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You should know by now that I am obsessed with the l’Impossible Photographie exhibition in Paris (here, here, here and here).

There is a paucity of information about the full line-up of photographers in the show, compounded by very few online  images of those we do know about.

Brendan Seibel, the author of this review, and I have been exchanging emails and he has been filling me in.

First of all, many of the photographs from contemporary shooters had faces intentionally covered. This is due to French privacy laws.

There were shots of juvenile detention for which the photographer intentionally obscured faces through shutter drag or by means of scratched glass or the people covering their faces.

Other photographers shooting adults had either empty rooms, shots of people from behind, or the photos were displayed with marking tape covering the faces. Marc Feustel of Eye Curious thought it was funny, or interesting at least- I found it pretty inexcusable, particularly given the subject matter of the exhibition. Impossible Photography indeed.

I am gobsmacked! I asked Brendan to clarify. He did:

When I say tape on the pictures I mean the glass pane, not the prints themselves. Which is why I assume there’s some gallery work behind this manner of obstruction.

What!? Art-handlers and/or curators took the decision to use gaffer tape to make anonymous the portrait sitters!? Why bother using the photographs at all if you plan to deface them?

To apply tape after the fact is either a fantastic dada-turn (by artist, curator or the two in partnership) or it is the most ham-fisted exhibiting practice in recent history.

You might as well stop caring which way is UP^. What would the Art Handling Olympians say?

The three images above are not prints from the show.

They are illustrations I put together in my front room using a pane of glass, some gaffer tape and three portraits from Luigi Gariglio’s excellent book Portraits in Prisons.

Gariglio was not in the l’Impossible Photographie show.

© Rana Javadi

© Rana Javadi. (This image is not in the show, but the artist is.)

Photoquai‘s mission : to highlight and make known, artists whose work is previously unexhibited or little known in Europe, to foster exchanges and the exchanging of views on the world.

The 2009 Photoquai biennial is directed by Anahita Ghabaian Etehadieh, an Iranian gallerist and founder of the Silk Road Gallery, Tehran – the only space in Iran dedicated to exhibiting photography.

Photoquai shows the work of 50 contemporary photographers from around the world, unknown or little known photographic talents in European terms, who come from Latin America, North America, Asia, Oceania, Africa and the Near and Middle East.

© Nomusa Makhubu

© Nomusa Makhubu

Presumably, Photoquai will propel debates about diversity and representation. I desperately wanted to write something important about Photoquai.

It is a photo-festival hell-bent on avoiding the usual names and well-worn paths of sight and (re)appreciation. But …

As part of my due diligence (sat on my arse, browsing the web, dipping into sources) I was stopped in my tracks by Colin Pantall’s “rant”:

Even 10 years ago, if you wanted to see somebody’s work, you had to buy the book or look in a magazine – which made buying a book or looking in a magazine that much more exciting and attractive. Now you just link to it and see it twittered and facebooked and blogged in a random stream of pictures that you have neither the time nor the will to linger on or contemplate. You can pretend viewing pictures like this is worthwhile in some way, but it’s not and it doesn’t allow for intelligent comment or insight to appear.

The idle, rapid-fire online viewing of photography has it’s knock on effects to writing about photography. Both are debased. I am as guilty as the next person.

So why should you listen to my opinion when I’ve not left my desk in the hour since I became aware of PhotoQuai? Read the following reviews from people who actually went and stood in front of the prints.

Jon Levy of Foto8 gives a pretty anemic description of his preview tour, but is ultimately thankful that new events are still blossoming despite the “undoubtedly harsh” climate for photojournalism.

Diane Smyth at 1854, the BJP blog, first has an overview of Photoquai. Smyth then provides a description of an “unusual exhibition in the Pavillon des Sessions at the Louvre. Portrait croises pairs a selection of 40 images from the Musee du Quai Branly’s extensive archive with indigenous sculptures and artworks from around the world.” Personally, the curatorial premise of this exhibit seems problematic – mainly because the pairings would seem to devalue the original meanings and conditions of production, if not strip them completely.

Marc Feustel of eyecurious loved the ambition but was “pretty disappointed” by the quality throughout. He felt guilty for criticising a small, brave, new-festival-on-the-block but couldn’t forgive the “photographers who should be tried for Photoshop crimes against photography.”

If you look through Jim Casper’s LensCulture gallery, you’ll sympathise with Feustel’s point.

© Daniela Edburg

© Daniela Edburg

© Nadiah Bamadhaj

© Nadiah Bamadhaj

Conclusions:

Iranian photography gets special attention on the 30 year anniversary of the revolution, and the approximate 20 year anniversary of the end of the Iran/Iraq war.

Afghanistan photography inevitably remains within the implications of its ban during Taliban rule.

Only a few well-known names are knocking about, noticeably Abbas Kowsari.

Pablo Hare is the darling so far.

© Pablo Hare

© Pablo Hare

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