Photographier Paris: Nouveaux Regards sur la Ville

A Fresh Look at Paris

November 28, 2018By Emma HussainExhibitions
Thomas Boivin’s shot of a woman in Belleville.
“Elsa” (2015), by Thomas Boivin, from “Belleville,” his series documenting daily life in this lively Paris neighborhood.

The city of Paris, which claims to be the photography capital of the world, is hosting a show called  “Photographier Paris,” a free exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville, with the intention of avoiding clichés about the city and showing Paris in a new light. Sixteen artists from a range of backgrounds look at the French capital from their personal perspectives in a variety of styles, creating what the exhibition’s curators describe as an “imaginary multidimensional map of Paris” that highlights its diversity.

The exhibition opens on Maxime Verret’s shot of young people relaxing in the Parc de la Villette, a moment of beauty at Paris’s periphery which sets up the exhibition’s message well.

A collage from Sandra Rocha’s “La vie immediate.”
“Sans Titre” (2017), by Sandra Rocha, from “La Vie Immediate.” © Sandra Rocha.

Rather disappointingly for an exhibition explicitly about diversity, only three women artists feature. My personal favorite was Sandra Rocha, a Portuguese artist whose contribution focuses on girlhood in the Greater Paris region. Her photographs are interspersed with collages of people and the natural world, evoking a dreamlike, mysterious Paris and suggesting the challenge of interacting with the world as a young person.

A simple shot of a tree by Peter Tillessen.
“Superficial Image” (2018), by Peter Tillessen.

Another artist whose work I admired, Peter Tillessen, simply pins his photos to the walls on sheets of A4 paper. He represents everyday life without frills: a tree, a parked car, a self-portrait. His amusing/ironic captions construct a narrative to go with the photos, highlighting how easily the interpretation of images can be manipulated and how one moment in Paris can mean a myriad of different things to different people. A photo of a highway that could be anywhere in the world, for example, is captioned: “Heavy traffic on a main road in the vicinity of Le Bourget Exhibition Center, where the Paris Climate Agreement was negotiated.”

Geoffroy Mathieu’s shot of a woman working on a Mizuna plantation on the roof of the Aubervilliers Fashion Centre.
“Le Principe de Ruralité” (2017), by Geoffroy Mathieu. A woman works on a mizuna (Japanese mustard plant) farm on the roof of the Aubervilliers Fashion Center.

Geoffroy Mathieu’s contribution, “Le Principe de Ruralité,” stood out from the other projects both in terms of content and message. It shows how small, local farming projects are springing up in the midst of Paris’s built-up suburbs, blurring the lines between urban and rural, and revealing an aspect of the city that will be new to most visitors.

The exhibition is arranged with little fuss in the beautiful high-ceilinged spaces of the 19th-century Hôtel de Ville, and there isn’t much text to read apart from short pieces contextualizing each artist’s work. The simplicity of this set-up is at times confusing, as it is not always clear which label goes with which photographs.

Much of the work in “Photographier Paris” seeks to document rather than elicit a particular response, allowing visitors to add their own experiences of Paris to what they see. Each photographer brings his/her own perspective to the exhibition, giving every visitor something to identify with and successfully capturing the diversity of contemporary Paris.

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