LE BAL is located north of Paris’ city centre in the 18th arrondissement, slightly away from the bustle and colossal national museums such as The Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Pompidou Centre and Grande Palais, yet has had a significant impact on the photographic community in the three years it has been open. The building possesses an interesting history and feels an apt home for the image-based exhibitions it now hosts; originally ‘Chez Isis’ a 1920’s drinking den, before becoming the city’s largest betting shop, and then a ruin rescued in 2006 and transformed into LE BAL gallery. I visited a couple of weeks’ ago to view the ‘Provoke: Between Protest and Performance’ exhibition examining Japanese photography between 1960 and 1975. This era witnessed an unprecedented rise in Western consumer society, huge transformation of cities, an increase in American military bases – and consequently an identity crisis across Japan manifesting in a protest movement. The focus of this show is on the subversive magazine ‘Provoke’ which only published three issues and was heavily influenced by the emergence of Japanese performance art and protest at this time. The exhibition also introduced me to lesser known but highly influential photographers including Takuma Nakahira, Yutaka Takanashi and Daido Moriyama who not only documented the era but “thought of the camera as a weapon”. The black walls of the ground floor gallery space create an oppressive staging for images depicting protests against the construction of Narin airport, student occupation of universities and local girls mixing with US troops near military bases. The basement gallery in contrast is painted white punctuated with strong vinyl images. Each page of all three publications of Provoke is on display alongside contemporary examples of performance art and film, which help put the magazine into context. All share blurred compositions, abrupt framing and sequential imaging which by the close of the exhibition felt a standardised element of Japanese photography of this era.
Five clusters of vintage projectors are littered across the 4th floor of the The Photographers Gallery, initially looking more like an art installation than a photography exhibition. Once inside the space you quickly realise that they are projecting images directly onto the gallery walls; moreover as a visitor you are encouraged to activate the projectors yourself and control how the various images appear and disappear, and are layered over one another. The images were all taken between the late 1950’s and early 1970’s by the Uruguayan photojournalist Aurelio Gonzalez, who hid 48,626 negatives from the press archive of the country’s Communist newspaper El Popular ahead of the dictatorships’ censorship in 1973. Gonzalez ensconced the slides in a wall cavity in his office building in Montevideo for decades, only recovering them in 2006! The Centre de Fotografia de Montevideo subsequently restored, classified and digitised the archive, and in 2011 the Brazilian artist Rosangela Renno created this exhibition in response to the images. Obviously some heavy editing needed to be done with an archive approaching 50,000 photos, so Renno chose a small selection of images which best depicted the economic decline, protest and civil unrest that preceded the coup, and manipulated the archival black and white slides into digital images we see in this show. Little of this uprising survives in historical or photographic records, and Renno endured similar conditions herself during the military repression of Brazil during her lifetime – making her an apt artist to tell this story. Small red plastic tags attached to the projectors list search terms from the archive’s cataloguing system, offering insights into how the archive has been organised and increase your level of engagement with the photos. Likewise the constant clunking mechanisms of the old projectors intermingles with the Communist Internationale music playing in the background, making the images appear even more powerful.