Paris Photo, Feedback and the Musée National de l’Histoire de l’Immigration

Paris Photo was my first experience of the global photography industry at what is the largest photography festival of the year and it didn’t disappoint. The number of different exhibitions on show was staggering as was the grandeur of the main event at the Grand Palais.

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What really struck me walking around the main exhibition was the care taken with and the quality of the work presented. Printing and the display of photography seems to be another art form in itself and I was fascinated by the different types of prints on display, with the silver gelatin print a stand out amongst many quality works. I hadn’t really given much thought to this previously but it certainly something that I was looking at closely through the main exhibition and will no doubt be going forward. Having researched a little bit more on the silver gelatin process I was pleased to discover that such prints are possible from digital files also.

I was particularly drawn to Elliot Erwitt’s work. Whilst there were only a few photographs on display, I enjoyed viewing these and will be looking for more of his work in the future. Aperture has produced a nice retrospective of his work which will be a good place to start. Other works that captured my attention included those of Rodrigo Moya, Enrst Haas, Ray Metzker, Tom Arndt, and William Eggleston, amongst others. So much inspiration to draw from.

But Photo Paris is not just about the Grand Palais. There is so much quality on show at the various exhibitions across the city and there is a great buzz all around from day through to night such as at the marvellous Offprint photobook event on a boat on the River Seine.

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From the powerful Soulèvements (“Uprisings”) exhibition at la Jeu de Paume (with great works by the likes of Gilles Caron on Londonderry) to the amazing collections at la Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Harry Callahan, Andres Serrano stood out) to the groundbreaking work of Provoke magazine at Le Bal, there was something for everyone in Paris and plenty of inspiration for the aspiring photographer. I’ll certainly be coming back.

The Paris trip also provided opportunity to meet the tutors on the MA and my peers on the course. Having conversed remotely for the last two months it was pleasant to spend some time in person.

The MA cohort were treated to an overview of the work of Dr. Helen Sear, our Professor of Photographic Practice at Falmouth University, and the use of different media in her wonderfully diverse work.

We rounded off the field trip with a portfolio review of our work in progress that provided some invaluable feedback on our proposed projects and work so far. Dr Helen Sear encouraged me to find a position within the work and channel into a couple of stories. David Evans pointed me in the direction of La Musée National de l’Histoire de L’Immigration which I had some time to visit on my last day in Paris before the flight home. I was very glad that I did as it provided me with a lot of food for thought for my own project – some of the takeaways from the exhibition are noted below.

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“Emigration is seldom a spontaneous phenomenon, far less an easy decision. Reasons for leaving are varied: political, economic, cultural. The choice of France is a response to its geographical proximity; an emergency flight; the choice of freedom; the attraction derived from the long history between the countries; and, above all, the chance of finding work. Emigration is therefore a phenomenon in which different factors exceed the individual level, but which nevertheless occurs on an individual scale.”

“In all the economic sectors, since the nineteenth century, male and female immigrants have participated in the construction and modernisation of France. Periods of crisis and employment do not stop immigrants working. Very often, low wages, long days, difficult working conditions, undervalued occupations and poor opportunities for promotion were the lot of foreign and colonial workers. Some escaped from this condition, climbing the ladder, or becoming self-employed. The world of work is also a place for solidarity and struggle, sometimes together with French workers, for better wages, better living conditions and equal rights.”

“Immigrants gradually developed lasting ties with their adopted country. Everyday life and the workplace created the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas. For some, participation in the collective struggle, for others, joining the army, or even family life, sometimes as the result of marriage out of their ethnic group, accelerated their taking root in the host country. For the younger ones, who came with their parents, school became, from the 1920s, an essential place for socialisation and integration. Access to French nationality too, since 1889, was a strong anchor. From generation to generation, these roots shaped a country with a diverse population.”

“Sport is not just about champions. Sport became a gateway to the host society, and sometimes a way to succeed in escaping from working conditions.”

“The wide diversity of economic situations from which the immigrant population comes leads to a diversity in the places they live, including housing. Some families moved into expensive homes such as town houses or villas by the sea. They took advantage of the leisure areas reserved for a comfortably situated class. However, many immigrants ended up in the most precarious housing areas. From barns to furnished accommodation, in run-down areas and refugee camps in shantytowns, they suffered the constraints and rejection linked to substandard housing. Solidarity among themselves, however, helped them to make a place to live. Access to adequate housing is thus a sign for the immigrant of his progressive installation in the host society. From the 1950s onward, the State undertook an active public housing policy. For the French, this was the beginning of secure rent-controlled housing. Some homes were built for isolated immigrant workers. Gradually, immigrant families gained access to rent-controlled housing. Social problems sometimes turn them into new places of exclusion. But in many districts, the melting-pots of contemporary urban diversity, people feel at home.”

“You don’t wipe out your past when leaving your country. Every immigrant brings with him his mother tongue and his culture. On arrival, immigrants try to join their fellow countrymen, and to recreate a micro-society with them. This was the case for the Italians and the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe from the end of the nineteenth century onwards, then again the Poles, the Armenians, the Russians who came in the period between the wars, then the Spanish, the Algerians, and the Portuguese during the post-war boom, and today the Africans and Asians. Most often, the ties begin to loosen with the following generation.”

“Two centuries of immigration have made France a land where multiple cultures come together. From the Little Italy of yesteryear to today’s Chinese Quarter, diversity can be seen at the corner of every street. Cultural traditions, language, songs and stories, the religions, the daily life of cooking and the great celebrations of life’s milestones are essential to migrants, who seek to pass this part of their heritage on to their children. By doing this, between daily exchanges and mutual influences, they contribute to the perpetual renewing of a common, shared culture. Today, while the differences appear more clearly, the input of distant cultures contributes the construction of a society with all the colours of the world. Exile and immigration are also strengthened the movement of artists and writers from other places, which never ceases to enrich France’s cultural heritage.”

 

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