly closed. However, that is about all they did. There was little creativity in any of the photographs after 1936, and the print quality often looked dangerously close to Xeroxes
Perhaps the romantic in me hoped to find the individual still alive, but if this exhibit is any indication, 1930-I960 were not building years for creative photography in China.
Mise en scene pour une Assomption: Etude documentaire no. 100 Orlan.
Galerie Art Contemporain J. et J. Donguy. 57, rue de to Roquette.
"Mise en scene" is not meant to be translated in English, but suffice it to say that the artist is telling you that this was created, fabricated, produced to be documented, photographed, taped, whatever. This installation was and is memorable, especially in light of the overwhelming body of predictable work presented in the exhibits of the Month of Photography.
Orlan is one of Paris' premier performance artists, and in this installation she confronts us with ideas about the Assumption. The room had "altars" of varying sizes composed of various media. Orlan herself takes on the role of Mary draped in white or black and appears in photographs, videos, and holograms. A lyrical aria sung by a female soprano pervades the room, and Orlan's voluptuous figure clad in voluminous drapery and other dramatic touches overwhelm the viewer. What we have here is 1960s baroque: use everything available and make it dramatic. And I mean everything, even one of those jukebox contraptions you used to find at your booth at the cafe, with pages of hit tunes that were turned by an automatic arm. Instead of tunes, the pages contain photographs of "the Madonna" in various guises.
Orlan herself wandered into the gallery while I was there and it was a treat to hear her tell about how she put this installation together. One wonders what the men in the old folks home think when this presence sweeps in, dresses them in religious garb and photographs them to use as framing photographs on her altars.
Orlan has a definite flair for performance and though this exhibition /installation is not for everyone, it was a breath of fresh air to this tired gallery goer.