There were four different exhibitions at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie when I visited it last week: “Dark Lens” by Cedric Delsaux, some really amazing and mysterious “Pinhole photographs” by Choi, portraits and fashion pictures by Alice Springs (Helmut Newton’s wife), and a retrospective of Claude Nori’s work.
I will only make a few comments on the latter, without even trying to cover everything that could be said on this show, which looked at his activity as both a photographer and a photo book and photo magazine publisher. His own photographs, to who had never seen them, were surprisingly happy and light, with a strong feel of “Italianity” in them and all that it involves of sun, love and beautiful women.
The second half of the space was dedicated to his activity as a publisher. He was indeed the one to reveal some talents such as Mario Giacomelli, Luigi Ghirri, Anders Petersen or Sebastiao Salgado. But the true highlight of the show, for me, were two videos, both arguably a bit too long, but so worth taking the time to watch. In the first one, Nori is interviewed about the context for photography at the time, and his own story within it. He explains how as a young photographer, he was advised by the Toulouse master Jean Dieuzaide and how he arrived in Paris. Once there, realising that there was no real institutions around the medium of photography (such as museums, journals, dedicated publishers, etc.), he decided to self-publish. That’s how his venture started. Having the opportunity to hear someone who lived through these decades of the 50s, 60s and 70s is fantastic, because for me, it is difficult to fully realise – and to try to make others realise – the poor condition in which art photography still was, not so long ago, in terms of institutional and social recognition.
The second video (found here!) was one of these thrilling but rare discoveries: it was an old French cultural talk show from 1979 (Bernard Pivot’s Apostrophes) found in the archives of French television (INA), with guests as brilliant as Claude Nori, Robert Doisneau, Marc Riboud, Susan Sontag, Helmut Newton and Hans Silvester. Beside the fact that everybody at the time could smoke on TV and that they were sitting on deep yellow and brown armchairs, it was a pure delight to hear them hotly debate of the photography of their time, Claude Nori critiquing “commercial” photography, while another insisted on the fact that there was no market for this medium as art anyway. Susan Sontag, with her thick dark hair and her slight American accent when speaking French, seemed to always bring an intelligent idea to the debate.
Therefore despite all the many other photographs and varied paper documents found in this show, and the slightly annoying friendly/nostalgic tone conveyed by the explanations that Claude Nori himself doubtless hand-wrote beside all the material from his personal archives, these two videos alone made my day. They are what I will remember from this exhibition.
Claude Nori | Publisher and Photographer | 5 September – 5 November 2012 | Maison Européenne de la Photographie, rue de Fourcy, Paris.