A Kiwi in Paris: Harvey Benge's recount of Paris Photo 2016

In late 2016, New Zealand photographer Harvey Benge hopped on a plane headed for Paris to take in and experience the renowned Paris Photo event. He came away having connected with some of the world's top photographers and thoroughly recommends you all head along when you can! Have a read of Harvey's thoughts:

Without a doubt Paris Photo is the pre-eminent photography art fair — anywhere. The 2016 event at the Grand Palais was the fair’s 20th incarnation — it followed the disastrous terrorist attacks in 2015, which left 130 people dead and 360 injured, leading to the weekend closure of the fair. Therefore there was a lot hanging on the 2016 event.

Florence Bourgeois, Director of Paris Photo and Christoph Wiesner, Artistic Director of Paris Photo, Grand Palais, November 9, 2016 © Jérémie Bouillon / Paris Photo

This year saw the impact of the new Paris Photo Director Florence Bourgeois, and new Artistic Director Christoph Wiesner; both have given the fair a fresh look with an increased emphasis on quality. In 2016, the number of exhibitors increased to 153 galleries and dealers, plus 30 book publishers. Also, there were exhibitions in the upstairs Grand Palais spaces; The Pencil of Culture showed ten years of photography acquisitions by Centre Pompidou, while another featured works from The JP Morgan Chase Art Collection. Attendance was up eight per cent from the previous event, with 62,000 people passing through the doors. Overall dealers reported solid, if not spectacular sales, in part due to Brexit and Trump.

General view at the opening day, Grand Palais, November 9, 2016 © Jérémie Bouillon / Paris Photo 2016

Paris Photo has something for everyone. I suspect that there would be as many agendas and priorities as there are attendees. My focus is not so much looking at the work on the walls, but connecting with people. Auckland, my base, is isolated, and that's no bad thing. The chance to meet photo friends, and forge new connections with people I'd never meet in New Zealand is paramount — and a pleasure. Paris Photo is a magnet. I saw and talked to Martin Parr, John Gossage, Paul Graham, Todd Hido, Susan Meiselas, Joel Meyerowitz, Antoine d'Agata, Roger Ballen, Pieter Hugo, Anthony Hernandez, Darius Himes, to name a few — the list goes on. The photo world is very small and everybody seems to know everybody else. In the end galleries, publishers, whoever, tend to work with people they know, like, and respect.

Opening evening of the fair's 20th edition, Grand Palais, November 9, 2016 © Jérémie Bouillon / Paris Photo

Then there is the business of luck. A lot happens purely by chance. It's about showing your face (I won't even say work), and surprising opportunities can crop up when you least expect it. I'm often asked what is my overriding philosophy relative to my practice. I'm prone to quoting Woody Allen, who says that “90 per cent of life is showing up”. And it's true. My advice to any photographer who is determined to expand their reach internationally is to go to Paris Photo, and keep going. Every year. Take the long view, and if your work is up to it, good things will happen.

As an after thought — if you're into photo books, Paris Photo is photo-book heaven. There is Polycopies on a moored boat on the Seine — here a host of small independent publishers show their editions.  Then OffPrint at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, packed with what seems like hundreds  of small publishers, zine makers, and big guns like MACK. What more is there to say!

Paris Photo 2017 runs from November 9–12 — put the dates in your diary now. Do it!