77 is the number of women photographers presented this year in the «Elles x Paris Photo» tour. It is also a totem, which represents the feminine photographic creation.
There are well-known figures, such as Nan Goldin and Tina Modotti, as well as numerous discoveries, including the Sicilian Letizia Battaglia, the Austrian Anaïs Horn, the Italian-Togolese Silvia Rosi and the Chinese Chen Xiaoyi. In total, there are 77 women photographers, whose singular approaches and specific worlds will be presented from 10 to 13 November on the occasion of the fifth edition of the «Elles x Paris Photo» course.
A real dive into the arcana of feminine photographic creation, launched in 2008 by Kering in partnership with the Ministry of Culture within Paris Photo, one of the main international photographic events, provides a unique, fascinating and abundant insight into the wealth of territories invested by women photographers. Interview with the curator of this course, Federica Chiocchetti, director of the Museum of Fine Arts of Le Locle in Switzerland.
You wanted to put this edition of «Elles x Paris Photo» under the sign of a number: 77. Why?
This year, Paris Photo celebrates its 25th anniversary and Elles x Paris Photo its fifth. Entering a number rather than a theme to identify this edition of the «Elles x Paris Photo» route was a deliberate choice on my part. The desire, first of all, to place this edition under the sign of the Oulipo, the potential literature opener dear to Raymond Queneau, one of the characteristics of which is to play with numbers and letters by imposing binding rules. As I work by associations of ideas, I remembered that in La Tombola, the game originally from Naples, the number 77 corresponds to the legs of women, a bit as if these legs should always be long and thin. The same number is also associated with the devil. We could laugh about it, but if we think about it, we can also consider it as an occult vestige of patriarchal society that sees women as witches. The idea came to me to rehabilitate this number by choosing precisely 77 women photographers. I also remembered that 1977 was an important year for the feminist movement in Italy… For all these reasons, the number 77 has become obvious.
When we talk about numbers, we talk about statistics. Were you also implicit in reminding us of the need for parity in the world of culture?
My dream is to arrive at a post-quota society where these statistics will no longer exist. Equality will be real, given spontaneously.
Another particularly significant innovation, you have extended this path to the publishing sector. Why?
A book, like a framed print, is a work of art in itself. If we did not include the publishing sector, we would lose an important dimension of the world of photography. Moreover, I noticed that it was simpler today for a woman to be published by a publisher than to be represented by a gallery. However, there are some splendid works among publishers. I am thinking of Stéphanie Solinas, whose book Sun and death (Delpire & co) echoes (see the article «Trois regards singuliers de femmes photographes»), or that of Camille Gharbi on the violence against women reported Monsters Don’t Exist (The Eyes).
The visitor will discover artists who have not been presented in previous editions. Have you also made discoveries?
Seeing all these images was an incredible moment. In particular, I discovered photographers from Asia, a region of which I am not an expert, but also performers known in the contemporary art community, such as Marinella Senatore, who have a photographic practice. For the 19th and 20th centuries, there are few women photographers circulating in the photography market, most of whom are in public collections – and we can only welcome this, it means that everyone can see their images. A book like A World History of Women Photographers published under the direction of Luce Lebart and Marie Robert in 2020, which is a real bible, shows it very well. However, fairs like Paris Photo give the opportunity to discover the vitality of female photographic creation through the exhibition of private collections.
Which photographers would you like to talk about spontaneously?
Among the recognized photographers, I am very attached to a Sicilian photographer, Letizia Battaglia, who disappeared this year, who documented the crimes of the mafia in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Sicily. We are horrified by his images but they have become iconic. I am also fascinated by the work of Sophie Calle. She found the right balance between autofiction and irony in a coherent conceptual work from the first series to the last exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay. There is in particular an always unexpected dialogue between images and words. She is truly a complete artist, politically involved, especially on the issue of abortion in the 1970s.
There are big names, Graciela Iturbide, Tina Modotti, Nan Goldin…
Yes, we find these legendary figures alongside the discoveries. Tina Modotti and Letizia Battaglia, whom I just mentioned, have something in common. Letizia Battaglia was a journalist at first, not a photographer, but she understood that if she attached photos to her articles, she was more likely to be published. Tina Modotti was an actress, activist of the Communist Party, she was only a photographer for ten years but she managed to create a corpus of images that make today the history of photography.
And in the emerging sector?
In the Curiosa sector of Paris Photo dedicated to the emergence, I chose three photographers: Silvia Rosi, who is Togolese and Italian whose work I already knew, Chen Xiaoyi, a Chinese photographer whose work I completely discovered (see for these two artists the article «three singular looks of women photographers»), and finally Anaïs Horn, an Austrian photographer who followed in the footsteps of Charlotte of Belgium, an aristocrat who developed a mental illness at the age of 26 and lived alone for thirty years in a castle in Italy.
Did any of the approaches seem particularly original or innovative?
I think of the work of American indigenous artist Wendy Red Star. At home, the camera becomes a tool for creating performances. The same goes for Johanna Piotrowska, who creates stagings where the bodies are in dialogue, sometimes in a fusion way, to the point that we no longer know what we are looking at. I also love artists – like Carla Liesching whose book, Good Hope (Mack editions) discusses apartheid in South Africa – working with archival images. I appreciate the approach of not introducing new images but giving life back to images that already exist. This approach contributes to an ecology of the image.
How would you like the audience to get off the course?
As I wrote in the presentation, I encourage the public to keep a watchful eye on words, numbers and especially images. We must not believe too much in images. There is always a much more complex reality than the one we see.