As curator of the travelling exhibition Panorama. Le patrimoine photographique en dialogue avec la création contemporaine (Panorama. A dialogue between photographic heritage and contemporary creation), the photography historian Remi Parcollet wanted to compare very early images and current photographs to better question the audience’s interpretation.
The exhibition Panorama. Le patrimoine photographique en dialogue avec la création contemporaine brings together 80 photographers, from the first forays into photography in the 19th century to contemporary creation. Why did you want to compare these heritage photos with recent photos?
I often noticed that looking at classic and modern works gave the opportunity to be interested in the creation of our time, contemporary art, and inversely that the ways artists’ work today encourage us to consider artistic heritage and the sphere of art history. As a historian I learn a lot from the artists I work with. I nurture dialogue not only on the history of photography with the artists who have produced a work for the exhibition, but also a consideration of the way in which the medium has been shown since its beginnings. This principle guides how the works are hung, which takes a very formal approach through photographic genres, some of which stem from the history of painting, like portraits, landscapes or the nude, and others that have developed with photography: the view of architecture and exhibition, the reproduction of a work of art, photojournalism, scientific, street and fashion photography…
How did you conceive and execute this exhibition project? And how did you choose the works shown?
The exhibition’s conception and production process was carried out in several phases between 2016 and 2018, with the view of designing an exhibition characterised by its educational dimension. The project was to bring together famous photographs and others that are less well known, but yet which played an important role in the history of art. They were chosen over time, rather like a memory game, in line with how well each one would interact and correspond. The approach proposed corresponds to a comparatist method in the feel of the iconology of Aby Warburg but particularly reinvigorated in the digital era. In terms of the hanging protocol, I also make reference to pedagogical methods introduced by the art historian Heinrich Wölfflin, and which find a reflection later in André Malraux’s musée imaginaire (museum without walls).
As for the contemporary photographs chosen, that’s the result of regular and sustained discussion with the artists: some produced works specifically for the project, and others chose to provide a print likely to engage dialogue with heritage photographs.
The aim being to illustrate the medium’s multitude of approaches and its history.
The heart of the project consists of a dialogue between generations of photographers… Did you encounter any difficulties in carrying out this exercise?
Comparing photographs in the context of this exhibition must allow an observation of how interpretations evolve but interpreting these transformations is a complex and theoretically perilous exercise. Take the example of the Mission Héliographique photographic survey in the 1850s, shown in the exhibition with Édouard Baldus, Henri Le Secq or even Charles Nègre and that of the DATAR photographic mission from the 1980s with Suzanne Lafont. The had a similar aim: survey the territory, landscapes, and architecture at a given moment. In terms of intentions, we can therefore compare these two projects, even though they were executed in very different historical contexts, and interpret the changes. That is the reason why the exhibition was voluntarily designed to let the visitor share in interpreting the change in how the artists saw the landscape, portrait or architecture, and give them the opportunity to make completely new connections between the photographs.
What are you looking to express through this exhibition? What does it say about the history of photography in France?
All of the heritage photographs in the exhibition relating to the beginnings of the medium in 1839 until the 1960s come from public collections: Musée d’Orsay, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Société Française de Photographie, École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Collège de France, Musée Picasso, Médiathèque de l’architecture et du Patrimoine and the Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI. It’s an important characteristic of the exhibition, its objective not only being to promote photographic heritage, but also to allude to its history, the way in which it was established, maintained and distributed. As such there is the drive to constitute a coherent ensemble from historic collections and to ask oneself about the relationship between organisations and the history of photography which is particularly rich in France. I’m thinking in particularly of the legal deposit system that the BNF Department of Prints and Photography benefits from, which today holds one of the biggest collections of images in the world.
The exhibition is a travelling exhibition: could you tell us about its tour, the places in which it is being shown?
The exhibition’s international tour hasn’t been finalised yet. It was presented at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris in July 2018. Yann Lorvo the director of the Institut français of Argentina and his team organized the first international stage at the Museo Mar in Mare del Plata, from January 29 to 26 April 2020 (interrupted at the end of March).
The touring of the Panorama. Le patrimoine photographique en dialogue avec la création contemporaine (Panorama. A dialogue between photographic heritage and contemporary creation) exhibition to 3 locations in Argentina was supported by La Collection 2020.
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