At Paris Photo, a new wave of photographers are shedding light on the unseen

Curiosa curator Osei Bonsu opens up about his special showcase of 14 emerging artists – plus more highlights from the French photography fair

A room with with 2 different colours. The left side of the room has blue wall and ceiling with a table and 2 chairs and wooden floor. The right of the room has white walls and ceiling with a grey door and grey floor. brown and black standing cabinets on the righ of the room.
Raum für alle – Musterhaus Törten, nach einer Fotografie von Otto Wedekind, die zwischen 1926 und 1928 entstanden ist, gefunden im Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, 2015, by Adrian Sauer. Courtesy of the artist and Klemm’s, Berlin
(Image credit: Adrian Sauer)

‘Visibility’ is the buzzword of the contemporary art world this year, but what we get to see and how we see it isn’t quite as straightforward as we might think. Photography is the medium we expect to make the world visible – since its invention, the camera has had a habit of showing us everything, for better or worse, from foreign landscapes and cultures to the insides of our bodies.

But in recent years, it’s become clear that we haven’t been getting the full picture. Colonialism, racism, sexism and classism have all affected photography over the last century, and it’s only now that artists are beginning to get critical about the camera’s role in the world. What has remained unseen, and why, is something a new wave of photographers are increasingly becoming interested in, as this year’s edition of Paris Photo proves.

The dichotomy between the visible and invisible, what gets seen and what doesn’t, is the starting premise for Osei Bonsu’s Curiosa at Paris Photo 2019, the second year the fair has invited a curator to organise this special section. Bonsu has chosen 14 photographers who aren’t well known and whose subversions are subtle, eschewing the idea that art should have a political use value, but rather that ‘there’s something inherently political about making something visible’, he says.

An artistic display of a rustic red scarf in chiffon material spread over tree branches

SANS-TITRE, MOISSON ROUGE, 2019, by Marguerite Bornhauser. © The artist. Courtesy of Galerie Madé

(Image credit: Marguerite Bornhauser)

‘Photographers nowadays are not necessarily interested in categorisation,’ Bonsu explains. ‘I think these artists are interested in the sensitivities of the medium.’ The 27-year-old curator, recently appointed by the Tate Modern as Curator of International Art, has selected artists who deal with aspects of ‘visibility’, but confound our expectations of what that means.

Havana-born photographer Leandro Feal (represented by Cibrián) gives us iconoclastic snapshots of contemporary Cuba – no ruin porn or vintage cars in sight. Feal shares a non-linear, inconclusive way of presenting photographs with Marguerite Bornhauser (Galerie Madé), who is known for her sumptuous, rich cibachrome prints. The Parisian photographer gives us fragments, lined-up suggestively but ultimately offering no concrete story, turning the photograph into something less certain and more intuitively felt.

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Photography can be, in the digital age, a compulsive and frenetic viewing experience, rather than the art of observation. Veering away from representation seems wise given how problematic that has often turned out to be. Elsewhere, images can be traced in dust, ash, paper and glass, used by artists to complicate ways of seeing the source and hint at the fragility of looking.

For Roman Moriceau, presented by Galerie Derouillon, luxurious large-scale close-up plant pictures seem to romanticise exotic plants, but in fact hint at colonialism. Shot at a botanical garden in Belgium, they are ultimately artificial representations, printed with glittering copper, making a link with the major profit-maker for Belgian colonial traders in the past in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. ‘Undergirding these beautiful works is a much more sinister history,’ Bonsu explains.

As you exit Curiosa, the smell of film burning hits the back of your nostrils – a work by experimental artist and filmmaker Andrés Denegri (Rolf Art) that creates and destroys a roll of images of the Argentinian flag. Smoke follows you on your way out – as far as an art fair goes, it’s a bold and urgent statement about the need for change and new ways of seeing.

More highlights from Paris Photo 2019

Drosera toakaiensis (sun dew plants) photographed against a blue background

Drosera toakaiensis, 2019, by Richard Mosse. Courtesy of the artist and Carlier Gebauer, Berlin/Madrid

(Image credit: Richard Mosse)

A boy staring through the glass windows at the seating area of gate 26 in Las Vegas International airport in 1982

USA, Las Vegas International airport, 1982, by Harry Gruyaert. © The artist. Courtesy Gallery of Fifty One

(Image credit: Harry Gruyaert)

A table and chair set against a frosted window glass with a faux fish hanging from the window. The window has curtains on both sides of the window. The table is covered with a yellow cloth which as a newspaper, glasses, 2 pears and a napkin placed on it.

Koinobori, 2019, by Daniel Blaufuks, from ongoing project Attempting Exhaustion. © Courtesy of the artist and Jean-Kenta Gauthier

(Image credit: Daniel Blaufuks)

A caucasian woman in a red longsleeve dress sitting on a stool with her left hand lifting her dress up on her left leg to show a cock. photographed against a turquoise background

Toiletpaper 18, 2019, by Maurizio Cattelan. Courtesy of Toiletpaper/Damiani

(Image credit: Maurizio Cattelan)

An abstract image of a torn picture. Top left of the photo is a plain white background. bottom left of the phot is a crumpled turquoise paper; and on the right of the photo is the image of 2 faceless people only showing one half of their top half.

Ecotone 1, 2019, by K Morvarid. © Fisheye Gallery

(Image credit: K Morvarid)

A wooden piano in brown, gold and red photographed against a black background

Madame Victoire, 2019, by Viviane Sassen. © Viviane Sassen. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town

(Image credit: Viviane Sassen)

A caucasian man wearing a red polo shirt and blue shorts sitting in a room with his right elbow resting on a wooden table looking outside the white framed window. The table has stationeries and books laid on it. behind him are 3 floating shelves and a floating drawer with a silver knob. The 3 floating shelves are occupied with white and red bottles.

In Veneto, 2019, by Guido Guidi. Courtesy the artist and MACK

(Image credit: Guido Guidi)

A photo of a building with the Hotel sign on it and the image of 2 faceless nude women. Photographed in grey shades

fantasia, 1948, by Yūshi Kobayashi. Courtesy of Toshifumi Kobayashi and MEM, Tokyo

(Image credit: Yūshi Kobayashi)

A photo of Tsaus Mountains, a mountain range located within the desert of Namibias restricted area

Tsaus Mountains #1, Sperrgebiet, Namibia, 2018, by Edward Burtynsky. Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto

(Image credit: Edward Burtynsky)

An photo of Pas du Bachasson, Vercors, captured in 2011

Pas du Bachasson, Vercors, 2011, by Pierre Canaguier. Courtesy of Le Reverbere

(Image credit: Pierre Canaguier)

An explosion in the sand in a desert.

Poussières, 2011, by Stéphane Thidet. Courtesy of Galerie Aline Vidal

(Image credit: Stéphane Thidet)

INFORMATION

Paris Photo 2019, 7 – 10 November. parisphoto.com (opens in new tab)

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Grand Palais
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Charlotte Jansen is a journalist and the author of two books on photography, Girl on Girl (2017) and Photography Now (2021). She is commissioning editor at Elephant magazine and has written on contemporary art and culture for The Guardian, the Financial Times, ELLE, the British Journal of Photography, Frieze and Artsy. Jansen is also presenter of Dior Talks podcast series, The Female Gaze.