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Trawling for treasure—and finding it—at a Paris photo fair

With 105 exhibitors from 16 countries, Paris Photo presented a nearly overwhelming range of vintage and contemporary material in an environment so hectic it sometimes felt like a subway station at rush hour. That didn't discourage the intrepid treasure hunters (more than 42,000 people traipsed through the exhibition halls over the fair's four days), including those of us who only brought back notebooks full of excited scribbles. Among many memorable images, these stood out: Dutch artist Desiree Dolron's somber study of a delicate, androgynous boy lying naked under a blanket had a startlingly vivid presence and a genuine sense of mystery (was he dead? sleeping? under a spell?). Dominating the Michael Hoppen booth, the picture was one of the fair's most successful digital tours de force, perhaps because Dolron's technical finesse never seemed an end in itself. Elsewhere, Loretta Lux introduced flawless new models of her popular android children just in time to upstage a gaggle of imitators and wannabes, including Amsterdam's brashly accomplished Ruud van Empel (at TZR), whose kitsch woodland scenes looked like storybook versions of Pierre et Gilles.

Three photographers—Gérard Pétremand, Olivo Barbieri, and Marc Räder—staked out the increasingly contested territory between illusion and reality with landscape images whose soft-focus passages invited pleasurable confusion. Of the three, Barbieri, with a group of aerial views at Brancolini Grimaldi, achieved the most breathtakingly beautiful effect, but Räder (also at TZR) had the edge of precedent, having used selective blur to suggest the scale-model insubstantiality of gated communities in California nearly a decade earlier. At Virginia Green, Israeli photographer Leora Laor (who opens at Andrea Meislin December 2) stops just short of impressionism in grainy, glowing pictures whose pictorialist haze and nostalgic aura are a reflection of one Jerusalem neighborhood's throwback traditionalism.

Desiree Dolron: Piet, Xterior VIII (2004)
photo: Michael Hoppen Contemporary
Desiree Dolron: Piet, Xterior VIII (2004)

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    Despite these pockets of resistance, realism reigned. Another Dutch photographer, Noor Damen (at van Kranendonk), showed a series of small, lovely color portraits of men gathering flowers in nursery farm fields that looked like an unselfconscious, FSA version of Justine Kurland. Ireland's Mary Kelly (at Bugdahn und Kaimer) photographed the cells of an Irish prison with an eye to the details of decoration most revealing of their absent inhabitants. Anthony Hernandez is best known for his oddly tender documentation of nomadic homeless habitation in the California landscape, but a terrific group of 1984 photos at Polaris proved he was equally alert to the rich twits of Beverly Hills. His pictures of glossy, vacuous couples out shopping would be amusing if their subjects weren't so oblivious to how the other half lives.

     
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