Art fairs are corrosive beasts. The convenience they provide collectors by gathering so much work in one space is often at odds with actually seeing work in any intelligent fashion. Although a lot has been said and written about art fairs and their effects on artists and the art market, not all fairs are bad. For photographers, and lovers of photography, Paris Photo is probably the preeminent fair. While Paris Photo shares some of the shortcomings of many fairs, there's a lot more good than bad. Paris Photo, an anthology selected by David Lynch and edited by Julien Frydman, is an idiosyncratic record and guided tour of Paris Photo 2012 that showcases Lynch's favorite photographs from the fair. What at first glance appears to be a bloated catalog of photos for sale (the kind of art fair catalog you might pick up only to recycled once you're home) is actually a smart collection of odd and wonderful photographs only Lynch could compile.
At this point in his career, David Lynch has achieved iconic status. Such is his influence that his name is often lazy shorthand for anything remotely uncanny or strange. This is unfortunate, but true for anyone so influential and singular in both vision and talent. In this book, Lynch has gathered ninety-nine of his favorite photographs from Paris Photo 2012. There are expected choices, like Joel-Peter Witkin, but the book also includes many unexpected selections like Helen Levitt and Jan Groover. Canonical photographers like Josef Koudelka, Sarah Moon, Lee Friedlander and Kenneth Josephson, share space with numerous contemporary photographers like Christian Patterson, Guy Tillim, Alison Rossiter, Helen Van Meenen and Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Fleshing out the anthology are a variety of anonymous historic photographs whose subjects range from nudes and dogs to terrifying WWII naval battles.
Refreshingly, the range and depth of the work flies in the face of any glib assessment of Lynch, his work or assumed aesthetic taste. While many images are disturbing or share an unsettling psychological register, these images are counterbalanced with landscapes, still-lifes and abstractions. Interspersed with short epigrams and musings by Lynch, the book also contains a smart introduction by Kathleen McKenna that traces the common thread through Lynch's own films, photographs and artwork, and the selected photographs in the book. While the images are organized in a loose thematic pattern, there is no overarching structure to the book. Given the wide range of work, the book should appeal not only to fans of Lynch and photography, but also lovers of the medium.
One of the greatest strengths of any art fair is the sheer volume of work it packs into one location. It's also its greatest weakness. Context, continuity and connections are often lost in the sea of images. Smart work is smothered, or shouted down. Images bleed into one another and weariness sets in. Despite all these problems, the volume of work also allows each person to craft their own experience – selecting their favorites, dismissing the dross and ignoring the rest. In Paris Photo, we've been invited to follow David Lynch through the endless booths to discover hidden treasures, to be startled and surprised. We may not agree with all the choices, but the trip is worthwhile.
Adam Bell is a photographer and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and his work has been exhibited and published internationally. He is the co-editor and co-author, with Charles H. Traub and Steve Heller, of The Education of a Photographer (Allworth Press, 2006). His writing has appeared in Foam Magazine, Afterimage, Lay Flat and Ahorn Magazine. He is currently on staff and faculty at the School of Visual Arts' MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department. His website and blog are adambbell.com and adambellphoto.blogspot.com.